London Cornish 53-23 Portsmouth
Report and Pictures by Ben Gilby
London Cornish recorded their fourth straight bonus point victory as they swept aside Portsmouth 53-23 at The REMPF.
Pompey arrived in South-West London with a weakened pack, and they didn’t make the best of starts when their kick-off failed to go ten metres. From the resulting scrum, the ball was fed to winger Robin Heymann on the right, who blazed past the visiting defence to score within the opening minute. Luke Spells‘ conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The visitors then settled, and gained a penalty. They opted to tap and go, with Rob Giquel feeding Daniel Gates, but just as the Hampshire side began to make ground, they knocked on. The game went through a period of successive penalties, awarded by Argentinian referee Alvaro Delbarco, officiating at his first game in England. Only one of these led to any points, and it was Portsmouth full-back Chris Morgan who bisected the posts successfully.
Cornish responded powerfully, and shortly after the re-start, were awarded a penalty which was kicked to the corner. From the resulting line-out, the pack’s power was far too great for the visitors makeshift affair, and Mike Bond was driven across the whitewash after 10 minutes. Spells converted from just in from touch, and the Black & Golds were 12-3 ahead. The Exiles now had the bit between their teeth, and Spells fed Hakes who went on a trademark run up the left, which was finally ended when he was tackled into touch. Shortly afterwards, ‘The Exiles’ were awarded a penalty and Spells kicked the conversion to extend the lead to twelve points.
Just three minutes later, one of the more unusual episodes of the season so far took place. Portsmouth winger Dave Jones received a pass in the centre, around 20 metres out. To the vast majority of the spectators, Jones appeared to knock-on as the ball looked to have fallen to the ground. However, there was no whistle. Jones picked up the ball and plunged over the line between the posts. Morgan converted and the visitors were right back into it at 15-10.
This shock score clearly galvanized the Hampshire men, who had a period of concerted pressure. With ‘The Exiles’ on the back foot, referee Delbarco awarded Portsmouth a penalty, which Morgan kicked. The score was now at 15-13, and it was very much game on.
With seventeen minutes to the break, Cornish showed the grit and determination that got them over the line at Winchester last time out – they stole line-out ball, Williams fed Spells who drifted past Portsmouth’s defence to plunge over for a vital score. He got up and kicked the conversion, and things looked rosy again, with the score-line now beginning to reflect the balance of play once more at 22-10. Just three minutes later, the try scoring bonus point was secured for the fourth time in four games this season with half an hour gone. Matt Hakes went on another powerful run, he fed Anstey, who in turn played in Joe Skinnard. Skinnard beat his man and passed to Spells who went over for his second try in five minutes. The conversion was good.
Pic – Harry Somers competes in the lineout
Portsmouth had the final chance of the half when they were awarded a penalty at the scrum. Cornish appeared to have control of Pompey’s put-in and had begun driving the visitors back – however the visitors were awarded a penalty as the referee adjudged the ‘Black & Golds’ pulled it down. Morgan’s kick missed, and Cornish went in at the break 29-13 ahead.
The visitors came into the second half strongly and became far more competitive at the scrum. On 49 minutes, with momentum from one such scrum, Pompey won a penalty which Morgan kicked. Cornish replied well, and within three minutes extended their lead. They worked the rolling maul superbly – Will Carew-Gibbs made the yards, before handing over to Oli Low, who put in a great shift in the front row. The maul advanced further before coming out to Robin Heymann who danced round the Pompey tackles to claim his second try of the afternoon. Spells’ conversion missed.
The next quarter of an hour became a bit of an arm wrestle, with play based in the middle third of the pitch. Mark Osei-Tutu got things moving again with some eye catching runs. From one such attack, Cornish were awarded a penalty which was kicked to touch. Unfortunately, the following line-out was not straight, but the ‘Black & Golds’ gained instant turn-over ball, and Craig Chatley could only be halted illegally. With the penalty in the centre, ten metres out, Cornish opted for the scrum. When the ball came out, it was fed to Osei-Tutu who drove across the line, with Spells adding the extras, which took Cornish’s lead out to 41-16.
There is no doubt that, as the game went on, Portsmouth’s makeshift pack began to gel, and this basis led to their second score of the game. The ball went out to replacement Robert Paterson who ran through to dot down. Morgan’s conversion was good.
The last ten minutes largely belonged to Cornish – another monster rolling maul saw Bond drive the ball forward over 25 metres. When Portsmouth finally did stop it, Cornish merely re-set, went again, and Will Carew-Gibbs grounded the ball. Spells converted. With five minutes left, Matt Hakes scored ‘The Exiles’ eighth try of the afternoon after some great build-up play from Ciaran Acford.
Photo – Ciaran Acford on the break
So, a fourth successive bonus point cemented Cornish’s place at the top of London Two South-West. One of the major positives to come of this game was the feeling that the Exiles players clearly felt they had more in them and could improve further. The stats are impressive – this was London Cornish’s 14th win in their last 16 league matches – and over the last twelve months, the ‘Black & Golds’ have suffered only five losses in twenty-three games. Whatever way you look at it, this is highly impressive.