In the first of what promise to be two compelling home and away instalments, Sevenoaks Rugby enjoyed a dogged 16 points to 12 win in the rain and wind at a sodden Knole Paddock on Saturday against their visitors from the South coast.
Brighton arrived in Kent full of pomp and puffed at the chest from five wins on the trot as the leading point scorers at the top of London 1 South. They returned home diminished in stature and second in the League, with a losing bonus point the solitary reward for playing out their part in an enthralling encounter and having taken the game to Sevenoaks during certain periods in the match.
Two acts, one elemental and the other existential, played telling roles in proceedings.
First to the elements; the rain lashed spitefully, relentlessly and indiscriminately against players, coaches and spectators, confining the expansive ambitions of both teams, with the wings of Blues’ rapid and lively counter rugby decisively clipped on a day when the ball represented the proverbial bar of soap.
Second, the existential: after one of those thumping tackles that are the trademark of Gumbleton, captain on the day for the Oaks, the Brighton number 8 took out his frustration with some instinctive and certainly not pre-meditated footwork as his boot made contact with the head of the Oaks defender.
There is only one sanction available to the referee in such instances, and having seen red once the Brighton 8 saw red again, which at least gave him the consolation (given the conditions) of ‘an early bath’.
The impact of Brighton’s reduction to 14 men was not immediate. Indeed Oaks had crashed over for a try when the playing numbers were still even – having battered the Brighton try line for several plays in succession, Adams slotting the extras. But it will have been felt over the full eighty minutes when the pack in particular had to play as one, which Oaks did in a concerted team effort that says much about the commitment of this band of brothers. Before the match, Coach Bowman asked his men to “go to the well” and their performance showed they did just that.
The two sides also exchanged penalties prior to the break, which meant they re-emerged for the second half with the navy and golds 10-3 to the good.
What ensued was a 40-minute slug-fest, as the teams used tight five play and the legitimate boot (to ball) to establish field position. All the time you sensed Brighton’s threat from anywhere on the park, while Adams kept the visitors at bay as he secured a further penalty to take the Oaks tally to 13 with Brighton duly responding, making it 13-9 with the game very much afoot.
Oaks then made the winning incursion into the Brighton half, and by being patient at a sequence of rucks and mauls they foraged their way forward to within five yards of their opponents’ try line before Brighton killed the ball illegally, and from the resulting penalty in front of the posts Adams duly slotted the ball over; 16-9.
If the Oaks faithful thought that was the game, they were sorely mistaken as Brighton never give up and roared back to reduce the deficit to 16-12. On the attack, looking menacing, and with the shadow of last season’s Blues win in the last play of the game casting its way eerily across the Paddock, the Blues drove up field only to be penalised for hanging on to the ball too long. The thrilling encounter was drawn to a close by Oaks hoofing the ball off the park as the Home balcony erupted in applause for the win and in respect for two teams who had done their utmost in uncompromising conditions.
All teams in London 1 South look forward to a well-earned break this coming weekend. In a quirk of results, despite winning Oaks dropped down to fifth in the League on points difference. They are equal-pegged on 24 points with two other sides including Westcombe Park, where Oaks head for their next League match on Saturday 20 October, 3:00pm Kick off and all support very welcome.