Sevenoaks Rugby Club moved to the summit of London 1 South, albeit on points difference, with a hard fought 19-10 win against local rivals Westcombe Park RFC on Saturday.
In front of a large crowd at the Paddock, swelled by a sell-out lunch of over 120, Oaks huffed and puffed for the majority of the contest, not really able to get out of third gear due to a combination of resolute Park defence and inaccuracy with the ball in hand.
Oaks got off to a good start though through the ever reliable boot of Ben Adams, who stroked over a penalty from in front of the sticks. Adams was grateful for the help given to him by a Park forward, who’s back-chat to the referee brought the original penalty ten metres closer to the posts.
Oaks were again to benefit from Park indiscipline later on in the half, with the number 7 committing a high tackle on the rampaging Josh Thorneycroft as he broke into the away sides 22. Adams again stroked over the penalty and Oaks were 6-0 to the good.
As the half went on, Oaks were unable to make the most of the wind advantage and Park began to get a strong foothold in the game. After good hands, Park created space for the dangerous Dan Hamilton and the winger sprinted down the left hand side before being brought down by the covering defence. The away side recycled the ball, with full back Harry Sansbury diving over in the right hand corner unopposed. A good conversion and Combe were 7-6 to the good.
The home crowd could sense that Oaks needed a lift and as Oaks walked back to the half way line, they were greeted by a throng of support from the balcony. This seem to spur Oaks into action and after regathering possession, Combe were penalised from another infringement. With the final act of the first half, Adams slotted an excellent penalty and Oaks were in the sheds 9-7 up at half time.
As they were two weeks ago when they won at Brighton Blues, Oaks were up against the wind in the second half. And things were made even more difficult for Oaks when they lost Sedgwick to the bin after a disagreement with his opposition number Fernandez.
But after a number of close encounters this season, this Oaks side have grown considerably. Even when they went 12-10 down, after Pettet was perhaps harshly penalised at the breakdown and Combe stroked over the resulting penalty, Oaks refused to panic. Instead, as they have done so many times this season, they worked their way up the pitch and into opposition territory. After Combe infringed, the ever reliable Adams slotted a superb penalty against the win and Oaks were again back in front by a single point.
With Sedgwick now back on and the Oaks lineout singing, the Mighty Oaks pack worked hard to suck in Combe defenders. The ball was whipped to Matt McRae thanks to good hands by Leighton Ralph and the flanker showed his pace and patience, turning the Park defender Hamilton, before offloading to Adams, who in turn popped the ball inside to Man of the Match Matt Holmes and the scrum half dived over to the delight of the Paddock. Adams slotted the conversion and Oaks now had some breathing space at 19-10 with less than 10 to go.
The remainder of the match was fraught, but with a nine point buffer, the home crowd could afford `to relax ever so slightly in the knowledge that the miserly Oaks defence would have to be breached twice if Combe were to turn the tables. Indeed with the last attack of the match, Hamilton again caused issues and it seemed that Combe had scored a consolation. However the referee deemed that the ball had been held up and blew the final whilst to give Oaks a victory and leave Combe without a losing bonus point.
Post-match, Head Coach Adam Bowman said: “It wasn’t pretty, but we showed we are a resolute group and I’m pleased that we ground out the win against a tough side and difficult conditions – the ground was heavy and it seemed to sap the life out of both sets of players.
“But again, we trusted the process and worked our way into position to score a well-taken try. The support we got from the crowd was a big plus for us as well – it was great to see so many familiar faces and cheer us on. I’m also over the moon with the 2nd XV result – they have gone away to Canterbury RFC and won in the last minute. It is a big result and shows the strength in depth we have focused on building here – competition for places is at an all-time high at the moment and we will need this ahead of the run-in to the end of the season.”