On the road with… Sevenoaks Rugby Club

IN FEBRUARY WE WENT ON THE ROAD WITH THE LEADERS OF THE LONDON 1 SOUTH LEAGUE AS THEY TRAVELLED TO SOUTHAMPTON FOR A CRUNCH TIE WITH TOTTONIANS.

Sevenoaks Rugby Club have made some significant changes over the last two years, probably the most important being the organisational setup brought in by Head Coach, Adam Bowman.

His introduction of a senior squad is this year reaping benefits never seen before. The first, second and third XV are all in the hunt for league domination, and it is simply quite humbling that this could have been achieved in such a short space of time, by all at the club.

Taking a look at the pre-match programme though was a real head-turner for this amateur rugby club. For every match, either home or away, the players are sent a timeline for all of their match day duties. This includes, down to the minute, where they should be, and what they should be wearing at any particular time.

This is the impact Coach Bowman has had with the club, and something that he is strongly attached to: “We all turn out in the Sevenoaks Rugby Club uniform, before, during and after each match”.

This definitely sets the tone for the day as the boys gather around the sofas in the clubhouse eating breakfast, prepared by SRFC Catering Manager, Diane Carey. Diane doesn’t care that they are ‘on the road’ today, she simply fulfils her duties to get the team going. But does she really realise what she is actually doing for the club?

A mix of porridge and fresh fruits is the order of the day, it’s 9.30am and the squad are already together, chatting amongst themselves, whilst thinking about the game ahead of them. Conversations are taking place as if they are already on the pitch, each group talking about their roles together before they’ve even jumped on the coach for the two-and-a-half-hour journey.

Breakfast is served: even though the team were playing away, Diane Carey was on hand to deliver breakfast.

The trip to Southampton
Now, you would imagine a coach load of readily-fuelled rugby players on their way to a match would be a riot, however, this is no ordinary club. A smooth silence fell over the coach as the anticipation of the match sunk in. Sevenoaks had just gone top of the league the week before, after beating local rivals Westcombe Park at home.

It wasn’t until a ‘sandwich stop’ in Alton, Hampshire that the quiet hum was replaced with raised vocals. It was a message of pure energy and felt like the squad were now beginning to wind their coil, readying themselves for the match. Could they do something that other squads had tried in the past? Could they win away at Tottonians?

Straight from the coach on arrival, the players assembled themselves on the pitch for a pre-match walk. Whilst the coaching staff were in the clubhouse getting the changing rooms ready, the players were walking the pitch.

With each stride came another comment from the players, “in this area of the pitch…”. This was something that other clubs may not instil but the players were obviously switched on to the coach’s tune, as Bowman’s pre-match talk replicated the on-pitch conversations, how wonderful to be so in-tune with each other.

It was now 2.00pm, and with 30 minutes to go before kick-off, the squad were applying the final touches to their match outfits. Some tape here, some tape there. It was a roll call for Oaks’ finest.

The match report
Oaks had travelled to Totton in fine fettle, with an almost fully fit squad to choose from. On a heavy pitch, but in clear conditions, Oaks kicked off full of confidence and eager to make a mark early on in the game.

Almost immediately though, that plan was thrown out the window and within a minute the men from the Paddock were 7-0 down as Tottonians took advantage of a defensive lapse in the Oaks ranks to score a good try on the right-hand wing.

Two minutes later, the home side’s full back stroked over a penalty after Oaks had been deemed to be offside. 10-0 to the home side and the away support were getting somewhat concerned.

Head Coach Adam Bowman looks on as the scoreboard reflects Tottonians 10-0 start to the game. Sevenoaks fought back to win 26-10. Credit: Sevenoaks Sports.

Note that only the supporters were getting concerned. The coaching staff might have shown some signs of frustration but at no point did they panic. “Keep to the plan” was the only discussion being had across the radio system from every angle of the pitch.

And it was Oaks’ continued pressure that was starting to tell as the home side continued to give away penalties for various offences. It allowed Oaks to gain field position and momentum. From a line out close to the Totts line, the Oaks pack drove their opponents back with force and burrowed over from close range. Game on.

The men from the Paddock had the bit between their teeth and with a minute remaining of the first half, burrowed over again from close range. With two conversions, Oaks had recovered and led 14-10 at the break.

The message in the changing room was a simple one from Coach Bowman and his staff: “Keep to the plan” and “We have this”. From silent words for individuals, to rousing groups of three or four, the atmosphere was one of achievement and pride. Pride to wear the yellow and blue jersey of the Mighty Oaks.

“We hadn’t won here before, so its a real feather in the cap for the boys to get the win and the bonus point, which allows us to stay in pole position at the moment.” – Head Coach, Adam Bowman.

The start of the second half saw Oaks replicate what the hosts had done at the beginning of the contest and score immediately from the kick off. This was also something that was mentioned in the changing room. “Let’s get a try with the first opportunity we get”.

They beat the first man with a strong step before sprinting through and offloading a couple of times. The left winger strolled over for a fine score and with less than a minute on the second half clock.

The remainder of the game saw Oaks in full control, with the Oaks supporters now relaxed enough to match the calm that surrounds Coach Bowman. It was wonderful to see such preparation and thought being played out so thoroughly on the pitch.

Time for the bonus point, which has been an essential weapon in the ever increasing race for the title. Oaks pushed over again from short range after good work from the pack. Another conversion and it was 26-10 to Oaks, a score which was to remain until the final whistle.

Job done and relax
A pleased, if not delighted Bowman said after the game: “We hadn’t won here before, so its a real feather in the cap for the boys to get the win and the bonus point, which allows us to stay in pole position at the moment. They [Tottonians] were a physical side and we had to show patience and belief in our processes.”

The Head Coach continued: “We will need to be more ruthless though if we are to continue to maintain our league position. Looking ahead to Medway in two weeks time, we know that they are relentless and will put away any opportunities. We will need to match them in that department and be at the top of our game to be in with any chance of a victory.”

The team during their post-match discussions where match awards are handed out by the captain. Credit: Sevenoaks Sports.

After this fine victory, the squad assembled once again on the pitch to listen to Bowman’s post-match speech before heading back to the changing room. The adrenalin was now overflowing and a rendition of “When the Oaks go marching in…” started to bellow through the corridors and touched the ears of the travelling committee members and supporters in the club bar upstairs.

After a brief stop for post-match pasta in the clubhouse, it was back to the coach where the atmosphere continued to build. These players had given their all on the pitch and were now quite rightly allowed to wind down with a beer, a song and some fantastic story-telling on the journey home.

What a fantastic day out, shadowing some fine young gentleman, and some older gentleman too. The cohesion of the club from Chairman to Head Coach, from President to Physio truly shines through and their united message is there for all to see.

What this team, and the rest of the senior squad, can achieve this season is still to be played out, but whatever the final outcome, you just know that there is plenty more to come from Coach Bowman and his band of merry men, and women.

To experience the full impact of life at Sevenoaks Rugby Club, all you need to do is pop along to Knole Paddock on a Saturday afternoon where you will be greeted with open arms by all. From Diane to Adam and his squad, and from Trevor to Mike and Roger, you are all building something which will remain forever more. Well done to you all!