Sevenoaks Rugby 1st XV lost 45-34 to Medway in an enthralling encounter at Priestfields on Saturday. The much vaunted clash at the top of London 1 South drew Oaks’ winning streak to a close and leaves Medway undefeated at the top of the League.
Oaks were slow out of the starting blocks and were effectively starved of ball for the first 20 minutes, as Medway demonstrated the structured playbook, handling skills and outstanding continuity of a well-drilled unit and rapid back line. Contained behind their own 10 yard line for much of these initial phases, the Oaks defence worked hard and kept their shape to weather the storm, though the high volume of tackles required to hold continuous waves of attack at bay was taking its toll.
When they did finally get the ball Oaks made the most of it and struck first as Ollie Shirtcliff, playing his 100th cap for Sevenoaks, ghosted through the middle of Medway’s back line to dot the ball down under the posts and with Adams’ resulting conversion Oaks secured a 7-0 lead.
Medway replied in cutting fashion in the form of three tries to a solitary penalty for Oaks: Set up by a telling ascendancy in the scrum, a penalty try plus two further converted tries down the right flank – one a wonderful kick and chase following a deft grubber by the wing back – gave the hosts a 21-10 lead to take into the half time break. With a strong wind in their favour, Oaks will have been disappointed with their first half showing and the ultimate 11 point margin of defeat suggests the game was lost and won in the first half. Slow starts count dearly at this level.
The topsy-turvy second half was a tale of two quarters. After a promising start when a converted try by Alex Suttie narrowed the gap to 21-17, sloppy defending by Oaks and some opportunistic carries and offloads by the hosts saw Medway race into a 42-17 lead. Then someone flicked a switch and thanks to tries by Mike Scott, Scott Sedgwick and Ben Adams, Sevenoaks roared back into contention and at one stage the game seemed as if it might be there for the taking, two of Adams’ conversions into the biting wind were unlucky to strike the upright and in a role reversal of the match’s opening salvos Medway just couldn’t get their hands on the ball.
Time inevitably ran down to see Medway, the better team on the day hold on for the win with Oaks gaining the consolation of a four try bonus point. The return fixture at Knole Paddock comes around in March when the intervening months will have created a fuller picture of how these two impressive Oaks and Medway vintages compare.
On a day when Sevenoaks 1st XV and 3rd XV lost away at Medway, and the 2nd XV and Gents/4th XV won at home versus Medway (a welcome sight of the tradition of a full fixture set at Senior level between two Clubs), it was honours even in a double victory for Home advantage; well played to all 120-plus players involved from both sides of the County on the quality entertainment served up in the autumn sunshine.