Sevenoaks Rugby Club 1st XV put in their strongest performance of the season to achieve a bonus point win against a very strong Wimbledon RFC 1st XV side. Prior to the match, former Oaks junior and academy player Will Hunt had presented the Club with his Ghana international jersey, having played in two internationals against Botswana and Ivory Coast since moving there for work a few years ago.
On a cold but sunny day, the pitch at the Paddock remained as it had been in the last home fixture before Christmas – heavy under foot, particularly in the centre of the playing field. There was a strong crowd, eager for their first fill of rugby in 2020, knowing that Wimbledon have talent in abundance, with strong ball carrying forwards and fast, slick backs. Indeed Oaks had learned that the hard way in September when they travelled to Barham Road and were soundly beaten by 50 points to 19.
And so it perhaps wasn’t unexpected that the majority of the first half belonged to the visitors, who had the lion share of possession and continually tried to either batter their way over the Oaks line, or move the ball to the outside channels and set their speedsters free. Yet each and every time, they were thwarted by excellent Oaks defence. To a man, Oaks knocked back everything that was thrown at them.
Throughout the first half, when given penalties for Oaks straying the wrong side of the law close to their try line, Wimbledon huffed and puffed, but found that the Oaks house wasn’t made of straw or sticks, but bricks. Time and time again, rather than build a score, the away team opted to take a tap, but were met with ferocious tackling, with one particular highlight captain Nigel Gumbleton putting in a thumping hit on the Dons excellent captain York, stopping him dead in his tracks.
On the occasions when Oaks did break out of their half, they were met with resolute defence, although they were finding particular joy at the scrum, as the front row of Naismith, Sedgwick and Tahao garnered two penalties for putting significant pressure on their opposite front row.
After another opportunity for Wimbledon was stopped close to their line, Oaks were somewhat fortunate to remain at their full complement of 15 and this time, Wimbledon decided to take the three, which their kicker duly converted to give them a 3-0 lead.
With the half about to close out the home side’s day was about to get significantly better as Oaks were awarded a scrum on the right hand side of the field. The ball was moved from the scrum, to the Oaks back line and intricate passing and running lines saw Kalkani Pehi pop up on the right hand flank and release fellow winger Rich Adenyi-Jones with a sumptuous pass. The left winger still had a lot to do, but rounded the defender to go in on the far left hand side. With the conversion missed, Oaks went into half time 5-3 up. An opportunity for both players and supporters to take a breather.
The start of the second half saw Wimbledon edge ahead again with a well taken penalty from 35 metres out, to give them a slender one point lead. But from there on, the next 20 minutes was all Oaks.
Oaks first of three tries were to come from a lineout. A strong drive by the forwards to the 22 gave good field position. The ball was then recycled to the backs and a sumptuous pass from Savills Man of the Match Leighton Ralph put full back Josh Livett in space, who rounded one defender and drew the last man to put Adenyi-Jones away for his second. A super score. The successful conversion from Tom Gray provided Oaks with an 11-6 lead.
Oaks tails were up and they could sense an opportunity in the game. Another two quick scores were to come, the first from a Livett kick through. Captain Gumbleton showed desire and deft skill as he won the race to the ball, before flicking it off his boot laces to the supporting Adenyi-Jones who raced in under the posts for his hat-trick, the first by a Sevenoaks RFC player at the Paddock for quite some time. The simple conversion was taken by Gray and Oaks had an 18-6 lead.
The boys in blue and gold were to extend that almost immediately, as an excellent box kick from scrum half Henry Galligan caused confusion in the Wimbledon back field. Tom Gray raced through and was first to the bouncing ball. He carried forward and gave an offload to the onrushing back row Matt McRae 40 metres from the line. The number 7 screeched down the right hand touch line and evaded the desperate last ditch tackle to finish superbly. Cue a bonus point for Oaks and the Paddock faithful going mad. Whilst the conversion was unsuccessful, Oaks led 24-6.
Both Oaks players and supporters knew that a side packed with quality like Wimbledon would not lie down. And so it proved, with the remaining 15 minutes of the match being played in Oaks half, as Wimbledon tried to get their way back into the game.
As the pressure mounted, Oaks first lost Sedgwick to the bin, who was deemed to be offside. Down to 14 men, Wimbledon made the extra numbers count and scored on the right hand side as Oaks ran out of numbers. Crucially, the difficult conversion was unsuccessful but Wimbledon had a foothold in the game.
As it was in the first half, Oaks defence continued to rebuff the power of the Dons, but the pressure was to tell again as the outstanding Oaks number 8 Richardson was also sent to the bin after being penalised for killing the ball close to the Oaks line. Down to 13 men, with three minutes to go, Wimbledon were to score their second, but again it was unconverted and the score still gave Oaks some breathing space at 24-16.
From the resulting kick off, Wimbledon worked their way up the pitch, showing their class with some superb ball retention and hands, but as they edged closer to the line, that blue and yellow wall continued to thwart them, with Leighton Ralph making a superb tackle to save a would-be try. From the resulting breakdown, the referee awarded a penalty to Oaks for the Dons holding on and the game was over to the delight on the home players and support.
After the match, Oaks Head Coach said ‘I said earlier in the week that if we were to cause a side like Wimbledon any problems, we had to get the detail right in our game. I thought in every department today we were excellent. Our heart but also accuracy in defence was outstanding and we took our chances really well in attack when presented to us.’
‘We love playing at the Paddock and the support we got here today was superb – it was certainly a better spectacle than our last home match! The challenge now is to back up this performance away next week away at Guildford. We said as a group that we want to continue to improve our performances each week – we’ve set the benchmark for 2020 now.’
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