Senior rugby returned to Knole Paddock on Saturday, under an unseasonably warm September sun, welcoming local rivals Westcombe Park. After the 18 month long enforced break it was wonderful to see the tremendous commitment and intensity displayed by all of the players – with those taking part in the earlier 2’s game and the First XV match deserving of the appreciation shown by a large and noisy crowd. It was great to be back!
Director of Rugby & Head Coach Adam Bowman made five changes from the opening day defeat at Hertford and prepared the team to take on an opposition with many talented players and not inconsiderable bulk.
The final score of 17-8 suggests a close encounter – and indeed both sides contested every contact and breakdown fiercely – but in truth Oaks controlled the majority of the game demonstrating defensive discipline, attacking speed and power as well as strong set piece execution. The Oaks line was threatened only occasionally whilst perhaps also feeling they could have made more of some excellent attacking positions unsuccessfully converted.
In a game with numerous penalties it was Oaks who took the lead in the 8th minute with a successful kick by Ben Adams. There followed a period of intense exchanges largely in the Westcombe Park half with the score remaining 3-0 until the 27th minute when a penalty kick to touch led to a catch and drive and Oak’s first try scored by Matt McRae converted by Ben Adams. It was deserved reward for controlled passages of play. There then followed an eye-catching storming run by one of the Combe backs that led to good field position and the chance to show their edge in the scrum. A penalty was awarded in the 33rd minute for Oaks not rolling away and the Combe kicker slotted it home to make it 10-3.
However, the Westcombe Park indiscipline returned and a series of penalties saw Oaks once again driving towards their opponent’s line leading the referee to award a penalty try and give a yellow card. 17-3 on the stroke of half time. There was one more opportunity for Oaks to show their control, but another penalty induced catch and drive was repelled by the Combe defence deep into stoppage time. A very impressive and satisfying half came to an end with the visitors leaving the pitch knowing they had it all to do in the second half.
The second half began with more penalty infringements by Combe, culminating in a high tackle on Ollie Shirfcliff offering an easy 3 points, which was turned down and eventually led to Combe winning a scrum from the choice to kick to touch. This led to some sustained pressure from the visitors with a mammoth Ben Adams clearance to halfway from behind the Oaks goal line offering relief. Oaks responded with some good phases of play and once again a high tackle led to a penalty and another yellow card for a Combe player. The first half control was beginning to return but as was to be the pattern of this scoreless second half for Oaks, set-piece chances near the goal line went unconverted as the referee penalised the home side for infringements.
Then after some good midfield phases Combe had their first second half stint in Oaks territory, forcing the home side to infringe and despite Oaks winning the Combe line out from the penalty, the visitors managed to tap down the loose ball to score in the 63rd minute. The conversion was missed; 17-8.
The remainder of the game saw some good rugby from both sides with neither able to translate breaks into real try scoring opportunities. The Oaks defence looked secure and their breaks up field although catching the eye lacked the penetration needed to add to the score. The home crowd enjoyed a 50-yard kick-chase by second row Josh Pettet, perhaps laying down a marker for a start at number 10 next week 😉
The final whistle blew with both teams having given everything on a very hot day for rugby. Director of Rugby & Head Coach Adam Bowman said “I felt for large periods of the match we controlled the game and deserved the victory. We have lots to work on, but on the whole it was great to get our first win of the season and to play in front of a packed crowd at the Paddock.”