Oaks edged out in high quality thriller

LONDON & SE PREMIER LEAGUE: Sevenoaks 27 North Walsham 29

This superb London & SE Premier match between Oaks and their far-travelled visitors North Walsham saw victory swinging back and forth between two high quality sides. The men from the Paddock will reflect on two key phases of the game; spurning early chances to score tries when final passes close to the posts went astray, and the 17 points they conceded straight after half time when they were down to 14 players for the second time in the game. Head Coach and Director of Rugby Adam Bowman has been warning in recent weeks about discipline and the danger of yellow cards; a prophesy becoming a reality when facing a very strong visiting team. That said, this was an even contest throughout and, though disappointed to be securing only a losing bonus point, Oaks can be pleased with an impressively intense performance. This one really was a “game of inches”.

North Walsham’s disrupted travel led to a late kick-off and saw Oaks getting straight into their stride with early pressure and territory. After 11 minutes they had converted two penalty kicks to lead 6 – 0, helped by good tactical use of the boot, including executing two ‘50-22’ kicks. This period also included Oaks first significant missed opportunity following a great midfield break by Sean Derrick with the final pass not going to hand as the line beckoned. The away team, despite misfiring in their early lineouts, responded with good possession and territory allowing their backs to challenge the gain line. At this early stage it was evident NW were growing into the game, possessing good organisation with dangerous players particularly out wide. However, the next big chance fell to Oaks after 18 minutes when following a lineout, Ben Adams made a great break with, once again, a knock on close to the line stymying the attack.

The next 10 minutes saw NW go through several phases with good field position, but Oaks defended with their customary speed and intensity supported by their scrum being in the ascendancy. Unfortunately, in the 31st minute, with North Walsham scrambling on their own put-in to the scrum, Freddie Richardson was judged to have deliberately knocked on and was yellow carded. NW started to take make territory gains as a result of their numerical advantage and should have scored in the 35th minute after a good break, quick ball out wide to the winger who spilled the ball when a try looked certain. Oaks won a scrum penalty and cleared.

Oaks then took advantage of possession in the Norfolk team’s half and from a lineout, whilst still down to 14 men, their efficient lineout led to a great break by Patrick Pellegrini who exchanged passes with Ben Adams to score Oak’s first try of the day. It was a swift and clinical move. Ben Adams delivered his usual conversion efficiency for Oaks to lead 13 – 0. The final attack of the half also came from Oaks, when their catch and drive from the lineout saw them threaten the NW line, only for their momentum to be stalled by good North Walsham defence. The half time whistle blew with Oaks leading 13 – 0. Both teams had impressed and entertained with their strong ball carrying, fierce tackling and dangerous backs play. Oaks deserved their lead, but the game was more even than the score suggested, and the Paddock faithful sensed the impressive visiting team was not out of it by any means.

After a disappointing result for Oaks, Head Coach and Director of Rugby Adam Bowman said, “we are clearly frustrated by both the result and aspects of our performance today. We really should be closing out a game when winning by 10 points with 10 minutes to go. That said, congratulations to north Walsham on the result; they are a well-coached side, and they played some great rugby. We look forward to the return fixture after Christmas.

The second half began and proceeded to serve up a magnificent feast of rugby for which both teams deserve great credit, with the result in doubt until the final moments of the game. North Walsham started the better and scored 17 unanswered points in the opening 15 minutes of the half, ignited by the award of a penalty try when Patrick Pellegrini was adjudged to have knocked on deliberately as the NW winger headed for the line. The Oak’s player received a yellow card. After 42 minutes the score was 13 – 7. More pressure followed and despite scrappy lineout ball, NW moved the ball well cross -field allowing them to crash over for a try. 49 minutes and now NW led 14 – 13. They cemented their lead with a 54th minute penalty to lead 17- 13. During this period Oaks were possibly guilty of playing a bit too much rugby in their own 22 and will perhaps regret not taking three points from a penalty when on offer.

There then followed a superb response by the home team. Trailing for the first time in a game since their season’s opener at Herford, they increased their intensity, got good field position and scored two converted tries. In the 64th minute Henry Galligan found a gap to cross the line after a fine move off the top of a lineout, and in the 72nd minute Patrick Pellegrini stepped inside to score after good phases started by a clever kick through by Ollie Shirtcliff. At 27 – 17, with less than 10 minutes to play it appeared Oaks had taken a winning lead. However, a combination of exciting open field breaks by North Walsham and some out of character missed tackles by Oaks, the visitors showed tremendous fortitude to score twice in this final period. The home crowd were stunned but in truth possibly not surprised to witness the impressive Norfolk outfit cross their opponent’s line, first from a catch and drive lineout and then from open play after Oak’s restart kick off. The NW scrum held firm for the final play of the game, their assured fly half kicking the ball out.

After a disappointing result for Oaks, Head Coach and Director of Rugby Adam Bowman said, “we are clearly frustrated by both the result and aspects of our performance today. We really should be closing out a game when winning by 10 points with 10 minutes to go. That said, congratulations to north Walsham on the result; they are a well-coached side, and they played some great rugby. We look forward to the return fixture after Christmas.

Next week we see Oaks travel to Wimbledon for another tough fixture against a team that will be smarting from their first defeat of the season this week.

Sevenoaks Rugby’s open letter Gilly Taoho
“Saturday marked Gilbert (Gilly) Taoho’s last home game for the Mighty Oaks. Gilly has been a bastion of the club for the past three seasons. Recognisable by his filthy moustache, Gilly roamed The Paddock and could be seen melting the oppo or turning the screw at scrum time.

“Off the field, Gilly would often be found in local pubs in Sevenoaks, local pubs in London, and local pubs on the continent and loved by all patrons. He will be missed by Oaks supporters and players alike and we wish him well in the future. It may not be the last time Gilly pulls on the navy and gold, but a bumper crowd at The Paddock for his last home game is surely a fitting send off and we are sure you’ll feel the same! Go well Gilly!”