Oaks pushed out in physical encounter

Wimbledon became the first team this season to stop Sevenoaks scoring a try, condemning them to a second consecutive defeat; once again by the narrowest of margins. This London and SE Premier fixture held at Barham Road in South-West London was a tough physical contest, decided in the last quarter mainly by the home team’s bulky forward pack who were dominant in the scrum. Oaks earned a losing bonus point for the second week running but will feel this was another lost opportunity for a win, given Wimbledon were reduced to 14 players for the last 30 minutes of the game. The men from the Paddock will reflect disappointingly on a loss of control and too many mistakes as the game progressed but should not be too discouraged as, over the last fortnight, they have shown their ability to compete well against sides at top of the table.

The home team were rewarded for their fast start with a try after 4 minutes, when phases off good lineout ball led to a missed tackle by Oaks, allowing the centre to cross the line to score, converted to lead 7 – 0. With Oaks unable to build phases as a result of knock-ons and forward passes, after 11 minutes they were penalised for not rolling away, giving Wimbledon what would have been a deserved 10-point lead. The kicked was missed and that triggered a period where Oaks built possession and territory but couldn’t convert pressure into points, due both to good defence by Wimbledon and their own mistakes at key moments. There was an ominous sign after 25 minutes when, on their own put in at the scrum, Oaks were shunted some way backwards to lose possession. This would go on to be the game-deciding facet in the second half.

Oaks continued to probe and in the 27th minute the Wimbledon number 6 received a yellow card, perhaps fortunate not to be a red, for a high tackle on James Fotheringham, who would take no further part in the game. From the resulting penalty, the reliable boot of Ben Adams made it 7 – 3, after 30 minutes. The remainder of the half saw both teams defending well, unable to really threaten their opponent’s try line; with the highlight seeing a try saving tackle from Jonny Short on the impressive Wimbledon left winger. A great line-break by Oak’s Awa Morris, was also repelled but the pressure that followed led to a scrum for Oaks, who held firm, getting the ball away for a good quick passage of play leading to the home team infringing. Ben Adams kicked the 3 points, and the half time whistle blew bringing a relatively even first half contest to a close, with Oaks trailing 7 – 6.

The opening 20 minutes of the second half saw Oak’s best passage of play in the match. Dominating territory and having the better of the possession, they converted two penalties to lead 12 – 7, with Wimbledon reduced to 14 men after 50 minutes for a second yellow for another high tackle by their number 6. During this period with the Oaks backs in full flight, credit to Wimbledon who defended well, stopping Oaks cross the line on two crucial occasions. The Oaks faithful must at that stage have felt that a try would take the game away from the home team.

However, as the match entered its final quarter, Wimbledon started to get their big runners on the ball and played on the front foot for most of the remainder of the game. With their scrum totally dominant, Oaks were unable to generate go-forward ball and were increasingly pinned back in their own half. Frequently penalised by the referee, they were reduced to 14 men when Scott Sedgwick was yellow carded after 71 minutes. Taking a scrum, the home team powered over the line to make the score 12 – 12. The conversion was missed, and the game remained in the balance. With more penalties and scrums awarded against them, Oaks were unable to change the pattern of the game and in the 75th minute a line-break by the Wimbledon centre, from a pass that may have been called forward, led to another penalty right in front of the posts. A yellow card was also issued to Charlie Naismith. The kick was successful, and the Dons led 15-12.

Oaks built pressure and territory in the final moments of the match but were unable to really threaten the try line; again, strong defence and crucial mistakes were key. The final play of the game produced a great break by Awa Morris supported by Patrick Pellegrini, with Oaks entering their opponents 22, only for the referee to spot a forward pass. The final whistle blew to the delight of the home team, who must be congratulated on a victory that looked unlikely halfway through the second half.

Next week sees the players with a well-deserved rest week, before the Oaks welcome top of the table Dorking to the Paddock on November 27th, for what will be a tough fixture. Sitting now in 5th place in the league table, Sevenoaks will be determined to get back to winning ways.