Exiles passion assisted by a gifted young fly half in the form of Andy Cleary’s son Liam, run in a good win over the CSSC Barbarians.
Nick Greenhalgh reports.
On arriving at the club house I was greeted by the sight to two different scenarios. CSSC Barbarians out on the paddock running through warm up and training moves, and then the Exiles in the club house gingerly sipping their half Guinness’s with bleary eyed excitement.
Next to the important questions… Did we have a front row? Did we have a fly half? Affirmation of these set my mind at rest, it would be a much better day now.
The day was grey, temperature was about 1 degree with a biting wind coming from the East. Passions were running high. Several new players would be running out today, untested in the Exiles strip.
On the front row we had Gautier, Fabio and Steve ‘older statesman’ Richards later to switch with Ghassan, behind them we played Eff and Jonathan (Jonathan’s first game as lock, well played mate!) who shared the game with John Moore. Back row saw Ed Moores and Ciaran as blind and open with me at no. 8, new man Warren backed up the back row later in the game. Back from a broken hand a few weeks back we saw legend McGabe as scrum half, with Liam Cleary as Fly Half down from Kirby Longsdale in Cumbria for Toolan jr’s boys baptism. For some reason Liam could play and go to the christening yet Paul and Michael couldn’t! It’s all about time management 😉 Outside Laim we had Dave Morgan teaming up with Neal Craig and wrapping on the wings we had T and Mike Salmon (a mate of Stef’s) who shared his position with Alex A, and finally we had old safe angry hands Madden at full back.
The oppo seemed to be fielding locks in their centres and their scrum certainly had some size of its own too. The aim at kick off was to try and get the first points, something we seem not to do too well. We lived up to expectations and shortly after kick-off the Barbarians won a lineout deep in their half, span it out to their lock like backs and one of these gargantuan units showed he could run fast and at angles and nailed the first try! Oh dear! Our defences proved penetrable. However, we went straight back in to the action and applied pressure everywhere and it paid off, and after several phases of loose play Stef just back from a broken hand put Exiles on the score table. Liam converted it to bring us to 7 all!
The game then kept up a fairly furious rate. Notably so furious that Ciaran managed to knock himself clean out on a barbarian knee during a tackle. After falling of the bench a few times and apparently asking how long he’d been out for way too many times an ambulance was summoned and the rest of Ciaran’s day would be spent in A&E and awaiting CT scan results. Thankfully they proved all clear around mid night. He later texted me with the line "See that’s how you commit to a tackle!" – class!
Back to the game, lots of good loose play by the Exiles, a little later we bundled our way in a maul towards their try line, I managed to have reasonable control of the ball somewhere in the mass of players. We crossed the line and I cried for the ref to come around to my side and the on seeing that lovely yellow shirt grounded the ball at his feet making sure he saw the try. Things were looking up. The oppo scrum half was having a bit of a nightmare. Twice from a winning a scrum on their 5 yard line he fired it to an imaginary fly half stood in the dead ball area, much to the chagrin of his team mates. We were quite happy with that though.
The backs were also playing well, with the Stef Liam partner ship working. Liam played with experience beyond his young years and showed incredible skills with the ball. Immaculate accurate long range kicks, a great pass, and some very un-Exile ability to be able to dart around players without being brought down. He scored two lovely fast running elusive tries and set up Mike’s try on the wing. The oppo were pleading for a player transfer 😉
Madden had some good aggressive runs during the game, Morgan some nice persistent tacking, T also had a fair amount of ball to run at the oppo with (just need to straighten the runs up a little, still a little too much lateral movement, but on the whole pretty good). Neal also running strong, and felling oppo players here and there. A few of the new Exiles were played in different positions and adapted well, e.g. Jonathan made a fine lock, and Warren got to play flank for the first time (now his 3rd position in 2 games having had a spell at 8 and prop!). The front five were great, and took on a lot of pressure. Steve R popped at one point due to the pressure, and rather gentlemanly admitted as much giving the oppo a free kick, personally I think he wanted a rest from scrummaging for a few minutes 😉 Ghassan came on for Steve in the 2nd half and showed this Lebanese French man was not for shifting. The second half saw our scrum really putting pressure on, we had some great long drives. At no. 8 though it will be hard to forget the end of one of these, Stef gave me the signal to pick up and run, and literally as soon as I picked up the ball and started to run I got taken out by their flanker, he hit me like a freight train, I’ll go to the grave wondering how he picked up such speed from an onside position to nail me like that.
The only other try not mentioned was that of Eff’s. Like a grizzly bear leaping for an out of reach Salmon he scooped the ball from an oppo lineout a few yards out from their line powered on and slammed the ball down for another 5 points! Madden immediately ran to the chat to the ref in front of Eff as we walked back to the centre line, enquiring "Ref?Have you ever seen a softer try?".
Alex A also almost managed a try on the far left, though sadly didn’t quite make it. Stef almost got a second, though it was deemed a double movement as opposed to a natural bounce. The oppo were then awarded a penalty for this, and for some reason I did an Eric and could not stop myself from taking down their scrum half as soon as he tapped it and started running at me while I was in a very off side position. After apologising profusely the ref warned me I was verging on yellow card territory.
Shortly after that the game ended and we were a victorious 38-7 up!
Big thanks to the oppo. A bigger thanks to my team. No niggling discipline nonsense this week, made the game a pleasure to captain. Lets just hope we can control our heads should we find our selves on the team with less points than the other!