Exiles finally took the lead in the last 90 seconds of play v London Welsh , winning the nail biter 43-36. This league position defining match was refereed by the Wayne Barnes, and the result gave us a place in the MMT Div 5 Play offs!
Proud skipper Nick Greenhalgh reports.
Undoubtabley the most built up match of the Exiles season. The mid table decider of the MMT Division 5 league. We needed a draw or a win to get enough league points in our last league table match to allow us to sneek ahead of Quintin to fourth position and so secure our place in the MMT play offs.
So suitably we had a ref to match the caliber of the game. Wayne Barnes, who when he is not officiating World Cup quarter final matches, likes to ref proper rugby. He had a cracking game himself. Boy did he like to let the game play and prefer good communication about potential infringements, as opposed to keeping out of it and endlessly blowing the whistle. I think there were only a handful of penalties, but a heap of absolutely knackered lads, and that was just ten minutes in.
With great anticipation and build up we arrived down in Richmond at the well cared for picturesque London Welsh strong hold. We arrived in great numbers. Perhaps too many! In the pack we had 2 men for every position. In the backs only a couple of spares. So several backrowers had to take the hit and stand out in the line with the backs. Some played so well there they may not make it back to the pack!
The headline and score give a picture of the Exiles looking probably in contention for long parts of this match. We weren’t! Within the first ten minutes we’d let in three tries! The Welsh number 8 was a youthful monster very hard to pin down, frequently breaking tackles and frequently bludgeoning on with several Exiles in his trail. Heads were dropping as we looked and felt like we were going to be on the wrong end of an whooping.
However, we started to realise if we worked fast, used the backs, and in particular had men in support we could make progress. The scrum and lineout options were not working too well, but in the loose we weren’t doing too badly and if we made a few yards and span it out we were making progress. I think Stef McCabe got our first try with what is becoming his trade mark scrum half dummy and dive move, feigning a pass and then cutting inside an over that sweet try line!
The pouring rain of Welsh tries began to dry up. The sun shone brighter and the Exiles started to see possible light at the end of the tunnel. We had another break after several phases working it through the forwards in a ruck and then breaking out left. Ed Moores making some hard yards on the wing, span it back to Stef who clocked up another 20 metres before spinning it out to Alex A to fininshg off a lovely well worked try.
Half time came and we had to make wholesale changes due to the Exiles generous if you turn up we’ll try and give you half a game philosophy. This undertaking did seem to give the Welsh a little more control of the scrum and lineout, however, in the loose we still held our own, and in general I think we had most of the possesion. Though typically the Welsh were more fruitful when they did get the ball. However, like a dog backed into a corner we weren’t going to give up easily.
The tackling was still not great, and way too often certain 2nd rowers were woefully lumbering around behind rucks in that sacred scrum half to fly half channel, essentially cutting off our entire backline from the next phase of rugby. But the support when unimpeded kept us alive. The backline kept on trying to breach that Welsh line, wave after wave of hits came in as Stef span the ball to Mitch at 10, and Mitch would ship it to his dad Scott at 12 who would try and blast the holes through the Welsh. The holes weren’t for blasting, but Scott was sucking in several defenders and not loosing possession giving us a great platform for the next phase. Scott did however breach through at one point and got himself on the score sheet.
From a penalty five yards out Stef knee knocked it to Jareth who was steaming in from the left. Wayne blew up and said "lets do it properly now", Stef span it right this time to me (Nick G) and I managed to smash into a heap of London Welsh defenders right smack between the posts, stretch out and touch down the ball! Thankfully Wayne was in a perfect position to see the try.
The game progressed to the closing stages I recall being down 10 points with 10 minutes to go thinking, we may get this victory after all. We were clawing our way back towards contention. Shortly after this Neal Craig broke through and showed that his taste for try scoring was not just a one match affair. Great support was bring us back into the game. Then we were 3 down. Finally with 90 seconds on the clock in what we thought was the last play of the game we yet again failed to cleanly catch the restart however, swiftly it was gathered and shipped out to our semi formed line, from here Mitch came into his own putting in an incredible run culminating in the match winning try.
The Exiles roared with delight! We’d for the fist time in the match got ahead, and we thought it was the last play too! However, Wayne informed us we had 30 seconds left on the clock. We could still throw the game away! Nightmare!
The next restart should have seen us just catch, hold for a while and hoof to touch. We didn’t have chance to do that though. The oppo tried a quick one kicking the ball for their backs to chase down in a suprise attempt to ambush the tired Exiles. This back fired big time for the Welsh, as "T" in his appearance on the left wing was awesome, firing through several tackles and making massive gains in territory. He couldn’t quite make it himself though and thankfully didn’t have to. Jareth was steaming up in support and managed to break over the line. The roar this time was of utter jubilation, what we’d been planning and hoping for for months had come together in the last seconds of the game. This victory sees us step over Quintin IIs in the MMT Div 5 final table into fourth, on the last day we could legally play this postponed match. As fourth we get to the play off and play the first team. So next weekend we are in the semi’s versus GWR playing an away match at home! I think this just means they have to pay for the meal tickets!
The sun was shining in Richmond, and the sun was shining on the Exiles! And so all was well in the world! We probably won due to keeping our heads up and the pressure on, especially in support.
Only downside was sadly Gautier took a big hit to the shoulder and badly damaged a ligament there. Hope that recovers well.
Big thanks to our great hosts and enjoyable oppoents London Welsh and our celebrity referree Wayne! May be see you in the final!
Exiles prepare yourself for next weekend. The last league match we need to win as promotion is not our number 1 goal. We are still liking the deep painful wounds of previous forays into the higher leagues. We do however want to show we ain’t that bad for a bunch of pre match half pint Guinness slurpers. Lets give GWR a good game and see if we can push on to the finals and then lose to a better team!
Alex A (4?)
Steve Richards – 1
Dave MacSweeney – 2
Ash Spencer – 3
Gautier Henry – 3
John Moore – 4
Luke ?- 4
Thomas Laishley – 5
Anthony Chapman – 5
Fabio Krasniqi – 6,2
Jonathan McKeogh – 6
Jareth Keenan – 7
Ciaran Doyle – 7
Julian Sweeney – 8,5
Nick Greenhalgh -7,8 – Skipper
Stef McCabe – 9
Mitch Ocallagan – 10
Gautam Tamang – 11
Paul Havel – 11
Scott Ocallaghan – 12
Neal Craig – 13
Dave Morgan – 13
Ed Moores – 14
Chandra Sekar – 14
Mark Davies – 15
Alex Adide – 15