Nick Greenhalgh recalls a tough day for the Exiles.
Using several cars, some tubes, some trains, some buses and some feet, the Exiles managed to traverse London from various starting positions to the back and beyond of North East London (actually, Hackney Marshes) in order to take on the in-form Old Streetonians IIs.
These journeys were probably one of the hardest feats of the day! Having asked the referee and opposition for a 15-minute delay to kick-off, the final few Exiles crawled out from here and there such that by 14:15 we had 15 men on the pitch playing roughly in positions where they mainly ought to be playing. However, the fact that we started in such disarray had its typical result: we played in a fair amount of disarray.
The pitch was wide, something that the Exiles tend not to cope too well with, yet short. With two full sets of front-row forwards on the pitch, the Exiles played their first game of the season to feature contested scrums – a factor that should work in our favour.
Initially we managed to hold the opposition back from scoring with some good defending (Paul H getting the side out of a sticky position twice within a few minutes) and some strong scrummaging. However, Old Streetonians soon started their scoring spree with a not-too-shabby set of backs running strongly on good lines through our defence.
I was hooking for the first 15 minutes, which is always fun. In high winds, my line-out throwing was not the best, though I did hit Old Streetonians’ scrum half perfectly with my first throw! With Steve R starting loosehead and Tom L tighthead we did reasonably well, though a few times I saw the undersides of Tom’s boots as he was popped into the air by the opposition prop (not sure that was entirely legal!).
Shortly after this Tom picked up an injury and we brought on our late-coming number one hooker Dave MacS, so I was able to retire to the back row. Sadly, due to an absent Exiles captain (c’mon, Barry!) this meant that Chester took an early and unwelcome (from his perspective) promotion to the front row, playing loosehead. This quickly culminated in a man-on-man battle with his physically much larger opposition tighthead. Having seen Chester on the floor on top of this guy, asking if he would like to smell the hair on the top of his knuckles, it was obvious at each subsequent scrum that it would only be a matter of time before the referee intervened.
Indeed, at the very next scrum, Chester brutalised the opposition prop to such an extent that as he retired, the guy shoved him in the back. This unsurprisingly garnered a response from Chester, a whistle from the referee, a talking to the captains, and a more subdued yet concentrated battle at each scrum, so as to not draw attention to their battling.
This exchange was probably the Exiles’ most successful of the match! Closely on its heels was a blistering run by Anthony who made good ground, supported well by Steve R. Alas, it was not enough to get us over the opposition’s try line and, right before half-time, turned out to be the best (only?) decent attack the Exiles could muster in the entire game.
The Exiles did hold Old Streetonians back for a twenty-minute period mid-match in which the opposition failed to increase their tally of tries. But when the romp resumed, the Exiles had several rest breaks behind their try line, while the opposition fly-half kicked them further into the lead.
The Exiles suffered from many unforced errors and from these the opposition typically made considerable ground and sometimes scored. Even when we won line-outs against the head, the ball would do an odd bounce past the scrum half’s (Stef) hands to be kicked gently by the opposition scrum half such that it again comically evaded our full back (Alun) and allowed another try!
Besides Chester’s personal battle, the only other positive thing from my perspective was finally managing to nail their fly-half with hit so big it made him squeak. Sadly this was too near the end of the game to make a difference.
Luton, armed with his long-range lens, was able to zoom in and snap some well-framed shots of a few Exiles looking reasonable. However, looking reasonable typically lasted a single phase after which we were usually punished by the well-drilled and fitter opposition. (Luton’s shots are available here.)
By the time the final whistle was blown, the scoreline read 55-0 in the favour of Old Streetonians. Their victory puts them deservedly at the top of the league table.
The Exiles need to regroup, lick wounds and determine what can be done to make an improvement. As usual, fitness is a large factor, but it is not the only issue. A side that spends the vast majority of the game defending is not going to win the match: the Exiles need to rediscover the attacking style of rugby that has not been consistently seen since the autumn of last season.
We need to get some fire in our bellies; a desire! Saturday’s performance was disheartening, but we need to learn from it and move on. As it is said, something that does not kill you will only make you stronger.
Whilst the trip to Old Streetonians did not go smoothly in terms of timing, generally the Exiles need to be on the pitch 20 minutes prior to kick off at the very minimum to run through some rudimentary moves. We need to be more organised: just a little more will help us improve our game. There are some games that we will always lose, but in these cases we need to start losing by a smaller margin and with more heart.
Our talismanic captain Barry has yet to play this season due to recovery from a hand operation (oo-er, missus!). But he is due to return imminently, and when he does his tell-tale arse slapping on slack players may just be enough to rally the troops.
Big thanks to Alex K for chasing up and organising this Exile crew, as well as sorting out the kit, new water bottles, etc, even though he himself could not play in the game due to a knee injury. He was probably rightly wondering straight after the match why he had bothered. However, by the time we got to the George and Vulture, Old Streetonians’ pub clubhouse, with our first excellent pint of Guinness in hand, the pain hopefully began to subside, as the social aspect of our raison d’etre began to come to the fore.
Congratulations must go to Old Streetonians II who were gracious throughout. We look forward to welcoming them at TFSC in December for the rematch, when, no doubt, we will be better organised and provide them with a tougher challenge than we did on Saturday!
|Old Streetonians II 55||Ealing Exiles 0|