London Irish Wild Geese 24, Chinnor 43
The first glimpse of the visiting XV suggested this was going to be a challenging afternoon for the Geese – they were bloody huge! In his pre-match remarks over lunch (standards in the kitchen are as high as ever), Ray reminded the room of the excitement in the corresponding fixture at the end of last season when Chinnor just missed promotion, and the Irish got the 4 tries we needed to stay up.
Could the lads repeat that tally this time? An early run down the right wing by Reon Joseph from our first possession was a promising sign, but immediately afterwards, from the sort of clean lineout ball delivered by their sizeable 2nd rows all afternoon, the Oxfordshire club moved first phase ball to the right flank and then back inside for a simply constructed try, which was converted.
Irish continued to play their own game, going effectively through their routines with the pace and skill level from both teams impressing. However, with only 9 minutes gone, a simple but difficult to defend lineout catch and drive extended the visitors lead to 0-14. Chinnor fielded an interesting midfield of Jonny Bentley (recently with London Welsh), Danny Barnes, their skipper (formerly at Munster) and a Fijian the size of Suva and a name of proportionate length – this week’s correspondent is still having bad dreams at the thought of trying to tackle him.
The home lineout was going well, and although outweighed at the scrum, we remained competitive, the most worrying times being – as ever – when ball was turned over. However, the visitors’ next score again came from a set piece when, from a lineout close to the Geese line, an imperfect reflection saw a clever switch to the blind from their scrum half gave the physical Barnes a mismatch against a smaller home defender, and he powered over. 0-19.
A healthy number of the faithful had turned up to watch, and it is a tribute to the Geese players that at this stage their morale was higher than those along the touchlines. A good period of sustained attacking play in the middle of the first half brought throaty encouragement, together with brave and energetic tackling when not in possession; Joseph and Chico U’Chung stood out in covering roles.
It did look grim unfortunately when a left to right movement of the ball along the Chinnor line was followed by a right to left one, finishing with their dumper truck 2nd row free on the wing to go over from the final pass, extending the lead to 0-31 with a minute left on the clock. Crucially, and in a demonstration of their fighting spirit, the Geese worked George Owen over in the left corner on the stroke of half time.
The deficit of 5-31 left those emerging from the bar after half-time with tea and other forms of refreshment anticipating a proverbial mountain to climb. Gerry Gallagher was particularly impressed when the first scrum after the resumption saw London Irish going forward – not in the set piece, but after the front rows came up and a few right-handers were exchanged. We were all a bit quieter on 43 minutes when a defensive error let Bentley in under our own posts – as a veteran back rower said, not so much show and go, as just go.
The Irish cover tackling continued to impress, and on 52 minutes Harry Rowland got over from decent lineout ball close to the visitors’ line. Peter Hodgkinson converted, taking the score to 12-38.
Ziana Alexis showed doggedness in the tight against the Chinnor loosehead who looked like an extra from the Hobbit film, and caught the eye for carrying a fair bit of possession. Owen looked dangerous each time he had the ball and U’Chung kept the defence interested as well.
Kerry O’Sullivan, the replacement loosehead, was hardly on the Hazelwood turf before he picked up a yellow card just after the hour mark, and almost immediately afterwards, Lamont, the Chinnor replacement back three player, got over to extend their lead to 12-43.
As we entered the last 5 minutes of normal time, the period of the match which Eddie and co will be most pleased about unfolded. With Chinnor now a man down to a yellow card, Hodgkinson managed a sort of Brian O’Driscoll pick and wriggle over – where there seemed no room – from about a yard out. Then, with a second visiting player in the bin, a penalty to the corner led to a sort of 1999 vintage Warren Gatland-style rolling maul with 13/14/15 all joining, the ref somehow went flying, and – miracle of miracles – the players had achieved the 4th bonus point try, and a final score of 22-43.
As the Accountant who wrote last week’s match report put it, the 2nd half was 17-12 to the Irish!