What else would you want to do on the last day of the Six Nations and St Patrick's Day?
With there being a long break between quarter final and semi final of the Evergreen Plate, Sidcup seized upon the idea of capping off the Six Nations with a game to coincide with a few cheap(er) St Patrick’s day pints of Guinness. When I say seized upon the idea, a number of chaps have sold their souls to the 3rd XV and thus were engaged in glory-hunting at Folkstone, some exceptionally rich or jolly well connected folks were off to Twickenham to watch the international and a few others were just being lazy tarts. Oh, a few had genuine injuries, but real men play through the pain and thus we’ll lump them in with the aforementioned “I-can’t-‘cos wimps”.
Thus, with only a handful of vets to call upon, albeit a big hand, a couple of brave dads from the mini rugby stepped into the breach, alongside a few dedicated youths from the 4’s and a couple of colt’s players, one of the latter being recruited by his father on the day to give the new vets their first father and son combination. And on his birthday as well! Saves buying a decent present I suppose. The opposition were provided by that legendary leader of men and freshly-shaven Viking LEN CALEY and his band of Merry men from Bexley 3’s.
The game was officiated by the lightning quick Andy Innes, he of the eagle-eye, firm judgement and awful maths. Andy had the final score down as 37 – 0, but with no penalties kicked, this mathematical impossibility was, though perplexing, entirely in the spirit of the game. Next year, maybe we can play three twenty minutes halves. With a youthful midfield made up of Dan Watson, Chris Neal and Chris Orford the advantages of being twenty years younger than your team mates was apparent. The back three included vets debutantes Brian Whittaker and Tony Gunn on the wings, with the slightly more experienced Colin Orford at fullback, all demonstrating the acceptable pace at which gentlemen should run. Dave Harling played the link man at scrum half, behind a less-than-happy-to-be-playing-a-full-game GREG MCMANUS at No 8 . Ok, we did tell him he would only have to do a ten minute cameo, but I thought whinging was indigenous to us POMS. Our normal centre partnership of NEIL WATKINS and Gerry Egan moved to the more familiar territory of the back row, Porky and Ivan were in the engine room and an experimental front row of Nick Elliot, colt Josh Johns and the ever-fragile Dave Tasker made up the starting front row.
For the first time this season, the Sidcup pack was untroubled on their put in at the scrum. Skipper Porky explained this was down to it being a social game and the fact that as we had Nick Elliot playing his first game as prop, the scrums were uncontested. I didn’t realise we had been contesting scrums in the previous games. So, from the kick off, I believe the ball was knocked on and that pretty much set the tone for the game. There were enough “knock-ons” in the game to earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records and there were fears that the aforementioned Mr Innes would collapse due to blowing his whistle so often it could lead to hyper-ventilating. If the scrums had have been contested, both front rows would have died of exhaustion before half time. Having dubbed the match a “Barbarian fixture” to mark the end of the Six Nations, players were definitely in the spirit of things, flinging the ball about with gay abandon. Alas, there was usually no one within a country mile of where the ball was flung.
Somehow, Sidcup were soon on the scoreboard through a stampeding run from inside centre Chris Neal. Chris’s talents are usually utilised on the wing or at outside centre, possibly due to his reluctance to pass, selfish buggers that inside centres are. Dan Watson may or may not have slotted the conversion, but he did get 4 out of 6, which is four more than Phil Davies would have got. At some stage three other tries may have been scored in the first half, I am unsure of the order, but they occurred something like this;
Sidcup were merrily encamped in the Bexley half when a Bexley break out from their 22 saw a wildly optimistic pass hang in the air with none of the visitors nearby. Brian Whittaker, making his debut for the vets on the left wing, suddenly and in what can only be described as a state of shock, found himself in the clear with 30 yards to the line and showed surprisingly quick speed to score. I hope a debut-try jug was purchased, if not we can discuss this at the next match. Sometime after, the ball was flung from left to right and back again, with Chris Orford being stopped just short of the line and from the resulting ruck, Chris Neal charged over.
From a ruck ten yards out, Dave Harling scored under the posts from a lovely dummy and shimmy which completely flummoxed the Bexley defence. The set pieces were going well; the uncontested scrums were a witty affair and Sidcup were even winning lineout ball on their put in. Based on the idea that not even the Greek God Atlas could lift any of our jumpers, Sidcup varied numbers in their lineout, even if Bexley didn’t follow suit and Mr Innes found it too cruel to point out the rules and penalise them. Skipper Britton worked the front to good effect, such good affect in fact that fellow vet and Bexley captain Caley landed an instinctive and affectionate right hook at the first opportunity. As it was only Porky, no one took offence and much laughter ensued.
Bexley, when they had the ball where equally gung-ho with their passing and possessed afe w potentially lethal weapons in their backline, and then they had Troy Parker. For those of you who don’t know Troy, his old man was Bar Steward in the eighties and Troy himself can found in the gym most mornings during the week trying to turn back the sands of time, on the evidence of this game, not very successfully. They had a particularly hulking outside centre who took some several players to haul down, apart from when he took on the might of Brian Whittaker, giving away probably an inch or two in height and at least five stone, only for Brian to exhibit an exquisite tree-felling tackle, taking him around the ankles and drawing his run to a halt. All that coaching kids brings results, if only for the coaches and not the attention-deficit affected little ...
At half time, Chris Orford offered to retire the bench to allow young Nick Weighill (another barely twenty-something) to have a run out at full back and a straight swap was made. Uncannily, with the second half being minutes old, Dave Tasker was forced to retire from the field of play, this time citing a hamstring tweak as the cause. What he was doing with his hamstring at his age, god only knows. This gave rise to Gerry Egan switching from the back row to tight head and somebody from the backs wandering into the pack, may have been Chris Neal, could have been Colin Orford and the grin swiftly disappeared from Colin’s face as he had to return to the field of play. From almost the first backs move of the half, a sweeping move saw the fresh legs of Weighill break through the defence some forty yards out to score. His next moment in the game came when he found his whole body being lifted off the ground at the end of LEN CALEY’s hand-off as he merrily charged into and over him. No harm done, he bravely battled on, gentleman Len evening apologising for the experience.
The rest of the half was littered with much knocking on and many apologies. The next confirmed vet to discover his hamstring was the shy and retiring NEIL WATKINS, alleging that he over exerted himself in trying to keep up with play. Why he was bothering when there were knock-ons every thirty seconds is beyond me. The joviality continued and the scoreboard went unbothered until five minutes from time, when Sidcup were awarded a scrum on the Bexley five metre line. Showing lightning speed, the fifty-three old McManus broke blind and with four players in support, stayed true to his antipodean roots, ignored them and barged over to score, to a mixture of applause and good-hearted abuse from his teammates. From there, little else happened and a wheezing Mr Innes summoned one last gasp to blow the final whistle.
A well played game in a spirit fitting the occasion and it was good to have a few chaps making their rugby debuts or their first game in donkey’s years. It was also good to have Colts, Coffin Dodgers and fourth team “athletes” on all the same pitch playing for the club. The support, though limited, was entertained throughout and enjoyed laughing at the efforts of their fellow clubmen.
News on the grapevine suggests Charlton Park were victorious in their tie with Sheppey, thus in the coming weeks battle will recommence in the Evergreen, so I will take this opportunity to remind all that the club gym is open from 8 until 10 at night and that weightwatchers’ meetings are held in the main hall every Tuesday night from 6.30.