N.B. If you are from Warlingham RFC Vets and you are reading this, all names, distances and facts have been changed to protect the identities of those involved...
Legends are not borne of mediocrity and at Charlton Park’s ground on Sunday, the Vets’ legend grew. The efforts to bring back social rugby to Sidcup are still on hold as the club’s new Vets side progressed through to the final of the Evergreen Plate. After several days of biblical downpours, the prospect of the game going ahead seemed madness of the highest calibre, but hidden away in the farthest reaches from the clubhouse was a pitch in playable condition, even if players and supporters had to march through a paddy field to get to it.
After some brief practise for the forwards not catching the ball in the lineout and backs rehearsing some audacious moves with similar results (I blame Ivil’s and Watkins’s passing) the referee advised that there was 5 minutes to go to kick off and skipper Britten attempted to get the squad back in the changing rooms for a team talk. This caused a minor rebellion as the team decided running somewhere else only to come back to where you started from a bizarre notion and thus stayed put. From the kick off, the physicality of the home side’s pack was evident and their keenness to play a mauling game and take the battle on up front was plain for all to see.
Around ten or probably much less minutes into the game, Charlton Park slung the ball wide and despite indications that it may have 5 feet or so forward, the referee allowed play to continue. As the ball bobbled on the floor, the covering centre Egan, reminiscent of his wing forward days, sprinted the required 20 metres or so before diving onto the ball and securing possession. In the process of this act, a noise somewhat like a chicken leg being pulled from its socket was heard. Though helped to his feet, the initial idea of “running it off” caused the injured party to double over and utter words not to be repeated in print. Our Physio de Jour, Mr Paul Graham, declared a groin injury to have occurred, with the utterance “I don’t touch groins... well, not blokes anyway”. Mr Graham’s initial prescription was several weeks rest and “I advise most people with this injury to abstain from sex for a few weeks, but that won’t be a problem in your case”.
Thus, without their talismanic centre Sidcup were forced to reshuffle their back line, albeit a quick shuffle with Bazza Jackson (he of the Reverend Ian Paisley tattoo on his a***) slotting in to his old 1st XV position of centre. Sometime after, forward pressure produced a try for the home side in the left hand corner. The next twenty minutes or so were a war of attrition between the two packs, with possession split evenly; CP having a slight ascendancy in the set pieces and Sidcup attacking from broken play with Gallic aplomb; a term, not a new recruit. Sidcup weathered the storm and as the half drew to a close started to encamp in the CP 22. Pressure from the Sidcup pack saw CP concede a number of penalties and from one of these Leamon took a quick tap, ignored the pace of Davies in support and barged his way over from close range.
The second half began with Sidcup reshuffling their side again due to multiple cases of heat exhaustion and PTSD; Backrow Hobbs moved to the second row where he didn’t have to run around so much and Highmore ventured into the front row to give it “sex appeal”. Early on wing Cooney was the victim of a “studs ups” tackle which caused a supporter to state “it could get ugly out there”, which merited the quick riposte; “it’s no beauty pageant in the first place, mate”. With Orford also retired, “Dangerous” Dave Harling moved to the right wing and Innes made his New Vets debut replacing the equally-often sizzled Cooney. Hancox and Mulvaney slotted into the backrow to provide a more aerodynamic look to pack.
Sidcup began to vary their lineout and were now providing good possession from multiple areas. The pack was beginning to use their superior mobility to good effect and was soon awarded another penalty on the CP 22. Once again, Leamon, ignored multiple passing options to slink over for his second try of the match. Somewhat outrageously, Davies slotted his second conversion of the game, eclipsing all previous performances by 100%. With the sun now shining, Sidcup were willing to put the ball through the hands and seemed happy to take on the CP defence from anywhere, with backs and forwards combining well. A brief visit by CP to the Sidcup 22 was repelled again and again until the visitors were awarded a penalty for not releasing on the five metre line. Realising that a relieving kick to touch was what the hard-working pack wanted, Leamon decided to do his own thing and once again shot off up the pitch taking all by surprise. He somehow made it to the half way line before being hauled down and manufactured a pass to the excellent Jackson haring up in support (something the previous outside centre would certainly not have done) who carried the move on before lobbing a delightful overhead pass to the exuberant Hancox who belied the laws of time to sprint some forty yards to score. I think Davies was again successful with the conversion, but can’t believe it. The try was both an excellent example of quick thinking, support play and most importantly how to inflict a huge psychological blow upon the opposition.
The forward battle was both relentless and being waged with no quarter asked or given (never understood that phrase). CP attempted an attack from the halfway line and were once again repelled back by some excellent defence (epitomised by Watkins in the midfield) and soon spilled the ball from a ruck on their own 10 metre line. Once again, flanker Hancox was quickest to react and darted through catching the defence flat-footed to score his second and the team’s fourth. Now some 28 to 12 ahead, Sidcup had some breathing space and were playing with real confidence. A scrum on the CP 22 saw possession moved quickly to Watkins in the midfield who took a great line on the crash to cut through the defence. His charge was stopped by cover defence but once an imperious pass found its way to Whitford in support who rampaged over the line. At this point, Davies returned to form and missed his first kick of the day.
With the game all but won, what had been an even battle in the first half has turned into something of a rout and to rectify matters, the last ten minutes of the match seemed to elapse with visitors conceding eleven or twelve consecutive penalties in a row. From these, two tries were scored in relatively feasible circumstances and there was even time for second row Hobbs to be illegally ejected from a ruck by a potent left hook. The referee advised the players that there were two minutes left on the clock, though at the time of stating this he had his back turned to the Sidcup side and seemed to talking directly to the home side. Sure enough, after conceding a number of penalties for wearing a white shirt at the breakdown, CP scored their fourth and final try with the referee blowing for full time directly after.
It was by far the most physically demanding encounter of the season and epitomised that if anyone thinks vets rugby is a stroll in the park, they should give it a go and see just how bruising it is. The pack grew in stature as the game progressed and the addition of Jackson in the centre even inspired Watkins to pass the ball a bit. Second half wing Innes demonstrated lighting quick feet; even if it was on the spot and he did not move forward until the opposition were upon him. Orford proved he can still turn quicker than the Titanic, but only just. Ivil added variety to the back line's play, even if getting Dicky to pass is like getting blood out of a stone. Dicky himself has surely now eclipsed his much elder brother in terms of both audacity on the pitch and popularity in the bar (though the latter is no achievement). And Jackson wandered about muttering “No surrender” to himself and popping up all over the place.
In the pack, Britten lead form the front, even if the referee didn’t appreciate that he needs any assistance available jumping nowadays. Tasker put in a personal best performance of the season by lasting the full 80 and represented the over 50 bracket heroically. Highmore (Second-Half-Steve to his mate), even ventured a run at the opposition himself, even if he did need a lie down afterwards. Hancox and Mulvaney added pace in the back row and gave the side an added dimension when they came on and Whitford proved he is one hell of a number 8, especially when compared to his first half as a flanker. Hobbs leapt like no one else in the lineout; then again, no one else on our team can (leap that is). Finally King, playing both sides in the front row for the crack of it, bulldozing in the loose and constantly dogging it out in the rucks and mauls, merited his man-of-the-match title, a suitable award for which will be presented at the final.
And so to that event, May 12th (Saturday week) at Croydon RFC 13.30 kick off against Surrey’s Warlingham RFC. With the semi final being some two months after our quarter final victory over Medway (somehow) the battered side have now less than two weeks to prepare for the biggest game of the season. So, if you fancy supporting the new breed of vets on what could be a great day out for the club, make it a date in your diary and cheer on our age-defying men. Think “Cocoon” meets “Invictus” and you’ll have an idea of what to expect!