Match Report from Nigel Guy : Eton Manor 17 – Chobham 14
Well this was it, play off day and the Chobham caravan had to travel across the Thames to the east London/Essex borders and take on Eton Manor with the winner booking a slot in National 3SE. Despite the trek, the Chobham faithful descended in their droves by all methods of transport arriving with enough musical instruments to form an orchestra and certainly make themselves heard. On their arrival they found a very hospitable rugby club, well geared up for the afternoon’s entertainment in the sun.
Chob arrived at Eton Manor in good form, unbeaten in 16 matches although Manor themselves held an impressive 3 year unbeaten home record and they also had the bitter experience of play off defeats in the last two seasons in the memory banks. Whatever the statistics and form, it was clear that this was going to be a very close encounter with the team making least mistakes and taking its chances likely to come out on top. The coaching team of Ryan Gregory and Tony Paul had prepared the squad well. Chob had only one change to the team sheet with Jamie Evans coming into the front row for his brother whose work commitments excluded his participation. With an extra front row replacement required for the play off, Tom Riley and Oli Wakefield joined the bench and wing Liam Monaghan celebrated his 100th 1st XV appearance.
Referee Mr Sutton got proceedings underway and Chob with a slight cross wind at their backs looked to take the early initiative with a raking Alex Seers touch finder from a penalty moving play into the Manor 22. From the lineout Chob looked to get the drive going but strong defence from the home team stalled the attack winning a scrum in the process. In fact the Manor defence looked secure but Chob managed to win an attacking scrum just on the Manor 22, but the ball flew out allowing the Reed brothers to pressurise the Chob defence and gain a penalty to clear the danger. With the time approaching 20 minutes, both teams had looked secure in defence as they probed like two prize fighters cagily weighing up the opportunities, with the result that the Chob free running wide backs had yet to get in the game. On 25 minutes the home side opened the scoring. A routine chip ahead led to a misunderstanding in the Chobham defence, the ball spun loose and with the Manor cavalry arriving, Mr Sutton pinged Chob for holding on. Home captain Tryson Goodchild was alert to the situation and tapped and went crashing over the try line under the posts. Callum McKie converted. Eton Manor 7 Chobham 0. Chobham responded well. A series of controlled attacks involving forwards and backs moved play into the Manor 22. With great ball retention a try looked but Ian Barnes’ pass to the on rushing Gregory just failed to go to hand. But Manor were pressured into touching down in goal allowing Chob an attacking 5 metre scrum. With a solid platform, number 8 Ollie Smith picked and crashed over the line for a deserved try. Seers added two more, all square. Eton Manor 7 Chobham 7. The kickers then had their chance with McKie nudging Manor ahead by 3 points before Seers attempt to equalise just went wide. Eton Manor 10 Chobham 7. Chob continued to dominate this part of the game winning a succession of penalties deep in the home 22. The kicks to the corners produced a series of illegally interrupted drives but on the third one, the execution was perfect and hooker Adam Blemings emerged at the tail to claim the score. Seers added the extras. Eton Manor 10 Chobham 14. Half time.
Coaches Gregory and Paul were content with the Chob first half having played within themselves but established a slight lead. Manor had not looked particularly threatening and the Chob defence had coped well with the threats they showed. A strong opening was needed to keep the slight advantage and put pressure on the home team to come from behind.
With the breeze slightly in their favour, Manor started with another kick downfield. With acres of space, the chase was good and although the Chob defence scrambled well, they were unable to clear their lines allowing Manor an attacking scrum. Although the initial pick and drive was stopped, Kevin Reed drove again and grounded the ball for the score. McKie converted. Eton Manor 17 Chobham 14. With only 2 minutes of the second half played, this wasn’t what Chob wanted but there was still a long way to go. Manor though dominated the next 10 minutes as the wind was used to pin Chob back to their own 22. Surprisingly, but perhaps reflecting the tenacity of the Manor defence Chob kicked the ball away far more than they have this season allowing the ball to be returned with interest. McKie had the chance to extend the lead on 52 minutes but missed right and Manor laid siege to the visitors’ line with a series of 5 metre scrums but Chob just held on and cleared their lines. With the game moving into the last quarter Chob found a second wind and Josh Devitt and Mikey MacDonald finally found some space to run into. Ben Sims almost broke through but was denied, Seers had a pot at goal but was wide. The tension was mounting and affecting everyone both on and off the field. The force was still with Chob and their case was eased when Manor’s Lockyer saw yellow on 70 minutes for a deemed dangerous aerial challenge on Devitt. More pots at gaol were declined as Chob again went for the corner and the lineout which again Manor thwarted. On 75 minutes it looked like the deadlock had been broken as Barnes spotting an opportunity up the blind side to put Centurion Monaghan away. He dived for the line convinced he had scored but to increase the drama the well positioned Mr Sutton sought counsel from his touch judge who deemed a knock on had occurred during the act of scoring. Definitely one for the TMO but right or wrong, it was a crucial match deciding call which determined the fate of the play off. With Manor managing the remaining seconds with their backs to the wall, Mr Sutton blew for full time and the home team had secured the victory. Eton Manor 17 Chobham 14, full time.
An absorbing encounter between two well matched teams of contrasting styles. With the tension of the occasion probably reducing the overall quality on display, it was a dramatic encounter which the supporters of both sides enhanced with their vociferous support. Congratulations to Eton Manor. On the day they took their chances and defended like demons when down to 14 men. Chob will be disappointed at the missed opportunity but have to celebrate a wonderful season which has produced some sensational rugby and which has caught the imagination of the whole club and its wonderful supporters. The players will lick their wounds over the summer, but come back more determined than ever.
Report: Nigel Guy, Director of Rugby, Chobham RFC