Posted: 16.02.20 at 15:04 by Ralph Henderson
Thurrock 13, Havant 10
THURROCK produced yet another outstanding performance at Oakfield on Saturday to defeat Havant who are at the top of London One South and having a magnificent season.
Havant had arrived early at Oakfield with a large following of supporters expecting their team to continue their domination of the Division. With "Storm Dennis" just beginning to gather pace, Thurrock captain Charlie Russo won the all-important toss and elected to face the wind, knowing that the elements would favour the home side as the match wore on.
There are always debates about selection of ends, but the general rule is to check with the Met Office and knowing the prevailing wind is unlikely to change, play against it in the first half!
The first ten minutes of most games tend to be quite negative as teams test each other out. Then, if the team with the elements hasn't scored, it becomes anxious and decision-making is affected adversely. In the meantime the defending team grows in confidence knowing that in the second period they are likely to have massive territorial advantage . This was certainly the way this game panned out.
Havant kicked off deep into Thurrock territory with a gale at their backs. Thurrock had been briefed by head coach Martin Jones to carry hard into the "teeth of the wind" and avoid kicking if possible. This instruction was carried out to the letter with powerful surges from Russo, Joss Nunn and Tom Pool. Pool,in particular made one terrific 40 metre surge into the opposition half before running out of support.
Solid work by Loka and Catchpole was complemented by the tight scrummaging of Cowman, Carey and Shorter with all three prominent in the loose. Kye Holloway has produced some fine surges over the past few weeks and, once again, he almost escaped the despairing clutches of James Wise. Nevertheless, it was looking increasingly likely that this would be a low-scoring affair, in spite of the vociferous interventions of the vast bi-partisan crowd.
Havant were clearly missing the control of the giant lock, Harrison Young, but the half-back pairing of Jake Hewett and Joel Knight were under constant pressure from the Thurrock back row who were harassing every Havant three-quarter as the ball travelled wearily across the line.
Havant's Sean Shepherd was constantly trying to break clear but time and time again,he was hauled down by some pretty uncompromising tackling.
At last Havant managed to get some territorial gain after a couple of penalties and after a series of punishing drives Jerome Trail managed to get over in the corner. With Knight missing the conversion, the one score was never going to be enough with the storm gathering pace.
As the half was coming to a close, Thurrock's confidence was in the ascendancy and rather than wait for the elements they went on to the attack. First Kiwi Dylan Fearon, making light of his knee injury, drove hard through Joe Moore. Jake Bedding and Alex Jones demonstrated the composure to continue the move deep into Havant's half before the home side were awarded a penalty close to the posts. In order to keep up the pressure Russo turned down an easy three points and opted for the scrum.
His optimism was duly rewarded when the skipper himself picked up from the base and fed the backs on the blind-side. Niall Clifford drifted into the line and accelerated through the gap for a well manufactured score. Clifford, celebrating his 24th birthday, is having a great season in his new position of full-back His positioning and handling are immaculate in difficult circumstances and his incursions into the line are usually decisive. Reminiscent of another languid and leggy full-back of yesteryear, Ray Davies, Niall Clifford has been a real find this season.
Jake Barrand, who himself has been having a brilliant season stepped up to drill a splendid conversion through the wind to put Thurrock ahead 7-5 at the interval.
With Havant now having to defend against what was almost becoming a gale force wind, the omens were not good for the Hampshire champions. Their fate seemed sealed when Barrand increased the lead with a coolly slotted penalty. Conditions now deteriorated further (only the miraculous work of Clive Beynon and his ground staff had made the pitch playable in the first place!).
Tribute should be paid to Havant now. They are not top of this League without good reason. They desisted from kicking and suddenly they ran out of defence through the irresistible Shepherd. When the ball was moved quickly to Wise, only a great piece of covering from Dan Stone saved the day.
Thurrock had brought on Ryan Wilkins and Charlie Currie at the start of the second period and they were soon carrying and tackling at the hesrt of the action. With Chris Shorter, Cowman and Carey, Thurrock are becoming a dominant pack.
When Thurrock were reduced to 14 men after a yellow card it was Havant who began to make inroads and lay siege to the Thurrock line. When Jake Barrand was sent off for a second technical offence, Thurrock were down to 13. Now, in spite of the Herculean efforts of this much depleted team,the inevitable happened.
As the Havant scrum ploughed forward No.8 Joe Davis picked up and dived over in the corner. A mighty effort by Knight just dropped short and the scores were tied.
Earlier in the season, neutrals might have expected this Thurrock team to implode. Not now, though! Over the last month this team has aligned its collective energies and become a super unit. They have"a never-say-die" attitude and their enthusiasm is insatiable. They are certainly more than the sum of their parts!
Now,against the odds they set up one final attack. After a good line-out take Charlie Currie and Chris Shorter were stopped just short and then,with the imminence of the final whistle Thurrock were awarded a penalty. With Barrand off the field it was up to Dan Stone to attempt a shot at goal. With the agonising, nervy gait of a Dan Biggar, Stone sent the ball through the posts to give Thurrock their best win of the season.
The returning Tom Pool was the official man of the match, but in truth, all of Thurrock's players, including outstanding student Kodie Holloway, were heroes as they were feted by their faithful supporters.