THURROCK travelled to Eton Manor on Saturday with a much changed team. An outbreak of Flu in the camp had led to wholesale changes which meant debuts for Angus Poole and colt, Benji Olaniran plus a first appearance in seven years for another former colt, Matt Murphy.
With Thurrock down to the “bare bones”, Martin Jones, once again had to make compromises in his selection.
With the odds stacked against them, Thurrock tore into the opposition from the outset.
With Dan Stone kicking with confidence, Ben Timson and his pack threatened the Manor team with a series of driving mauls from line-outs. Time after time, they were repelled by solid defence and came away without crossing the whitewash.
They managed a penalty by Rhys Cotter, who once again looked a class act as he fielded and tackled fearlessly as well as offering a genuine attacking threat.
The Thurrock pack with Caolan Watts-Adams and Tani Loka to the fore were dominating the early exchanges, but couldn’t quite turn their superiority into a points advantage.
A superb drop-out by George Bradley was taken at full speed by Alli Minns, who tip-toed down the touch line, only to be denied by the width of the whitewash.
The visitors enjoyed a brief reprieve before Minns drove hard for the line to create an overlap on the opposite flank.
Thurrock came storming back, but were denied as the game ebbed and flowed. Then when a Manor attack broke down, the ubiquitous Niall Clifford spotted a mis-match on the narrow side which he exploited to the full, selling a dummy before sending a pass to wing, Harry Reynolds. Reynolds was soon into full stride and hurtled down the touchline like a gazelle evading a predator, to put Thurrock into a well-deserved lead . Rhys Cotter added to his stock with a faultless conversion from out wide.
Suddenly, the whole momentum of the game was thrown asunder as Caolan Watts-Adams was controversially shown a yellow card for attempting an interception. The average deficit during a period in the bin is seven points. Thurrock conceded 19 in dramatic fashion after some muscular carries by BJ Tunde and Ciaran Short. The major beneficiary was that man,Alli Minns, who strode over with power and aplomb.
Thurrock now threw off the shackles and were rewarded with two fine tries from young flanker, Euan Thomas, grabbing his first senior try and skipper, Ben Timson.
Even then, they were denied a couple of much-deserved bonus points when Clifford surged through a gap only for the referee to blow up for a cramped Manor centre.
In many ways, the scoreline flattered the Manor as this make-shift Oakfield outfit deserved far more from their endeavours.
On the day that England went out of the Football World Cup after dominating for much of the game, Thurrock suffered the same fate, but this spirited performance should give them confidence going into next week’s pre-Christmas derby game against top placed Southend.