Sunday, May 19, 2024

Rugby: Thurrock’s big guns outmanoevure Artillery

Honourable Artillery Company 19 v 20 Thurrock

THURROCK’S young full back Rhys Cotter proved to be the difference between the sides when slotting a 45-metre penalty kick in the 86th minute to give Thurrock their biggest scalp of the season so far. 

Prior to Saturday, HAC and only lost one game all season to top of the table Letchworth by just two points.

To the disappointment of a number of Thurrock’s travelling supporters HAC were, apparently, unable to host Ts at their own ground due to a rugby league fixture on Friday, the day before their scheduled game against Thurrock. 

After several attempts at arranging a suitable venue and kick off time, the match eventually got underway at 3pm at Chiswick Rugby Club’s venue. Chiswick were hosting a game against London Scottish B before our game and kindly kicked their match off early so the pitch was available to the two sides half an hour before its 3pm kick off.

The AGP at Chiswick had withstood the cold weather and the match kicked off in bright sunshine.

The early phases of the game went to Thurrock who put pressure on the HAC defence which held out well. HAC were getting to the breakdown earlier than the Ts could recycle the ball and three times in the first 10 minutes of the match HAC were able to relieve the pressure when Thurrock gave penalties away for “holding on” at the ruck.

HAC have some excellent big runners, particularly in their front five and their number 10 Ben Crowe was proving a handful with his direct running and off-loading to the supporting player coming into the line at pace. Dan Stone, Thurrock’s own fly-half, must have been sore on Sunday with the tackles he and the other Thurrock defenders were called upon to make.

The first half proved similar to the match played at Thurrock, (HAC eventually winning 12-29), with both sides giving their all but the defences holding out for long periods of the match. 

In the 36th minute Lawrence Brown, Thurrock’s hooker was driven into the ground and he was forced to leave the pitch for the rest of the game. 

The reshuffle in the forwards meant Dan Ulph moved to cover hooker, Tani Loka joining the fray with Caolan Watts-Adams moving to flanker. The kick from the resulting penalty found touch but the throw was not quite perfect and HAC were able to recover the resulting clearing kick and scored a try wide out on their left flank having finally broken through the Thurrock defensive line. The conversion was missed, and half time followed soon after with the score 5-0 in HAC’s favour.

The coaching team made a couple of changes at halftime with Aaron Antrobus coming into the front row for Frank Wright and Rob Murphy replacing Kye Holloway on the wing. Both replaced players had enjoyed good first halves, Frank and Tom Wileman putting the HAC front row under great pressure in the scrum and Kye making several good runs into the heart of the HAC side.

The second half started well for Thurrock. Within a couple of minutes of the second half whistle Thurrock made inroads into the HAC defence and the ball was moved swiftly through hands to end with Tani Loka who fought his way to the try line wide out on the left. Up stepped Rhys Cotter who kicked a masterful conversion from wide out giving Thurrock the lead 5-7.

The game continued to swing one way then back the other. Ten minutes into the second half under a lot of pressure HAC collapsed the scrum in front of their posts. Rhys again stepped up to move Thurrock further ahead, 5-10. But HAC have not got such a good record over the last two seasons by giving in and in the 68th minute the constant attacks from them recycling and consistently gaining good yardage they eventually broke through the Thurrock defence to score their second try close to the sticks, which they duly converted, 12-10.

HAC now had the ascendancy and despite the defence tackling well the pressure began to tell. Niall Clifford had made one too many hard tackles with his centre partner Henry Bird and Niall eventually was forced the leave the field, Kye returning to the wing with Rob switching into the centre.

In attack the Ts continued to try and hold HAC in their own half. Aaron Antrobus was proving a handful and drove the HAC team back on several occasions. 

However, despite the pressure on one occasion too many for the referee’s liking, Thurrock gave away a high tackle penalty. Tani Loka the culprit this time, was shown a yellow card. Three minutes later, in the 73rd minute, HAC scored a third try which they again converted and gave them a 19-10 lead.

The spirit of the Thurrock players kept them in the game and from another powerful movement and great “hands” the ball was swiftly moved to the left wing when Henry Bird drove over, almost in the same position as Tani’s try. Once again Rhys Cotter made the conversion to put Thurrock to within just two points with just two minutes plus injury time to play.

Foul play by an HAC player while Henry scored his try resulted in their reduction to 14 men as an HAC player was shown a yellow card.

Shortly after Loka returned to the field of play and it was Thurrock’s turn to chase the win. By constantly knocking the HAC runners back with some great tackling from the whole squad Thurrock kept building pressure. Eventually HAC transgressed at the breakdown and gave Thurrock a penalty kick just a few metres in the HAC half.

Five minutes into injury time. Should he try to convert the kick? Should he kick to touch and try to secure the line-out and drive HAC over? With Diredctor of Rugby Martin Jones suggesting the decision was one for Rhys.

“If he reckons he can take the kick let him have it.” 

Eventually Ben Timson, after tackling his heart out all afternoon stepped up and the skipper asked Rhys to try and slot it. 

Rhys, the coolest man on the pitch, (and watching), took a couple of steps back, stepped up and sent the ball through the posts for the three points. 

The referee instantly blew the whistle for the end of play. Rhys was mildly congratulated and applauded by his team mates (actually he was jumped on by almost the whole team).

This young Thurrock side has been building throughout the season.

A number of injured players have returned to fitness and with confidence growing each week they have managed to secure three out of three wins so far since the New Year.


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