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Woking Rugby received the sad news this weekend that their club president, Sean Elder, passed away after a lengthy battle with a terminal illness. The club paid their respects to the Irishman by adorning green socks for their opening competitive fixture of the 2015/16 Surrey 4 season. After a minutes silence, respected by Woking, Southampton and the mass of supporters all wearing a green token, the game got underway.
Woking have had a long pre-season with the club really building the strength and depth of their 1stXV and 2ndXV squads in preparation of a push for promotion this year. With only one pre-season friendly played against Guildfordians the previous week, spirits were high after beating local rivals 31-12. A number of absentees meant that Woking were able to demonstrate the depth of squad they have been accruing, and off the high, hanging kickoff from skipper Aitchison, Tom Smith and Ben Dinsdale caught man and ball. The weighty Southampton pack immediately looked to maul the ball the length of the field, and a lack of experience from a number of the Woking players brought the maul down for a penalty. Southampton missed touch from the penalty kick and Ross Cahalane at fullback gathered with comfort and set off up the pitch on one of his many meandering runs.
With the Southampton defence set Woking strung together a number of excellent set phases straight off the training pitch, sucking in the defensive line and creating a gap in the 10/12 channel for Aitchison to exploit. And exploit he did, skipping between the opposition 6 and 7 before rounding the fullback with ease to open the days score and convert himself. Moments later Woking charged up the field once more with excellent ball carries from Nathan Buckley and big Ben Bremner creating a path of destruction. Matt Armstrong at scrum half was flinging the ball out with gusto and the pace of the game was clearly too quick for Southampton as again Aitchison skipped through but nearly butchered a chance by throwing a wild pass to the floor. The bouncing ball caught all off guard bar Ross Cahalane who once again showed his soft hands, scooped up the ball and sidled his way past the defence to touch down for 5. Aitchison again converted. 14 – 0
Woking’s penalty count began to significantly increase towards the end of the 2nd half as Southampton woke up and started to string some good continuity together. The contact area proved particularly problematic as hands went in to slow play down. After a number of attempts to cross the Woking try line, denied almost single headedly by Faron Griffiths-Moore who was simply outstanding in defence, Southampton opted to kick for goal and take their first 3 points of the day. From the restart Southampton opted for the rolling maul once more and again were illegally stopped by Woking. For the remainder of the 1st half Woking were under pressure deep in their 22, and eventually the tide of Southampton’s pack surged over in the corner to close the half at 14-10.
The second half was frantic. With gaps appearing all over the field and both sides opting to attack from deep, the crowd were entertained with some end to end action. On several occasions Woking broke through with strong runs from Elliot Hood and Dan Hills, and great backup dog work from locks Hursthouse and Brennan. It was Southampton who took the first score of the 2nd half, with another powerful surge from their considerably sized no.8. Taking the score to 14-15.
Gareth Phillips, on at scrum half, provided an extra command of authority and Wokings pack was solidified with the addition of Simon “the rock” Power entering his old head into the front row. Phil Robertson controlled the base of the Woking scrum with some deft footwork, and after a lovely pickup placed Phillips over to regain the lead, converted once more by Aitchison. 21-15.
Once more the end to end action ensued, and despite the best efforts in defence from Matt Edwards, Jamie Owens and Tom Smith, Southampton scored once more out wide with 5 minutes to play. Woking supporters looked on with baited breath and were relieved to see the conversion narrowly pull wide of the near side post. The conversion miss took the wind out of Southampton sails and for the remaining 5 minutes Woking dominated territory, a number of well placed kicks keeping the pressure on until the final whistle.
Coach Pete D’Cruz commented, “A real show of strength and depth for our squad today with a number of people holding their hands up for 1stXV places next week. We made hard work of it but fortunately our kicking game was on form today and we managed to hold on for the win in a very pleasing manner. Sean would have been proud of the clubs determined performance to fight until the end.”