Woking I v Haslemere

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First XV
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Woking’s 2015/16 Surrey 4 league campaign finally got underway on Saturday with a home fixture against Haslemere. The visiting team looked optimistic, arriving early to warm up, and coming off the back of a good pre-season. Woking, caught off guard by a change of kick off time from 3pm to 2pm had some last minute arrivals after Saturday work. A problem Stuart Lancaster surely does not have to contend with.

Haslemere’s full warm up routine put them in fine form from the Woking kick off, stringing some nice phases of rugby together and scoring two converted tries through lack lustre Woking defence to take a 14-0 lead. Amid the Woking frustrations Colin Pearce was sent from the field for a petulant retaliation to a push.

Strong words from skipper Mike Aitchison and coaches Pete D’Cruz and Dave Nolan, combined with the wakeup call of conceding early points, stirred Woking into full flow. Despite a strong showing of results through pre-season, this was the first time the Woking 1stXV had run out on the pitch together since beating the promoted Reigate at the end of last season. The signs look promising for the season to come. Down to 14 men, but with the cobwebs brushed aside, Steve Rhodes gathered straight from the kick off to charge down the field leaving a path of devastation behind him. The ball was recycled beautifully through good support and spun wide to winger Faron Griffith-Moore, who drew in two Haslemere defenders before offloading to Aitchison who crashed over the line in the corner. The try was straight off the Woking training pitch, and from the following kick off Woking repeated the process scoring an almost carbon copy of the first try, but this time with Aitchison offloading to Callum Wogan who just could not be stopped from bowling over the try line at pace.

Haslemere must have thought it their day when Jim McGiven was sent from the field just as Colin Pearce returned, but Woking’s 14 men continued to demonstrate scintillating rugby, Aitchison crossing for his 2nd try, after great interplay between himself and Phil Robertson at no.8. Justin Dougherty finally found his kicking boot, slotting this conversion with ease. 17-14.

Woking returned to 15 men, albeit briefly, as hooker Rory Blundell was sent from the field for using his foot to point out an offside player to the referee. The decision felt harsh, and the thought of a further 10 minutes of playing with 14 men seemed a daunting task. Woking opted to slow the game, showing their decision making skills with kicking for territory and keeping the ball tight. The change in pace gave the Woking backs enough rest to continue their defensive work rate, scything down a number of Haslemere advances out wide. Frustration got the better of Haslemere as they started sealing off their attacking ball. Woking’s scrum, with flanker Steve Rhodes stepping in to hook, was immensely powerful, and the 7 man pack drove Haslemere back over their line with Phil Robertson touching down for the bonus point. Half time closed at 24-14.

The match was described as “a game of three halves”, by local photographer Geoffery Banks, as Woking returned to 15 men and dipped in their work rate. Haslemere capitalized scoring a cracking breakaway try through fullback JP, duly converted by the reliable boot of their no.10. Woking once again responded strongly, and off a very strong lineout catch and drive, Phil Robertson placed scrum half Dan Edwards in to take the scores to 31-21.

Woking now fully relaxed and opened up their champagne style of rugby, with Neil Murphy placing Elliot Hood in at the corner for a strangely disallowed try. This try would have killed the game, but Haslemere, given the opportunity to fight back, finished strongly. Woking were clearly drained having spent 30 minutes down to 14 men, and possibly lacking match fitness, and their defence slipped once more, as Haslemere brought the game to 31-26. Last ditch tackling from Gareth Nearn, Griffith-Moore and Aitchison halted Haslemere 1m short of the line with the last play of the game.

Captain Aitchison spoke afterwards, “For our first game of the season we are happy to have come away with a winning bonus point. There were some very positive moments, and the way the team picked up the intensity with 14 men on the field was phenomenal. The down side is that the yellow cards were petulant and discipline nearly cost us the game. Credit to Haslemere, they are a good outfit and I am sure will pose challenges to all teams in the league this season. On to next week against Wandsworthians, where we know discipline will be the key.”