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After several hours of heavy rain the clouds parted in time for Saturdays kick off down at Byfleet Rec. Woking started strongly with significant ball carries from flanks Steve Rhodes and Grant Alexander testing the Johnian defence. Not often do you see Rhodes get knocked backwards, but Johnians looking more physically fit than Woking stood strong and weathered the barrage of early attacks before turning over a quick ball and catching Woking on the counter to open the score for the day. Johnians 15 proved a reliable boot, and shortly after the conversion slotted a dubious penalty to take the score 0-10.
Woking continued to play good rugby, though an overzealous referee prevented either side from stringing together more than a couple of phases at a time. Rory Blundell capitalized from a quick tap and go to power over the line, duly converted by Dan Edwards who followed the run of play for the day by slotting a penalty shortly afterwards to briefly level the scores before Johnians 15 kicked another 3.
The half time whistle came seemingly quickly, the frantic pace clearly having an effect on both sides. Woking made one change to bring Adam Smith into the back row as an enforcer. Yet again surprisingly Johnians coped admirably with the sizeable Smith in attack, but some great support work allowed Callum Wogan to smash over the try line giving Woking the lead 15-13. The conversion was frustratingly shanked. Woking had a chance to further this lead from another penalty conversion attempt which also followed the path towards the corner flag!
What followed was a cracking exchange of rugby, flowing from end to end. Desperate defence halting either side. James Webber on debut made some convincing tackles at fullback, whilst Jon Hursthouse showed his engine power by consistently stopping and upending his opposite number both in open play and in set piece. James Bannister had a number of chances to get quick ball out, but the Johnian back row did an excellent job of slowing him up.
Another turnover ball allowed Johnians inroad to the Woking 22, and with the first 3rd phase play of the game they spun the ball wide to pull ahead with 15 to go, 15-20. Josh Parker and George Sayer were brought on to provide some fresh legs, and the tempo was lifted once more. Woking threw everything at the Johnian try line, but a few key decisions were poorly made culminating in a kickable penalty given away by penalty Parker. At 15-23 Woking looked out of the game and out of bonus point territory. Johnians were unlucky not to score a fantastically crafted try, the referee deeming a forward pass from 40m away. This small glimmer of hope allowed Woking to get the ball through the hands and go the length of the pitch to score in the corner with the last play of the game. Dan Edwards, with the most difficult conversion of the day, beautifully divided the uprights!
Visibly disappointed, Mike Aitchison commented after the game, “A performance to be proud of really, Old Johnians are easily the best opposition we have faced this year. We held them well in defence, and we tested them in attack. Ultimately it was some poor decisions made which cost us, but in the heat of a rugby match you have to go with what you feel is the right option, so no complaints. The league is very much wide open, and all teams are beatable! We will look forwards to the return fixture and hope for an equally enjoyable rugby match.”
LINE-UP: Alisdaire Hamilton-Wilkes, Rory Blundell, Nick McKay, Matthew Brennan, Jon Hursthouse, Grant Alexander, Steve Rhodes, Dan Hills, James Bannister, Justin Dougherty, Gareth Nearn, Callum Wogan, Dan Edwards, Tom Smith, James Webber
SUBS: Adam Smith, George Sayer, Josh Parker
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jon Hursthouse