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Woking travelled over to Wimbledon to face league leaders Old Johnians in a crucial, must win battle. Nothing less than a full 5 point try bonus win, and preventing Johnians from either a losing bonus point or a try bonus point, would be enough to remove Johnians from their top spot and keep Woking’s chase for promotion alive! Woking travelled with a strong supporting contingent who made the 16th man.
Woking started out the stronger side, Steve Rhodes gathering the Woking kick off, and the team looked threatening in the tight, running some set patterns with great success. Then came the first scrum, the OJ gym rats simply couldn't cope with the sheer power of an ale fuelled Woking pack. As soon as the packs engaged you could almost hear props Al Hamilton-Wilkes and Ben Bremner chuckling to themselves. Bremner destroyed his opposite man on every scrum. Whilst Hamilton-Wilkes used his old head to keep things straight. The ever powerful combination of Brennan and Hursthouse in the 2nd row provided a powerful shove, and every scrum flew forwards! Woking knew they had OJ’s on the run. After constant pressure they were awarded a penalty around 8m out, they opted for the scrum, push over try and conversion from Mark Rose. This same sequence was almost copied identically for the 2nd try 10 minutes later. Rose badly pulled his quad during the shanked conversion attempt.
Having lost Rose, Woking were forced to bring Neil Murphy on at fullback and move skipper Mike Aitchison back to his old position of no. 10. Woking continued to be the stronger side throughout the first half, with strong running from just about anyone who put their hand up. With 5minutes to go in the half Gareth Nearn took exception to a high tackle and was judged to have stamped a player in retaliation, yellow card. Despite being a man down Woking finished the first half with a beautifully worked quick lineout and backs move, Phil Robertson and Callum Wogan in the centres holding the defence and allowing Aitchison and Armstrong to make inroads down the outside channel. Only a fantastic covering tackle from the OJ winger dragged Armstrong down a meter short of the try line and out into touch.
The half time team talk from coach Pete D’Cruz was simple. Keep the ball, play simple, hard rugby, and keep the defensive line.
OJ's came close twice in the second half with long kicks to the corner but, Gareth Nearn who was clearly trying to make amends, covered the opposite wing spectacularly on both occasions. With Aitchison applying the kicking game, keeping OJ’s pinned back in their 22, Woking forced pressure in the tackle and created a penalty turnover from Matt Armstrong. A scrum on the 5 meter line saw the repeated pattern of another push over try. 1 in a game is an achievement but, 3 is pretty much unheard of! An outstanding effort from the entire pack!
As Woking started to chase the bonus point they began to force things. Justin Dougherty at 9 started to feel the pressure building, and so James Bannister was brought on at 9 to add direction and experience. This seemed to do the trick and Woking starting to get some pattern back into their play.
With minutes left on the clock man of the match Adam Smith made a fantastic turnover in the midfield, and Aitchison placed the ball into the corner off the penalty. Rory Blundell and Dan Hills have a magnificent link in the line, but it was Matt Brennan who stood tall to collect the lineout ball and set up a rolling maul. All 15 of the Woking players entered the maul and drove OJs back towards their tryline. The maul was brought down just short, and a scrum awarded to OJ’s. For the last time of the game Woking destroyed the OJ scrum, won the ball against the head, and hit the midfield with force. There were options all over the pitch for Woking to score from as the OJ defence was in disarray, but Rory Blundell spotted his moment and smashed over the line in close company of his fellow front row to secure the bonus point with the last play of the game. 0 – 22.
Overall, a tough game that was won through brute determination. To nil the top of the table is a considerable achievement!
Coach’s Special mentions:
The pack, as a whole, were outstanding but, our back row were just phenomenal all over the pitch.
The backs defended fantastically well against a very strong running team, with Aitchison seeming to be everywhere in defence.
Matt Armstrong put in some huge hits out wide and Gareth Nearn's cover defence was superb.
Alisdair Hamilton-Wilkes, Rory Blundell, Ben Bremner, Jon Hursthouse, Matthew Brennan, Adam Smith, Steve Rhodes, Dan Hills, Justin Dougherty, Gareth Nearn, Mark Rose, Phil Robertson, Callum Wogan, Matt Armstrong, Mike Aitchison.
Subs: Matt Childs, James Banister, Neil Murphy.