Horley v Woking

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Woking Team: 
First XV
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Woking Score: 
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Another potential slip up for Woking Rugby was convincingly avoided this weekend as they travelled across to 4th place Horley. Last year saw Horley beat Woking with a last minute try after a dogged game on a very boggy pitch. This year Woking were determined not to let the same happen, and spent the week preparing for a close quarters battle in miserable rugby conditions. With the rain bucketing down on the journey over it looked as though Woking preparation would fair them well.

With the opening kick of the game, a high, hanging kick nicely placed to the touch line, Matt Armstrong chased down the wing and absolutely flattened the Horley second row. The tempo was set for a bruiser. The opening exchanges saw Woking very much come out on top of the set piece and the open play. Joe Bennett provided unbelievable control of the ball at the base of the scrum on the muddy ground, and the first try of the game fell to him as the Horely 8 disappeared from in front of Elliot Hood, Rory Blundell and Alisdaire Hamilton-Wilkes leaving a simple but well deserved 5 points. Aitchison, who has practiced his kicking considerably after the last two woeful weeks, slotted the conversion.

The game became a bit frantic after the first try, Horley sustaining continuous pressure from Woking who kept making silly errors in the final 5 metres possibly due to the conditions, but also due in part to the changed pack due to absences from Bremner, Hills and Smith. Horley had a number of poor clearing kicks into the wind and so the pressure was sustained with strong counter attacks from Armstrong, Murphy and Nearn. One such returned kick found Elliot Hood at the base of the ruck who looked up and sent a huge pass deep behind the Woking attack to a slightly bewildered Aitchison. As the Horley defence rushed up Aitchison spotted a gap in behind and with a deft chip, he gathered at full pace to hare past the fullback and under the posts, converting himself. Moments later a similar counter attack arose and Rory Blundell smashed over the try line after some scintillating running. And then at 0 - 19 the wheels came off.

Horley are 4th in the league for a reason, they have the ability to attack and are dangerous across the field. Some quick hands found a gap in the Woking defence and despite some excellent covering tackling from Nearn, they crossed out wide and slotted a fantastic conversion. Despite a quick restart from Woking the first half petered out with Horley looking to mount a come back. The second half began in the same manner as Horley grabbed a quick try off a Woking mistake from a stolen lineout. As the ball bounced between James Bannister and Matt Armstrong the Horley flank pounced and got a hand on the ball for the try, again beautifully converted.

At 14-19 the pressure was mounting as the win and the bonus point looked to be slipping away. Fortunately the conditions changed, the sun came out, the ball dried out and Woking began to flow into the style of rugby they’ve been missing since before winter. Clearly enjoying the break in the weather they crafted a wonderful try from deep in their 22. Steve Rhodes pounced on a turnover scrum and popped to Tom Bennett. Phil Robertson in support took another offload and with Aitchison and Nearn in support they continued to offload as they went up the pitch. Nearn was dragged down just short of the line, but quick rucking from Hamilton Wilkes, Hursthouse and Brennan, who worked hard to be first to the break down, provided Rory Blundell with an easy pick and go to finish off a wonderful passage of play and secure the bonus point. Another cracking conversion from Aitchison took the wind out of Horley who’s heads went down. 14-26 and the remainder of the game was all Woking. Dougherty shifted into 9 and sped up the Woking attack, giving some set structure and more controlled patterns than Bannister had managed under the earlier pressure. Joe Bennett continued to be devastating in his advances, backed up by cousin Tom Bennett and the ever reliable Steve Rhodes. Even Matt Brennan poked his head up from its usual position of doing the dirty work in the rucks to have a little run on the ball.

The closing score of the match came from the base of the scrum and a back row move that would make any rugby player proud to witness. A big shove, a slight wheel, a 9 pick and then a truly spectacular line from Armstrong off the wing saw him drag three players from the 22 over the try line (the advantages of being a fast moving hooker playing on the wing!) Aitchison slotted the conversion once more and the game closed at 33-14.

Pete D’Cruz commented afterwards, “We nearly slipped up, and in prior seasons we would have done, but this year we have something to play for and a real resilience to pressure. Everything is set up perfectly for the big game against Haileyburians in two weeks. It will be one hell of a game! A special mention must go to the support that travelled with us today, it felt like a home game, and when the pressure is on it makes a big difference having some touchline support!”

As an aside, the Haileyburians game is going to be a huge game for Woking Rugby. There have been a number of allegations from various teams in Surrey 4 that the Haileyburians selection of registered players is a little questionable, with some extraordinarily talented subs benches on occasion! With the recent investigation of Medway RFC we are hoping that the league will ensure all players are correctly registered for this top of the table clash. The winners of which should win the league, the losers likely finishing 3rd to old Johnians, there is a lot at stake!

1. Alisdaire Hamilton-Wilkes
2. Rory Blundell
3. Elliot Hood
4. Matt Brennan
5. Jon Hursthouse
6. Tom Bennett
7. Steve Rhodes
8. Joe Bennett
9. James Bannister
10. Mike Aitchison
11. Gareth Nearn
12. Phil Robertson
13. Justin Dougherty
14. Matt Armstrong
15. Neil Murphy
16. Dave Garvey