Rosslyn Pk 21 Wharfedale 17
A second South London visit within a month – this time in burnished Autumnal splendour – and a second near-miss deserving more. Their dervish–like hectic finish at Blackheath left them just short, but on Saturday at Roehampton the Greens’ set-piece command and progressive forward ascendancy were enough to have brought them victory as of right.
A losing bonus point was scant reward for Wharfedale’s most heartening display of the season. The Greens controlled territory and possession, supplied constant running attack, squeezed the live out of Park’s game and dominated all but the score board. But for abject goal kicking they would surely recorded their first away victory of the campaign.
Park, though living merely off ephemeral scraps of possession, may have looked sharper in the backs, but survived only by courtesy of some lethal opportunistic finishing pace wide out, the clinical boot of Ross Laidlaw and the steadying rock-like defensive presence of centre Chris Lewis.
Two well-taken snap opportunities by full-back Miles Mantella and wing Nev Edwards in the opening quarter established a 14-0 Park lead that allowed them to survive a torrid quarter of an hour spent in desperate defence as the destructively dominant Wharfedale scrum exploited the yellow card to home flanker Harry Rowland by hammering away repeatedly at the their line. Small failures can cost dear. Both Park tries came first directly and then indirectly from twenty-two drop outs as Wharfedale penalties at goal became embarrassingly near sub-terranean.
Having forced another easy penalty Wharfedale opted pragmatically to scrummage instead. Spearheaded by Tom McGee the immense pressure on the home defence forced Park into repeated infringement and the Greens perhaps deserved more than merely scrum-half Phil Woodhead’s sole try from the side of a ruck as the half went deep into injury time. The conversion failed and Luke Gray’s four misses with the boot were beginning to look costly.
If the try gave the Greens hope, the home side’s play at the restart seemed all but to obliterate it. Centre Dom Shabbo released a second powerful Edwards’ tramline touchline finish in the corner immediately after the break. That, together with the glaring contrast of Laidlaw’s excellent conversion, all but negated the fine previous Wharfedale effort to open up a significant 21-5 lead. But this rare flash of Rosslyn Park attack was the prelude to total Wharfedale domination for virtually the remainder of the game as they monopolised possession with the play camped immovably within the home twenty-two.
Even with front-row reinforcement Park were still vulnerable at the scrum and increasingly pressured on the back foot at the breakdown. The Wharfedale backs were moving the ball nicely at speed though failing to find decisive penetration. Half-chances came and went. The ball spilled at the posts, a line-out squandered at the corner until Wharfedale engineered a flowing move which ended with Aaron Myers scoring in the corner. Simon Horsfall’s difficult touch line conversion sailed just wide.
Spurning kicks to goal, the Greens opted for further scrum and breakdown pressure in the twenty-two. They were rewarded with a characteristic Dan Solomi blistering short finish from the back of a precisely executed maul. And a successful kick at last from third-choice marksman James Druce left Wharfedale needing one more score for victory.
Park survived final four minutes of nervy pressure even without sin-binned flanker Campbell until Laidlaw’s fine clearance kick saw then out of harm’s way, and even threatening the Wharfedale line, leaving them to rue a victory that undeservedly escaped them.
The performance however was vital and crucial. Wharfedale largely outplayed successful opposition – Park have now won four on the trot and six games in all. And they did it with the resources to hand. The front-five play is becoming a match for most; the back-row given any reasonably team support are clearly match winners as often as not; and the backs on Saturday provided fluid movement and threatening play even if they largely failed to outwit some admirable defence. They may have lost this game on kicks but only a week ago goal-kicking won them the match.
The Greens have improved incrementally match-on-match over the last three games. Messiahs rarely appear – leave alone deliver. Though clearly some authoritative cutting-edge new blood would be more than welcome, Saturday’s performance shows that the present resources playing efficient rugby well – as opposed to miraculously out of their skin – have it in them to turn the tide. But there is no margin for error, other sides are very much in the same boat even bottom club Stourbridge – which makes next weeks’ visit there very much a sink or swim affair.
WHARFEDALE: D Hart (J Druce 74); S Jordan, J Gill, S Horsfall; L Gray, P Woodhead; T McGee (N Dickinson 60), S Graham (B Sowrey 60), M Tampin; J Quinn, R Rhodes; A Myers, D Solomi, R Baldwin (Capt) (R Brown 78)
ROSSLYN PARK: M Mantella; N Edwards, D Shabbo, C Lewis, J Rudd; R Laidlaw, G Barr; L Ovens, B Gotting; M Lilley, D Lloyd-Jones; H Rowland, L Campbell, M Lock (Capt)
REFEREE: Thomas Davis (RFU)