It was very appropriate that Max MacDonald's 100th try for Cobham’s 1st XV should come in a match played in front of a crowd of ex-Surbiton players following their annual lunch. Those 100 tries have been scored over 147 games, spanning ten seasons and Max has been the top try scorer in five of those. It is a remarkable achievement for Max and the Club; many congratulations.
This was Cobham’s last home fixture of the season, having been buoyed by their victory the previous week against league leaders Hammersmith & Fulham. However, they knew that Fullerians were themselves confident, having won their last three matches and had also come close to defeating H & F. The home side gave a debut to Australian hooker Ben Falla, who had been playing in the second XV, while Captain Ryan Saunders returned from the ski slopes.
Original thoughts that this was going to be a close-fought contest looked to have been dispelled in the opening exchanges as Cobham were rampant and scored three tries in the first 12 minutes to go 19-0 up. The first came from a trademark lineout take from Joe Goddard and a drive to the line with Falla finishing what he had and scoring what may be the fastest ever debut try (5-0).
When Fullers did finally get some possession and started a backline move it only needed a small fumble in their midfield that allowed Yanni Loizias to pick-up and race away for the touch down, which Tom Farrelly converted (12-0). Cobham maintained the pressure from the kick-off, with a run down the line from Rory Penfold feeding Loizias. From an ensuing ruck, Saunders made what looked to be a finger touchdown on the try line that Farrelly converted and give the hosts a commanding three-score advantage (19-0).
With Cobham completely dominant at this stage of the match, a large final score could have been anticipated. However, having been shocked by the initial onslaught, Fullerians started to play an expansive and physical game that required Cobham to demonstrate their strong defensive skills. Despite relieving kicks from Saunders, Fullers were now achieving both possession and territory, which got them to within five metres of the Cobham line. From a penalty, they showed their intention to fight back by lining up for an old fashion tap which saw hooker Richard McCabe force his way over (19-5).
Having shown why they were on a winning streak, Fullers back line were now crashing through the Cobham defence and there was a yellow card for Falla, while Lippiatt was taken off for a head injury. Fullers continued to press and their next score came from their skipper Ben Matchett in the corner, which fly half Dan Evans converted (19-12). Saunders recognised the danger that Cobham had switched off and calm heads were needed.
Enter back row Jake McQuade, who has been a thorn in several sides this season, and made the first of a few extensive runs, passing to Will Stephen who fed centre Fin Savill only to be held close to the Fuller's line. From the resultant penalty, Saunders opted for safe points and Farrelly obliged with a penalty between the posts and extending the lead (22-12).
Although Lippiatt and Falla had now returned, Dr Dave Silver was being kept busy, this time with a shoulder injury to prop Luke Bliss. However, another penalty enabled Saunders to add to the visitors frustration by allowing Farrelly to increase his season's points tally and take the score to 25-12. With the first half drawing to a close, there was still time for McQuade to add to his yardage tally, this time with a 60-yard run that set-up Penfold who enabled Yanni to get close but no cigar.
With the teams leaving the field for half-time, attention turned to social media to establish whether there was any report from Amersham & Chiltern where Hammersmith & Fulham were playing in a key top-of-the-table clash, having kicked off an hour earlier. With the result delayed, Cobham kicked off knowing that securing a win could give them an opportunity to secure promotion and had soon extended the lead with Farrelly's third successive penalty (28-12).
Cobham maintained the pressure and the first of two yellow cards were awarded against Fullers, with second-row Liam Boyd heading for the sin bin. Cobham then put together the best try of the afternoon when Saunders launched the backline, which enabled MacDonald to achieve his landmark and a team bonus point try in the corner (33-12).
Having lost some momentum, credit is due to Fullers as they responded with a great solo effort score from centre Sam Tinsley under the posts that Evans converted (33-19). However, Cobham had not finished adding to their tally, as Falla intercepted and set-up MacDonald, who offloaded to Loizias for his second try of the afternoon. Luke Flower, who had come on for Farrelly, just fell short with the conversion (38-19).
There were only 12 minutes remaining when the visitors received their second yellow card, this time to Nathan Mann for a high tackle. This did not deter Fullers from looking for more points and after several phases of play, hooker McCabe drove over for his second try of the afternoon. Then with only minutes remaining and frustrations running high, as the visitors looked to finish with two bonus points, they achieved their objective when, after scuffles broke out between the teams, the referee awarded them a penalty try. Final score, 38-31.
Neither side will have wanted to finish a hard-fought match in those circumstances but it demonstrated the passion of both sides and within seconds of the final whistle hands were shaken by both sets of players. As Cobham came off the pitch they learnt that Amersham & Chiltern had secured a decisive win against Hammersmith Fulham (38-17), which reduced their league lead from 13 points four games ago, to just two points.
Cobham have two away games left to play this season. They travel to Aylesbury on Saturday (11 March), followed by Beaconsfield; all support is welcome as the league reaches an exciting conclusion.
Cobham 1st XV Squad:
1. Chris Lippiatt
2. Ben Falla*
3. Luke Bliss
4. Luke Westgarth-Taylor
5. Joe Goddard
6. Doug Rodman
7. Matt Frost
8. Jake McQuade
9. Ryan Saunders (Capt.)
10. Tom Farrelly
11. Max MacDonald
12. Fin Savill
13. Yannis Loizias
14. Rory Penfold
15. Will Stephen
16. Jamie Yorke
17. Ryan Aujla
18. Luke Flower
Tries: Falla, Loizias (2), Saunders, Macdonald
Conversions: Farrelly (2)
Penalties: Farrelly (3)