Cobham's last visit to London Irish's Hazelwood ground in Sunbury saw them lose by one point (21-20) in the final minutes of a closely fought match where the visitors had dominated the second half. Cobham once again dominated the second half in this contest but on this occasion they had been equal to the home side's challenge in the opening 40 minutes and so recorded a clear victory, thereby expunging last year's disappointment.
However, it didn't feel like a clear victory was going to be recorded with nine minutes to play and with Cobham down to 14 men, when Irish created a momentum which looked to challenge the final score line.
James MacDonald led Cobham onto the pitch, winning his 150th Cap, and within minutes he had broken the Irish defensive line to set up winger Ollie Horton for a try in the corner (0-5). Playing into the wind created a challenge for the conversion and it was the elements again that provided Irish with their opening try, when a clearance kick was recovered and fed to number 10 Willie LafoLafo who powered over; Henry Fuller converted (7-5).
That was a wake-up for Cobham and it didn't take long before their response came through the soft hands of Captain Ryan Saunders, second row Doug Rodman and finally centre Taylor Burnett to touch down in the corner. In the swirling, wing Tom Farrelly judged a difficult kick to perfection to restore a five-point lead (7-12).
Cobham's pack dominated the scrum and lineout throughout the match but Irish took their chances whenever they came. Their next score came from a well taken ball at the back of the lineout by Rory Harrison and a run that could not be stopped (12-12). Sadly, MacDonald's centenary and a half was curtailed by a calf strain and George Sanderson came on as replacement, as Cobham continued to probe with runs from full back Stephens and Horton that were held-up.
Whenever either side had the ball in-hand it was going to need strong defence to prevent breakthroughs, so it was going to be a combination of handling errors and evasive running that was going to be key. Irish's next score came from a well judged interception as Cobham moved the ball down the line, before Irish centre Theo Barquay-Hall took his opportunity and passed to Fuller for a converted score under the posts (19-12).
Cobham's number 7 Tom Davison was ubiquitous all afternoon and although playing in the back row, he mirrored exactly what scrum half Saunders would have done when a penalty was awarded. The tap and go put Saunders into space to run over for a score in the closing minutes of the first half, which Farrelly converted to tie the game at the halfway mark (19-19).
That scoreline was a fair representation for both sides efforts and a winner was certainly too close to call at that stage, but as they did 12 months ago Cobham came out more determined for the second half now playing with the wind at their backs.
Another Cobham backline move enabled Horton to put Penfold over in the corner (19-24) to restore a lead they were ultimately not relinquish. However, it was Saunders second try of the game that had you wishing there was a replay button, as he evaded a number of Irish defenders by utilising his sidestepping skills to touch down close to the posts that opened up a 12-point advantage (19-31). Irish's situation didn't improve when they lost their full back to a yellow card infringement and Farrelly converted the penalty (19-34).
The Cobham pack is looking stronger as each week goes by with Bliss, Murphy and Lippiatt supported by Richard Nunn and Ryan Aujla in the front row providing a strong base and Goddard and Westgarth-Taylor ensuring possession in the lineouts. With that possession the Cobham backline exploited any gaps, which Penfold duly did to score Cobham's sixth try that Farrelly converted (19-41) although his game ended with a yellow card soon after, leaving Cobham with nine minutes to play out.
Leaving it far too, late Irish now played their best rugby of the half, generating pressure within the Cobham half that saw number 10 Lafolafo run through and Fuller convert (26-41). It needed try saving tackles from across the Cobham team to avoid a further score and there was some relief when the referee blew the final whistle. Cobham had secured their third consecutive win and moved into fifth position in the league with just a point separating them from third place Amersham & Chiltern.
Team Manager Tom Schofield said after the game: “A great second half performance from the team. Irish to their credit used the wind to their advantage in that first half to peg us back. But to be 19-all at half time meant we were well in the match. The second half was a different story and we used the elements to our advantage; the forwards set the platform for the backs to open Irish up. There’s still plenty for the team to work on, especially around defence but coaches Matt Hawkes and Dan Walsh were pleased with the overall performance.”
“A special mention to James MacDonald on his 150th appearance. James has come up through the Minis and Youths, before joining the Seniors and representing the 3rd XV and 2nd XV before making his 1st XV debut back in 2010. James has become a well respected and important member of the senior squad.”
Congratulations also to Cobham’s 2nd XV, who were under the watchful eye of DOR Steve Pope away to Teddington, and put in a great performance with a comprehensive 63-0 win.
The 1st XV are on the road again this weekend (5 November) as they head to Central London and Regents Park to play Belsize Park. All support will be hugely appreciated
Cobham 1st XV Squad:-
1. Chris Lippiatt
2. Andrew Murphy
3. Luke Bliss
4. Luke Westgarth-Taylor
5. Joe Goddard
6. Wesley Van Der Ploeg
7. Tom Davison
8. Doug Rodman
9. Ryan Saunders (Capt.)
10. Tom Farrelly
11. Ollie Horton
12. Taylor Burnett
13. James MacDonald
14. Rory Penfold
15. Will Stephen
16. Ryan Ajula
17. Richard Nunn
18. George Sanderson
Tries: Penfold (2), Saunders (2), Burnett, Horton
Conversions: Farrelly (4)
Penalty: Farrelly (1)