Cobham’s first match of the 2022/23 season in the newly created Regional Thames 2 league could not have been a more pulsating game that was thoroughly enjoyed by the home and away supporters (well, until the final few minutes at least). Cobham had finished their 2021/22 season with a last minute drop goal to defeat Farnham and a final minute score in this game provided a Groundhog Day moment.
It had been reported that the RFU has comprehensively restructed the league division system has reduced the number of teams and therefore fixtures to be played in a season, with the health and welfare of players uppermost in their plans.
There were alternative league options available for Cobham’s First XV but after discussions, the players and coaching staff opted to play in Regional Thames 2, which remains Level 6 rugby but provides opportunities to play seven new opponents. Being the first match of the season, playing against new opponents, there were no pre-match predictions about how this would be such a closely fought contest.
There was continuity in the Cobham team with nine of the squad that played in the final game of last season running out behind Captain Ryan Saunders. This left a debut opportunity for winger Ollie Horton, a first start for fly half Jamie George and a return for Tom Davison in the back line after finishing at University. All three would feature in the afternoon’s events.
Cobham dominated the early play and consecutive tap penalties from Captain Saunders resulted in an early yellow card for Aylesbury for not retreating 10 metres. Cobham took advantage of having an extra player, with 30 yard runs from hooker Murphy and an early example of the searing pace from winger Horton. It was, however, a Saunders trademark dummy and dive over the line that provided the first score of the game that George converted (7-0).
Stung by this early score, Aylesbury responded and having retrieved possession and achieved territory, created their own pressure to see Cobham winger Lynn sin binned for a deliberate knock- on. Although Cobham avoided conceding a score, they lost Saunders to an ankle injury, with George Pickersgill coming off the bench as a replacement. Aylesbury renewed their pressure and there was a pushover try for loose head Josh Jackson, well converted by fly half Alex Shearer (7-7).
Despite now being a player down, Cobham responded immediately starting with a 60 yard run from number eight Jake McQuade that resulted in a Davison assist that sent full back Penfold over in the corner. George made a difficult angle look straightforward with the conversion to restore the seven point lead (14-7). After Aylesbury missed a penalty, Cobham extended their lead when Horton was given his opportunity to get on the scoreboard on debut with support from Penfold (19-7).
At this point Cobham were dominating the game and further scores looked possible but taking their eye off the ball (literally), Aylesbury full back Will Andrews took a quick tap penalty opportunity to run through the Cobham defence and a converted score under the posts bringing the visitors back into the game (19-14). Cobham saw their own penalty opportunity go wide and lost scrum half Pickersgill to a yellow card just before half-time.
With everything to play for in the second half, Penfold became Cobham’s third scrum half of the match and Cobham looked to restore their predominance with some great interplay between McQuade, George and Murphy that enabled centre James MacDonald to break the line for a bonus point, which George converted (26-14). Aylesbury needed the next score and once again it was full back Andrews pouncing on a loose ball to claim the try that Shearer converted (26-21).
The previous rhythm of the score line that would have seen Cobham respond was then upset when Aylesbury gained territory with an extensive rolling maul that resulted in Shearer going over for a converted score that put the visitors ahead for the first time (26-28).
With the clock running down, George restored the lead with a well taken penalty but following Cobham’s third yellow card of the match for Ben Keast, Shearer pushed the visitors back in front with a penalty and all the promise Cobham had shown during the match look to be for naught (29-31).
A final penalty for Cobham secured a lineout but the ball was knocked on.The resulting scrum would be the last play of the match. In a frenzied finish, the Aylesbury number eight knocked on at the base that allowed back row forward Olly Fox to claim possession and score the match winning try in the corner. George converted from out wide to finish proceedings. Final score 36-31.
A new resident of Cobham, who was watching his first game at the Memorial Grounds asked: “Are all the matches like this?” Let’s hope they are!
Director of Rugby Steve Pope said: “Great to get off the mark with a win and against new and very decent opposition. They’re a good bunch on and off the field, and we wish them well for the season.
We did well in patches and on the whole, given the late changes and sporadic attendance we have had at pre-season across the whole playing group, we are pleased with the overall performance. There’s plenty to improve on and I'm sure we will see lots of ambition in our play over the coming weeks ahead.”
“A big hand to those stepping in or on debut, with a couple playing out of position or returning to the team after some time away, but all doing a great job today. We’re looking forward to another new opponent next weekend and we hope a friendly fixture for a 2nds / 3rds side will get as many lads on the pitch as possible.”
Cobham 1st XV Squad:-
1. Chris Lippiatt
2. Andrew Murphy
3. Luke Bliss (Vice Capt.)
4. Luke Westgarth-Taylor
5. Wesley Van Der Ploeg
6. Louis Porter
7. Olly Fox
8. Jake McQuade
9. Ryan Saunders (Capt.)
10. Jamie George
11. Gresham Lynn
12. Tom Davison
13. James MacDonald
14. Ollie Horton
15. Rory Penfold
16. Ryan Aujla
17. Ben Keast
18. George Pickersgill
Tries: Saunders, Penfold, Horton, MacDonald, Fox
Conversions: George (4)
Penalty: George (1)