After the disappointment of last weekend’s loss to Old Haberdashers, Cobham’s 1st XV had the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs against league leaders Hammersmith & Fulham on Saturday (25 February). H&F went into the fixture having only lost two games all season and had blown most teams away on their home pitch. With this week originally being a rest week in the diary, holidays to the slopes were booked, which meant a few changes to the squad. Hooker Andrew Murphy captained the side, in Ryan Saunders absence, while Joe Goddard made his 150th 1st XV appearance.
As a strong wind picked up throughout the warm-up, a tricky day with the boot and at the lineout time beckoned. However, after a great warm up the and the crowd beginning to gather, there was a feeling within the changing room that the league leaders were beatable.
Goddard led out the team ahead of the 2.00pm kick-off.
Immediately Cobham felt the strength of the wind into their faces, which would cause issues when trying to gain territory throughout the first half; H&F used it to their advantage by pinning Cobham back. No team could get a hold of the game with Cobham’s defence holding firm and disrupting the H&F attack; the back row of Radford, Frost and McQuade being a thorn in the opposition side and causing a number of turnovers.
After a couple of penalties and a try saving tackle from James Macdonald five metres from his own line, H&F finally made a breakthrough. A lineout drive was initially stopped by Cobham, but the ball was swung wide by the H&F midfield and, after some questionable blocking lines, their winger scored in the corner (5-0).
There was no panic from Cobham though, as they knew once they had ball in hand they could cause some problems. Indeed, the visitors started to take control thanks to a number of turnovers and line breaks from Radford, then resulted in Cobham winning a lineout five metres out. After a number of phases through the forwards, Chris Lippiatt went over under the sticks and a narrow lead from the successful conversion (5-7).
Play then went end-to-end with the ball seemingly staying in-field for an eternity. H&F were hitting space with their kicks through, whilst Cobham had to run everything back due to the severity of the wind. As half-time approached, an attacking grubber kick put through into space could have resulted in seven points for Cobham. However, it was gathered by H&F’s winger, who caught the visitors defence off guard and galloped in under the posts from half way (12-7). Cobham then had to withstand an onslaught on their try line, which resulted in a defensive penalty being won that the visitors happy kicked out and end a pulsating first half.
Cobham knew that the five-point deficit was a great return, as they would now have the wind at their backs for the second half. Five minutes after the restart, a midfield scrum allowed McQuade and Pickersgill to link and hit Loizias on a short line, who ran through his opposite number to score under the posts. Cobham were back in front (12-14) and now had the momentum.
With the wind advantage, Pickersgill and Farrelly kept pinning H&F back in their half, allowing Goddard and his pack to pile the pressure on at the lineout. As the home team are known for, they kept trying to run from anywhere, but Cobham’s defence held firm, with a special mention to the back three of Max Macdonald, Rory Penfold and Dan Allchurch, who all defended heroically against their opposite men, who had scored countless tries this season. Despite having all the momentum and another lineout steal, a well-read intercept from the H&F centre and Captain resulted in a try under the posts against the run of play for the hosts (19-14). However, the talk under the posts was still positive, as Cobham knew they were causing the opposition problems.
As expected, H&F had their tails up and the crowd finally found their voice. They launched another attack from the halfway, only for Penfold to read the attempted offload and then show a clean pair of heels to run-in for an unconverted try to level the score (19-19). The confidence of Cobham continued to grow and their heads didn’t drop despite a missed penalty kick and chances in attack. The bench of Bliss, Van Der Ploeg and Savill came on and added to the team, with Bliss especially running through his man at his opening scrum.
It was at the scrum where Cobham found their next score. After a break from Macdonald and being inches away from his 100th try in Cobham colours, the away side were awarded a scrum 5 metres out. After the initial shove moved forward, it allowed McQuade to dive over from the back and complete a real show of dominance at set-piece to create a five-point lead (19-24).
The weather then took an unexpected turn, with the sun being replaced by a five minute hailstorm in Hurlingham Park. Perhaps in years gone by, this weather would have worked against the boys from Surrey, but instead you could see heads dropping in red and white shirts as mistakes were beginning to be made as they tried to force the issue. Whereas Cobham’s basic skills came into their own, playing smart rugby to keep the pressure on H&F. It’s a sign of how much this team has improved that not one ball was dropped in the small period of wet weather, with a shout out to Penfold on the wing who caught everything that was put his way.
As the clock approached 80 minutes, H&F put together their best passage of play in the second half as they laid siege on the Cobham defence and tried to pinch a winning try. Apart from a few half breaks that may have caused issues, the Cobham defence once again held firm with all the players laying their bodies on the line and importantly maintaining their discipline.
As H&F began to run out of ideas, Lippiatt read an inside pass and a huge hit that forced a knock-on, but the celebrations were put on hold for 10 seconds as Frost decided to put in a horrible sliced kick that rolled in slow motion out of play. The final whistle was blown and the celebrations could truly start, as Cobham had delivered their 13th win in 14 games. The Club have now beaten every team in the league to close the gap to seven points with 3 games to play.
This was a game involving two very good teams (and very well officiated), where Cobham delivered their performance of season. The combination of smart league rugby in attack and resolute defence, toppled the league leaders, who at one point this season seemed untouchable. However, with three games to go, stranger things have happened.
Match report by Tom Farrelly
Congratulations to the Cobham 2nd XV squad, who also defeated top of the table opposition, Battersea Ironsides. A comprehensive 58-19 victory at home puts the 2nd XV top of the league table.
Cobham 1st XV Squad:-
1. Chris Lippiatt
2. Andrew Murphy (Capt.)
3. Richard Nunn
4. Doug Rodman
5. Joe Goddard*
6. John Radford
7. Matt Frost
8. Jake McQuade
9. George Pickersgill
10. Tom Farrelly
11. Max MacDonald
12. Yannis Loizias
13. James MacDonald
14. Rory Penfold
15. Dan Allchurch
16. Luke Bliss
17. Wesley Van Der Ploeg
18. Fin Savill
Tries: Lippiatt, Loizias, Penfold, McQuade
Conversions: Farrelly (2)