If the success against Ealing was built on an intense and focused warm up, the first 20 minutes against London French IIs can only be blamed on the lackadaisical and half-hearted warm up Spartans engaged in before kick-off.
Yes the team was disrupted with people showing up in dribs and drabs, and yes we had 5/6 new guys with us who didn’t understand the system but there were 16 other players who’d been at training and should’ve known their role!
As it was, when we finally kicked off, we started in a positive fashion, carrying the ball well and looking to cause the relatively lightweight French pack some problems but pride comes before a fall as they say and perhaps we were a little overconfident… A turnover in midfield saw French get the ball to their backs, who it turned out were no slouches and we were 7-0 down with about 5 minutes played…
The usual talk under the posts followed and at the next kick-off, Gav Lock showed our intent by absolutely crunching the French player who collected Billy’s hanging kick. However, we were still passive in defence and were allowing French to find their backs with little pressure on the passer and it didn’t take long for them to find another gap down our right flank with the winger scoring close to the touchline. Their fly half showed his accuracy by slotting the conversion and with less than 20 minutes played the score line was Spartans 0 – London French IIs 14.
We were in danger of letting the game get away from us and all agreed it was time to keep things simple – challenge their forwards by carrying more aggressively, use our dominance in the line out and scrums especially to make yards and most importantly, hold on to the frigging ball!
And so the fight back began. Spartans began holding onto the pill more and driving runs from Glam and Mike Horner saw us punching into French territory but unfortunately we weren’t able to find the breakthrough in open play. Instead, our first try came from a scrum, an area we dominated all day.
With Cookie, Adi and Horner giving us a solid platform, Kevin and Michal added the grunt to push the French scrum back giving Glam all the time he needed to pick up and blast through the covering defenders. Spartans 7 – London French 14 game on!
Our next try followed a similar pattern although Billy decided to get in on the act by stepping through the French covering defence to dot down under the posts. All of a sudden the momentum was firmly with Spartans and we wanted to end the half on a high having wrestled our way back into the match, but, as with many things in life, there was to be a sting in the tail…
With the French on the attack their winger tried a kick over our advancing defensive line. Paddy successfully recovered the ball and called for a mark. The ref’s whistle blew and we were ready to clear our lines… except he’d awarded French a penalty for deliberately obstructing the runner. Say what?!
Apparently our players hadn’t made any effort to move out of the way… but wait sir, the defender doesn’t have to! Oh well, the defence had made a deliberate effort to step up and block the runner… but wait sir, they’re about to tackle the French wing… Oh never mind. Penalty on Spartans’ 5m line and there was only one outcome… Try for the French, well converted by their fly half. 40 minutes down Spartans 14 – London French IIs 21… Bah!
We regrouped and Matty had some sensible words for us… ‘Never mind about the ref. Step up your intensity and I guarantee you will win this game. Earn those beers in the shed boys…’
And that’s what we set about doing. Now we were punchier in the tackle. Now we were working through our phases, particularly Glam working well off Billy’s outside shoulder. Now we were putting our runners in space and during one such attack, Paddy cut an excellent line from his position at outside centre, pinned his ears back and left the covering defenders for dead… Try time Spartans! Conversion missed so it was 19 – 21 to French…
The next score was crucial… while French weren’t nearly as threatening in this half they still had chances but Spartans defence was solid. We knew the tide had turned when from a tap penalty just beyond our 5m line, Billy put in an almighty hit on their rampaging second row ‘No room through there bro!’
Our scrum dominance finally told and we broke the only capable French prop. While one of the subs bravely said he’d give it a go, the ref intervened on safety grounds and the scrums went uncontested which meant French had to drop a man. Having been charitable in the last match with Ealing and allowing 15 men on the field, Spartans were not about to be caught out again! Too much was at stake.
Fired up with the work of the forward pack, our backs decided to get in on the act and after some more great work down our left wing, Paddy was put into space and this time showed great strength to muscle his way over the line. For the first time in the match we had the lead. COME ON! Spartans 24 – London French IIs 21.
Our final try of the match was all about focus and keeping it simple. With Rich Walker finding an extra 10% in the tank throughout the second half, we were routinely punching holes in the French defence but not making those overlaps stick, but finally we did… The ball was recycled through the hands with Billy finding Paddy who fed Levi to score his first try for Spartans. The turnaround was complete! Spartans 29 – London French IIs 21.
MoTM: the 2nd half response identified a few contenders. Glam was his usual destructive self in bumping off that first tackler and making ground. Rich Walker showed strength in attack and defence, doing an awful lot to secure ruck ball when the ball carrier had got isolated… But as with Highlander, there can be only one… and for his complete turnaround from the first half Tom Raper got MOTM.
DoTD: After stopping a French penalty from reaching touch near our 5m line Cookie nearly undid all his good work with a clearing kick that travelled exclusively sideways but he did too much excellent work in the scrums to warrant DoTD. Instead Captain Kevin Newe had to wear the Minion suit for a pass that can only be described as shite. Imagine a child releasing a pigeon to take flight and watching it soar up, up, up before crashing down to Earth 10 metres behind its intended target…
So bad that Yatesy threw his notepad to the ground in disgust!
Squad: Cookie, Adi, Horner, Newe, Michal, PK, Gav, Glam, Raper, Billy, Barney, Rich W, Paddy, Barrett, Poppet, Levi, Noonan, Foy
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