London Exiles vs London Cornish
A lot can change in a few months. When London Exiles last played London Cornish back in April, the Exiles were a team on the rise, Brexit looked improbable, and I was an active freelance journalist. Fast forward a few months: the world has changed and not necessarily for the better… Whilst results, have not really gone the way of the Exiles so far this season, performances in recent weeks have shown encouraging signs of improvement. I was therefore delighted to be asked to cover this match for ExilesExtra™ between hosts, London Exiles, and current league leaders, London Cornish.
It never sends a good message to the rest of the team when the ‘people’s captain’ and self proclaimed ‘Admin God’ Jack Read and his vice captain and partner in crime Matt Sheppard arrive 30 minutes after the agreed meet time. Not the preparation you would like and it meant the home side had to make do with a short, sharp 1hr warm up. Reading the programme before the match I was surprised to see Neil Criggie’s name not in the match day squad of either the 1s or the Legends matches. I was later informed that the set piece specialist has now rebranded and become a culinary guru. Good luck, Neil (and your colleagues). 2016 truly has been a bizarre year…
On the topic of chefs, it was great to see some Gordon Ramsey style aggression from both packs straight from the kick-off. The referee didn’t quite seem to enjoy this as much as me and stamped his mark on the match early doors informing both captains to cut out the handbags. It did not take too long for the Cornish team to get on the scoreboard with a well worked try. Oscar Matthews then followed up with a penalty for the Exiles to make it 3-7. Good pressure inside opposition’s 22 from the most marketable team in London left a huge hole in the defence and Dale Goulding looked like the most surprised person on the pitch as he cantered over for a try under the sticks. Try converted 10-7 to the Exiles. The home team continued to put pressure on the Exiles and were duly awarded with another try by a centre to take the score to 15-7.
Much was made in the build up to this match about the perceived advantage of the Cornish pack. They are a well organised unit and I hazard a guess that their bulky front row have seen off their fair share of Cornish pasty’s in their time. It was therefore, pleasing for the neutral and freelance sports journalists alike to see parity in the set piece and tight exchanges in the 1st half. Credit to Shep, Jack Read and Chris Beer for rebounding from their indifferent displays in recent weeks. Carlos Spencer-Sheppard had a real stinker against Old Tunbridgians. Rich Oliver also came on early to annoy/snitch his opposite man with a bizarre display of elbow focussed scrummaging. The good work from the tight 5 allowed a platform for Barty Carson (playing at 80% fitness with a ‘niggly’ hamstring) and Jack Sawbridge to make some powerful runs at the opposition.
The 1st half saw a few changes in the Cornish team and the early introduction of a promising looking player called Leo Daniel. The first chance the big man had to stretch his legs, he headed straight for 22-stone Peach. A textbook tackle resulted. At tackle Peach will be dining out on for years to come. Needless to say, the results didn’t go so well for Will Banbury as he was provided a crash course in physics by the Cornish number 19 along with a few other Exile players. Oscar Matthews continued to control the game well and kept the home team in the right areas of the pitch. His restart kicks were accurate and the Gary Owens were working well. Several of these kicks were well chased up by Will Sandbach when he came on, showing the selectors he is not just a breakdown specialist. Tim Pierce played at centre.
A highlight of the first half for me was the half break and switch between Paz and Angus Graham. Not quite Kendal-Hoeffkins or Paz-Pursell but a good (if blossoming) partnership none-the-less. Poetry in motion.
One area of concern for the Exiles must be their defence of the driving line-out and the breakdown area. If they can clear out the breakdown as quickly as the front row cleared out the sausage rolls at the post-match commiserations then the second half of the season will go much better than the first. James Ellis, came onto the game fairly early. The 35 year old sharpened things up nicely and his experience was used to good effect. The back 3 of Prycie, Walker (aka Criggie 2) and Barclay also looked sharp but didn’t perhaps get the good quality ball they needed at times.
All in all it was a cracking first half with something for everyone.
As a an ‘archetypal ‘sing when you’re winning outfit’’ I have been informed by the powers that be at ExilesExtra™ that on this occasion I am only permitted to report on the 1st half. Exiles won the first half 15-7. I must admit, I’m not a big fan of these day/night games at Barn Elms. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a great idea by the club to get the attendance levels up (just like the first 999 fans come free initiative) but at the moment the infrastructure just isn’t there for the fans. Anyway, I was unable to see much of the second half but I did think that the Cornish prop forward showed a surprising turn of pace out of position in the number 11 jersey.
A very good first half which the home side won 15-7. The bear is still awake, dangerous and hungry.