With encouraging results and performances in the opening two weeks of the season, Westcliff travelled to Sidcup to take on the London 1 South undefeated champions, who were in similar early season form. A combination of unforgiving knocks and strains as well as the demands of life outside the community rugby bubble deprived them of the services of no less than five of the previous weeks starters. This was most keenly felt in the forwards with half the pack unavailable for selection and an opportunity to impress was handed to a quartet of second XV players eager to push their claim for a place by right.
Into the starting XV up front came Lane Macintyre Jobling and Jim Smith and in the backs Stol replaced Oliver Jones on the wing. Ox, Webster and Merrick were all promoted to the bench. On a sunny afternoon with a vibrant and engaged home crowd Westcliff played like drains in the opening minutes and were punished for the lack lustre start. A well worked but poorly defended move off first phase allowed the hosts in far right and the visitors first serious attack was picked off with the interception of a loose pass and a length of the pitch run in under the posts. Ten minutes played 12-0 down. It took another 5 minutes for them to regain sufficient composure to seriously threaten but when pressure was at last asserted with conviction, space opened up for Branch to snipe over under the posts. Now a proper contest Westcliff continued to ask searching questions in attack and around the 30 minute mark Rob Smith picked an incisive line and was able to run in and around. Jones once more added the extras, the turnaround was complete and a 12-14 lead established. There was of course a long way yet to go. As the half drew to a close Marsh combined with Jim Smith and was able to evade the defence and run in from deep. 12 -21 heading into time added on but plenty more points to play for it as it turned out. A try each in fact with first Sidcup working of midfield set piece and scoring wide left before Sam Brown finished off a final attack of the half which when converted gave the visitors a 17-28 lead at the end of a topsy turvy half.
An 11 point lead at the break was encouraging and certainly welcome given the early position Westcliff had found themselves in. It was not though a match winning lead and so it was to prove. The next score would be important and Westcliff pushed hard for it at the start of the second half. They enjoyed good territory and possession but failed to breach a stubborn home defence and the failure to secure the further score was to cost them the game. Midway way through the half Sidcup broke from deep through turnover ball which the referee at least, considered legitimate. As the hosts poured forward and attacked the line Jack Jones was penalised for a back foot offence the penalty was slotted but also a harsh yellow card for Jones proved pivotal. Down to 14 Westcliff were looking vulnerable again and the hosts tails were up. Straight away they forced their way back into territory and secured the only try of the half which was duly converted. In the blink of an eye Westcliff were outnumbered their 11 point had shrunk to a single point and then it began to rain in their faces. They held Sidcup at bay for the rest of the sin bin period but as the game approached the final minutes and despite stout defence, a penalty in front was conceded and the lead was lost. Westcliff attempted to respond but were unable to do so and a final further penalty went the way of the hosts to give them a 33-28 win.
Congratulations in the first instance to Sidcup who forced the issue and pushed home their advantage in the final 20 minutes, they are a decent side who will have I expect a solid first season at this level. Ultimately though it was very disappointing to allow the game to slip away. We coughed up too many easy points in the first half failed to score at a crucial point in the second half and were unable to manage the game effectively when the pressure came on. I wondered if we might have a dip after the levels reached against Southend and that was very evident in the opening minutes. We were not quite on it and that is always disappointing. Enforced changes at 1, 3, 6 and 8 didn’t help but the lads that came in performed well and the importance of a large squad is never to be underestimated. We got two bonus points out of the game which we will bank but now we put it behind us and look ahead to another trip to Kent next week when we visit Westcombe Park.
Brown, Stol, R Smith, Jones, Fenton, Whiting, Branch, Morrant, Mackintyre, Lane, Scogings, Edwards, Jobling, Marsh, J Smith REP Webster, Ox, Merrick