Table topping Barnes were the visitors to The Gables on Saturday, an afternoon when Storm Brian was also predicted to put in an appearance. With a weeks rest and recuperation in the bank, Westcliff made just the one change to the starting XV that took the field a fortnight ago at Shelford. The hugely impressive but unfortunately unavailable Jim Smith was replaced by the equally adequate Joe Vandermolen in the back row. Jake Spivey after an excellent debut at Shelford retained his place and Rory Lane was recalled to the squad.
Conditions as had long been anticipated were very windy and the home side were first to play into the teeth of the gale albeit in bright autumnal sunshine. Both teams were very quickly into their stride and a vigorous but fair contest commenced. Westcliff employed a tight game to gain hard to come by precious yards and for periods were able to retain possession secure territory and carry threat. The visitors though had the wind at their backs and were able to punish infringements and errors and build pressure of their own. After 10 minutes the referee judged a thunderous tackle by prop Binneman to have been worthy of a yellow card and the hosts were reduced to 14 for the next 10 minutes. The penalty forced them to defend a lineout on their 5 metre line which they did and which they were able to do throughout the sin bin period. In fact it was better than that when an enterprising break from a kick return saw them streak down the right flank where sharp interplay and quick recycling allowed Hopkins to get over in the corner. The conversion held up in the wind but they enjoyed a 5-0 lead. Quick to respond Barnes levelled things up 5 minutes later when they broke down the narrow side and evaded too easily the covering tackle. Their standoff made full use of the favourable wind to steer the ball through the uprights from wide left, Barnes led 7-5 after the first quarter.
Although there was no further score in the half the contest remained fierce especially around the breakdown and it was at one of these that things became a little fractious and Maloney received Westcliffs second yellow card. Another period of resilient and effective defence ensued but they held firm despite losing to injury fly half Mckeith. Trailing by just 2 points at the break with the advantage of the wind to come Westcliff were a little frustrated that they hadn’t made more of hard earned opportunities but also satisfied they were very much in touch.
Barnes adapted their game as Westcliff had into the wind and were able to control the third quarter for long periods. During this time they scored a try from a short range catch and drive opportunity won through a penalty infringement. They found goal kicking into the wind as difficult as had Westcliff but Barnes led 5-12. The contest continued and Westcliff were required to defend further but eventually their perseverance began to pay dividends, they gained better field position and began to carve out scoring opportunities again. As the game entered the final 15 minutes they forced a penalty in front that Jones converted to reduce to arrears to 8-12. The defining moment in the game arrived shortly after that when Westcliff pounced on turnover ball around half way and quickly moved the ball left. It reached Josh Stol who feinted and wrong footed the defender and tore through an inviting gap making ground quickly as the defence scrambled. With Sam Brown supporting and offering himself outside Stol delivered the well timed scoring pass that allowed Brown to sprint in and touch down. The conversion was missed but the hosts had their noses in front by the finest of margins 13-12. There remained almost a quarter of an hour to play but Westcliff were able to control most of that period by retaining possession and ensuring that Barnes would have to when the opportunity arose attack from deep rather than establish a platform in Westcliff territory. The final whistle was warmly greeted by the home crowd and the Westcliff players were able to reflect on a satisfying victory over the leagues top dogs.
It was, as was to be expected a very tough encounter and to come out on top was very pleasing. Conditions were difficult and probably both sides were happier with the way they played into the wind than they did with it. The lads stuck to the task throughout and that allowed us to remain in touch and take our opportunities when we created them. We had difficult periods in the game some through errors some through ill-discipline some through injuries and many posed by the quality opposition. We overcame all of these came out on top and deserved the victory with which we are delighted. Next week the side travel to the Channel Islands to take on Guernsey the new league leaders.
Spivey, Brown S, Smith R, Jones, Fenton, Mckeith, Branch, Brown C, Hopkins, Binneman, Scogings, Edwards, Maloney, Marsh, Vandermolen REP Lane, Macintyre, Stol