Westcliff travelled to promotion chasing Tring for their rearranged fixture setting out early morning for the 1pm kick off in freezing temperatures and amid constant snow flurries. A travel warning gave pause for thought but determined to get the game played a squad sporting several changes particularly up front boarded the bus. A clutch of unavailable players a recognised and acknowledged scourge of rearranged fixtures was an issue and with players dotted around Twickenham Cheltenham and elsewhere no fewer than 5 of the previous weeks pack were missing. Westcliff drew on their wider squad starting and recalling various players but most notably handed a first start for some seasons to Matt Meakin and the opportunity of a debut from the bench to Alex Hatton. In the backs Jack Jones returned after a trip away and a mid-week trans-atlantic flight, but may or may not have left his kicking boots on the west coast whilst Harry Branch missed out having failed to sufficiently recover from a blow the previous week. The game kicked off in bitterly cold conditions with the pitch dusted in snow and soft underfoot.
Both teams were vigorous in defence and attack and possession was equally shared in the early stages. However as the first quarter drew to an end the hosts were beginning to enjoy the majority of the ball and pressure. Eventually a poor kick was run back down the left flank and by avoiding a couple of less than satisfactory tackle attempts Tring were able to cross for the opening score. The try was not converted but they led 5-0, there was no further score until deep into time added on for injury when the Westcliff line was breached via a set move that put the home sides full back in under the posts for a 12-0 lead at the break.
Westcliff scored first as they had to in the second half with Merrick profiting from good work by Stol and finishing off under the posts. The kick in front did not go where intended but Westcliff were on the scoreboard and in the game. Tring continued to press and Westcliff continued to defend but the pivotal moment arrived at the start of the third quarter when Vandermolen received a yellow card for a perceived driving maul offence close to the half way line. During his absence Tring got over for a converted try that established a 19-5 lead. The final quarter was a contest where Tring sought to secure the try scoring bonus point and Westcliff sought to get back within striking distance. In the end they exchanged converted trys Westcliffs scored by Sam Brown and converted by Jones and Trings by their captain securing a bonus point 26-12 victory that keeps them very much in the promotion hunt.
It was a bitterly cold day for rugby and coming away with nothing for our troubles was disappointing. Tring are a good side as their results indicate and in truth they were deserved winners, we never really secured enough quality ball to win the game. So many changes in the pack didn’t help and we weren’t at our best, the scrum held up ok but the lineout was not always what we wanted and our loose game wasn’t as forceful and productive as normal. Nevertheless necessity is the mother of invention and there were some encouraging performances from lads stepping in and up, some at late notice. Particular praise is reserved for Matt Meakin on his first 1st XV outing in a few years and whose staggering 80 minute contribution possibly was as long as his combined 2nd XV appearance time to date this season. Also to Alex Hatton rewarded for some excellent outings in the Lions with a debut from the bench which after an injury to Jim Smith came earlier than might have been expected but was an opportunity which he grasped with both hands. Next week we are back on the road to play Sutton & Epsom with hopefully a few more options and if so with a few interesting decisions to make. We look forward to it.
Brown, Reynolds, Stol, R Smith, Merrick, J Jones, Spivey, Weston, Macintyre, Meakin, Webster, Edwards, Ashcroft, Vandermolen, J Smith