A must win game for the hosts obviously motivated them to a performance which kept the visiting Clifton team under pressure for the whole match.
The Wild Geese were enthusiastic hosts and the energy was apparent on the pitch as well. Conversation around the lunch table centered around the desperate league position our hosts have found themselves in and how a victory today was critical to any chance of National League 2 South survival.
A grey and dreary forecast proved accurate as the team took to the pitch at the Sunbury-on-Thames ground and the impressive Clifton travelling support voiced their encouragement.
Almost immediately, Clifton had a line-out and unfortunately continued their recent form and put themselves under pressure. However, the team had brought a determined attitude down the M4 and a delightful cross field passing sequence saw Will Pomphrey cross the line for the first of his brace of scores. The men in #LavenderAndBlack had taken the lead away from home - let’s go!
It became clear quite quickly that London Irish’ best weapon today was their line-out and drive. It was only 5 minutes before the Wild Geese executed their well trained set piece and scored their first converted try.
Players from both sides were starting to feel hot under the collar and the officials were obliged to remind contestants of their good behaviour obligations.
The fixture continued in an ‘arm wrestle’ for some time until a dominant Clifton scrum forced a penalty and a chance for Barnes to retake the lead for Clifton.
Clifton were able to extend their lead and look to a half time buffer with an attacking line-out of their own and the resulting driving line-out led to an unconverted try from Chris Rovery, apparently playing his last match for Clifton.
However, the hosts fought back as the half was drawing to a close and capitalising on a Clifton error, scored a converted try.
There was clearly an impactful half time talk from Head Coach, Matt Salter, as the Clifton side ran out to start the second half looking determined. However, Wild Geese clearly had had a similar speech as their line-out & rolling maul proved effective once again and a converted try was scored.
The Clifton RFC response was swift and arrived in the form of Will Pomphrey’s second touch down and converted by Barnes.
Amazingly, LIWG held their composure and just repeated their successful formula: line-out, driving maul and try to extend their lead 9 minutes later with a bonus point 4th try.
Clifton seemed to find an extra gear and push hard to score next, a series of penalty restarts left them with an attacking scrum centre field and 5m out. Two moves and Clifton had their own 4th and bonus point try courtesy of Chris Rovery which was converted by an in-form Brad Barnes. Finally, Salter’s men had taken the lead again as the hour passed.
The pressure intensified and recent recruit Matt Davies suffered a yellow card on 69 minutes, although many thought he’d been wrongly identified. Henry Harper left the field injured just 3 minutes later and Clifton found themselves down to 14 men and no starting second rows left on the pitch.
Good pressure from the midfield forced a penalty and Barnes attempted a kick from long range which proved successful to extend the lead as the last few minutes ticked away.
The remaining time seemed to be spent in defence mode for Clifton as Wild Geese launched repeated attacks from the visitors’ 10m line.
Just as Davies returned to the field, Rovery completed his final match with a yellow card; Clifton turned the ball over and LIWG had a final and seemingly certain last chance to score and win the match. An ambitious cross field pass proved too hot to handle and the referee ended the game at the subsequent knock-on.
Five points on the road ended a string of defeats for Clifton and gave some much needed confidence in advance of next week’s rearranged away fixture to Birmingham & Solihull.
The next home fixture is Saturday 2nd March (KO 2.30pm) and all are invited to experience National League rugby at Station Road, Cribs Causeway.
Updated 09:56 - 1 Mar 2019 by Mike Barber