Clifton turned up at Longlevens with things going to their usual precise rhythm.... Westy dropping his egg mayo sandwich in the mud, two late drop outs for injury and Sam King practically arriving in his pyjamas 2 minutes before kick off. Longlevens, having lost a few players over the summer, were in a similar position and were forced to grab a random teenager off the street (Old Richians won't be too pleased they had no full back for the day) and still needed to borrow two Clifton players!
Despite this, Clifton had a very solid line up and without the pressure it being a cup fixture, were able to try out a few options. Focus for the day was on performance ahead of result, ensuring we increased our tackle count and making sure we got to the breakdown quicker than the opposition.
Having received kick off, Clifton ended up in a mid field battle that set the pattern for much of the first 10 minutes. Clifton drove strongly through midfield, with Westy making a start at 12. Longlevens tackling was strong and quickly their stand out number 7 latched on to the ball, turned us over and popped to one of their many large ball carriers who made yards. Clifton's tackling held up well, forcing Longlevens errors and turnovers. Similarly Clifton drove back, only to be turned over repeatedly. Eventually this deadlock was broken through quick ball delivered from Pike at 9, through Adair to West, who broke the gain line before offloading to Adams in space. Adams rounded his man, stepped on the gas, held the full back up with a tidy in-out before a try celebration that was a cross between an Ashton swallow dive & a drunk person falling over. Evans slotted the conversion. Longlevens 0 Clifton 7.
Clifton secured a deep kick off, following the game plan to see through 3 phases, before kicking deep. Kick chase was good, but Longlevens secured the ball and exposed what they thought was a 3 on 2 down the blind side. Felix Ravina stepped in well, but the ball was off loaded to their left wing who set off with the try line in his sights. It was probably beyond a frequency of 10kHz and inaudible to anyone over the age of 37, but Jude Penny at fullback whistled in an extra defender. As a random Gloucestershire dog squared up to the Longlevens winger, he stepped in to the charging fullback, who put in one of the tackles of the season. Threat avoided, both dog and Jude given a biscuit, Clifton won the line out and exited their 22 cleanly.
In a near carbon copy of the preceding 10 minutes, after some solid tackling from both sides, Clifton found space, putting Adams back through a hole. Touching down just left of the posts. Evans stepped up for the kick. As Billy stood their looking at the tee, we all assumed it must have been an early Christmas present - one of those magic tees that kicks the ball for you. After five minutes of looking at it, Billy decided it wasn't working & he was going to have to kick the ball himself. Length was good, line just off. 0-12.
From kick off, Clifton again worked upfield. Choosing to play tight against a bigger pack wasn't part of the game plan, but who said the backs have all the fun? At this stage we thought we'd pulled of a master plan - having given them a second row as requested, we pulled the impressive Luke Jones back into Clifton colours & thought we'd give them a back to play lock, thus destabilising their forward unit. Travis donned the red & white and was basically a total nuisance all game. Disrupting Clifton' play, spending most of the time off side & breathing down Pike's neck and even managed to force Penny off the path - the plan clearly backfired!
Longlevens got into the game and put some decent phases together. Clifton's tackling was robust, with Holbrook & Penny to the fore. Unable to run through the Clifton line, Longlevens deployed a good kicking game. Finding Bowtell on the left wing isolated, they put on a good chase. Bowtell then had the first of a series of decent runs - stepping the oncoming defenders, he then raced down the right flank & with a covering defender in his tracks, he showed his sidestep - or maori version as he steamed straight into the would be tackler. 50 metres made & any threat avoided.
Longlevens worked their way deep into Clifton territory, but coughed up possession with passes not quite sticking on a greasy pitch. Clifton's scrum was solid and the ball came out to Adams who smashed it down field. Decent attack from Ravina ensured good field position and with Thornton at 10, the ball was fed back to Adair, who crossed the line for Clifton's third score. Evans slotted a solid kick, Clifton up 0-19.
After half time, our focus waned a bit. Slower to the breakdown, Longlevens enjoyed a greater portion of possession and territory, aided by some weaker tackling on their forwards. Under pressure in their 22, Clifton got their numbers wrong at the breakdown & Jack Shodimu (playing for Longlevens) spotted a gap & drove over the line. With a couple of Clifton defenders valiantly trying to deny him, there were calls for held up. The referee saw the ball grounded and the try was awarded. Clifton's passion was great, but it boiled over. With players frustrated, this was a turning point in the game. Clifton may have been unlucky, but our reaction to the decision was poor. 5-19
Wanting to make some further changes, we tried to pull Travis from lock for the opposition into the midfield for us... but he had fully defected to the opposition & was keen to get one over on his mates... We know where your loyalties lie Travis! To balance things out, we put two forwards in the centre, with King & Harms deputising well. In a scrappy final quarter, the Longlevens 7 had a field day and secured the bulk of possession. Clifton were in defensive mode, organised well by Holbrook and King. After a series of about 7 penalties on the 5 metre line, both a score and a yellow card was inevitable, but the boys pride & passion was evident. There were reports in the area of seismic activity when they did crash over, taking the final score to 12-19.
We used the game to find a few things out - what cover did we have in certain positions, learning how to play and win away and how we increase our aggression in defence.
We also targeted the boys to get into double figures tackle count. Congratulations to Jude Penny on topping the list, despite spending 10 minutes vomiting and 10 minutes in the bin! Also to Eddie Holbrook for reaching the target.
Finally, Man of the Match goes to Sam Bowtell...playing out of his preferred position far too well, solid defence, good positioning and hard, straight running.... we'll make a winger of you yet!