So, back to Cup action, this was billed as the pre-cursor to the St. Mary's game, but with enough of a backdrop to make this a sell out in its own right. News of our unbeaten record in the cup so far (played 1, won 1) had reached the boys and they were pumped! Last year, we went down to 14 men inside 5 minutes and had a tough fixture, but managed to out run them in the last 15 minutes to win.
Avoiding the mistakes of the previous week, everyone was under a 7pm curfew & it was an early meet... thank you to all for being on time at 9.45 (Arran - don't worry, you can pay your fine next week) - it made a massive difference & enabled us to get a proper warm up in - please can we keep this up and ensure that on match days, we're all ready to get on the pitch by 10am. We also welcomed the return of Aiden Ali, who slotted back in with ease.
The boys were pumped from the kick off. We rucked strongly and with great line speed, put the Tewkesbury back line under a lot of pressure. Credit to them, they worked this out pretty quickly, with their 10 threading the ball through the line, turning Arran on the wing. We panicked defensively, fumbled and gave them 7 points on a plate... some things might never change! This was against the run of play though and the message to the guys was keep focused and keep playing the same way, just hold off the blitz defence for a bit.
Pre-game, we knew it would be confrontational and we wanted to take the game to them in the midfield. The tactic was simple, run straight at 10 to see if he could tackle... he struggled with the direct running from Westy and we gained good yardage. Next step, get Travis running at 12... although he was their best defender, so we moved one out to Jude at 13, again making great yards. Spreading the ball wider, Ralph hit the line well, but timing of the final runner just overshot the pass.
Having worked out where to attack, we kept the game pretty narrow, working our way into their 22, with Westy hitting the ball at pace to record our first score. Having told Ralph to leave his kicking boots at home, it appears everyone else followed suit & Westy missed a sitter. Clifton down 7-5.
Tewkesbury got back in the game and their scrum was causing us some trouble. Additionally, despite our competitive line out, the defensive organisation was sloppy, allowing them to break around the fringes. With possession and territory, Tewkesbury were in a good position. With some of the Clifton backline sucked into the breakdown, we were left short of numbers, Ralph had to step into the line & the Tewkesbury 10 saw his opportunity to mirror the first try and kick the ball through for another score. 12-5.
Clifton, against their previous form, didn't panic. We kept to the game plan, punched through the middle, before spreading the ball from left to right, with a perfectly timed pass from Travis to Sam Bowtell to score out wide. Still no conversion, Clifton down 12-10 & whistle blown for 30 mins
Message at half time was to keep going, keep cool and be patient. We had outlined before the game that the result would be decided in the last 10-15 minutes. A few tactical changes were made early in the half, with Scot Hilton coming on for Nikrad, Jamie for Jacob, Matt Cherry coming on for Elliot at 9, shifting across to 10 and moving Westy to 12.
Clifton's backline held their numbers better and also held off the blitz. This shut down their 10's options, leaving Tewkesbury the good old Gloucester rumble as their only approach. To be fair, with a couple of the Kerridge family in their midst, it worked to good effect. With Clifton camped on their own line, defending like fury, Tewksbury coughed up the ball. Scrum time & Scotty Hilton rubbed his hands together. David vs Goliath, no catapult required & the Tewksbury scrum resembled Whack-a-mole, with heads popping up all over the place. Penalty to Clifton, pressure eased and Clifton back in the ascendency.
Clifton's work at the breakdown had been great all game, with all backrow to the fore & Will Harms working like a trojan. Great speed of service from Matt C & Elliot was on the front foot pulling the strings and tearing through gaps, before stepping through with only the fullback to beat, in-out & under the sticks. Conversion added by Elliot, Clifton up 12-17.
Tewksbury stuck to their new found game plan and kept hitting round the fringes and mauling well. Clifton failed to stop them at source with tackling too high and we were soon marched back to our own line. This time they held their patience & despite some valiant defence from all, they inevitably crossed the line after a series of pick & go's. 17-17, game in the balance.
Sticking to the script, 15 minutes to go, game all level, Clifton were starting to show signs of losing their cool. The senior players stepped up, with Ralph ordering calm from the back - they knew they could beat them. The game held level, with a war of attrition in the midfield, time ticking on.... then the turning point. Scrum time, Scot Hilton really turning the screw and his opposite number taking objection. The referee was unable to see the exact infringement, but it was enough for a penalty and to get our team back on edge.
Having said it would come down to the last 15 minutes... it took a little longer... with 7 minutes left, Ralph surged onto the ball down the left flank, before passing to Jude (back on at 11), who outpaced the defenders to take the lead. Elliot stepped up, but proved the previous conversion was a fluke, 17-22
Will Harms (despite pleading to come off) took the re-start, charged into the defenders, Ryan Kearney driving on before Elliot fed Ralph to burn off any would be tacklers. Again a missed conversion, 17-27
This time, Kearney took the restart, smashed a few, quick ball to Elliot, chip through, fly hacked on before Jack Shodimu finally recorded his first score.... Our 3rd and final kicker was a very tactical choice... needing to run the clock down, we selected Billy Evans to nonchalantly approach the mark, carefully place the tee (several times), place the ball, replace the ball, pck up some grass, through it into the wind, analyse the flight, stare at the posts, the ball, the posts, the ball, step back, step forward... you get the idea..... oh, and he'd forgotten his boots as well.... 17-32, final whistle, final score.... GAME WON!!