After an off-season full of new faces, gardening, the odd iNaga curry and a resolute focus on rebuilding, the Poppies were finally freed from the delicate restrictions of summer touch, ready return to proper rugby and get a first look at how far the revival project was progressing.
The weather - the spectacular summer had returned with a vengeance and the sun was out in full force.
The opposition - A last minute switch meant London media had the pleasure of travelling to Addington. One of Croydon’s bogey teams last season despite similarity of squads, the media boys (all 26 of them) would be a perfect acid test.
Media were out of the traps straight away and ran in an early try. Before Croydon had even realised the match had started they found themselves down 0-7, but fell back on their game plan; simple rugby played with intensity. Led by the centre pairing of Yorkie and captain Lyell, The Poppies ramped up the pressure and started winning penalty after penalty. Unfortunately, confusion in the line out and the two words no forward of a certain shape wants to hear, “uncontested scrums”, meant it was difficult to for the home team to capitalise.
In the second quarter, Croydon threw tactical kicking out the window and went back to the trusty tap and go. Strong phase play with solid contributions from Glenn, Cousins and Richardson gained valuable metres and built a platform for Simons to bulldoze over from close range, levelling the score and fulfilling his pre-match promise of a try in honour of Defrates (or was it Gissing?). The only blemish on a positive quarter was Yorkie’s injury meaning Dammers joined Shrimpton in the club of forwards forced to play in the backs.
Quarter three was just as evenly fought. Media continued to rotate their massive squad onto the field but despite fresh legs they couldn’t find a final pass. One of Croydon’s prodigal sons returning from university, Kareem, and debutant Mike both made important attacking carries while Simons gave his opposite number plenty of extra attention in defence. Against a run of sustained media pressure, Henderson latched onto a misplaced pass to jog in a try under the posts and give Croydon the lead for the first time in the match.
Unfortunately, at the start of the final quarter, the blistering heat and relentless pace of the Media squad finally broke through Croydon’s resolute defending to score three time to gain a crucial 12 point lead going into the home stretch. Rather than bow down and admit defeat, the Poppies mustered up one final push. Yorkie rejoined the fray with one leg, Davenport dump tackled anyone with a media shirt, and the opposition were on the back foot. With a monstrous chase after a deep kick, Jeffrey was fingertips away from his first try of the season but a vicious clothesline wiped out both attacker and defender, leaving Drummey to play the advantage and dot the loose ball down himself. A final lost line out signalled the end of the match and while the result wasn’t as glorious as the conditions, there were plenty of positives to take forward.
Final score: Croydon 19 - Media 24
Tries: Simons, Henderson, Drummey
Conversions: Henderson (2)
A lack of backs meant the smallest forward was nominated to fill in at scrum half. Did himself no harm with a composed display and marshalling the link between the pack and the back line. Capped off his commitment to the role by even downing his ‘man of the match’ pint like a back! A new look for the defensive stalwart? Maybe so, if the #shrimpfor9 movement is anything to go by.
It’s impressive what a front row are capable of when they’re not having their souls crushed out of them in the scrum. Uncontested scrums proved a blessing in disguise and produced the most movement ever seen from the collective. highlights being:
- Adrian galloping around with the ball in one hand looking for a kiwi-esque offload.
- Steve’s one man chip and chase reminiscent of his 85/86 season.
- Smuts solo counter rucks regaining valuable possession.
- Davenport and ‘that’ dump tackle.
Conducting traffic at fly half, Jake kept everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and did well to make sure Croydon focused on their game plan. A solid performance in terms of decision making was rewarded by taking the customary unopposed-five-metre-run-in try usually reserved for Lyell.
Whilst neither were available in person, they contributed through social media and attempted to psych the team up for the game with a black and white montage of one of Jack’s topless weights sessions. Whilst the actual impact of the video on the match outcome remains inconclusive, rumours are still circulating that Adrian’s acrobatic runs were a homage to captain Bond, with mobile prop volunteering his own services for the next topless video.