Bright conditions and the return of some old faces added some positivity for Croydon’s visit to Old Rutlishians. A team reshuffle during the warm up resulted in Walker drawing the short straw and filling in at outside centre but another well attended training session had instilled some new lessons for the whole team to put into practice. More encouragement was generated by the 2nd XV being able to field a side against Warlingham, helping add more strength in depth to the squad.
Croydon knew exactly what to expect from a tough previous fixture against Ruts – a team pushing for promotion with the most dangerous back line in the league. Unfortunately, simply being aware of these strengths was not enough to stop them. Croydon were caught cold by the home team’s quick hands and quicker feet, conceding several early tries in the process.
The Poppies struggled for a foothold in a frustrating first half. The powerful carrying of Humphrey and Gleig was being successfully rucked and secured by Dammers and Shrimpton. However, as soon as Ruts got a sniff of the ball it ended up beneath Croydon’s posts.
With two minutes to go, Croydon finally started to show signs of what they were capable of and turned over a kick-off to work their way up the pitch. A five metre lineout was illegally spoiled by Ruts and resulted in a sin bin for the opposition. With the Poppies unsure of how to make the most of the following penalty, Lyell took initiative and, in a solo effort, bulldozed through three Ruts players and over the tryline. The half time whistle blew and despite a one-sided scoreline, Croydon rallied behind Lyell’s late try.
In the second half, reliability in the set piece was much welcomed, where Matthews and Griffiths were immovable in the scrum while Defrates dished out successful lineouts like Tom Brady in his prime. Curtis and Bond’s creative distribution was getting recycled and the team were moving forward. A rare Ruts error from a ruck was punished by your humble narrator who escaped with the ball and was gifted a wide open run-in to the posts.
Old Ruts answered back but the match was now much more competitive than in the first half. Billy’s timely message to up the aggression was being received, from Curtis and Shrimpton driving the ball past the gain line, to Cousins and both Smiths hitting everything in defence, to Bond furiously attacking the conversion frame, smashing kicks against both the upright and the crossbar.
In attack, Croydon mirrored the conditions of the changing room, remaining very, very tight. Benefitting from a couple of decisions against Ruts, Bond was able to kick into dangerous territory and lineout maestro Griffiths rolled back the years to roll over two mauls in quick succession, the latter guaranteeing a bonus point for tries scored.
With the clock winding down, there was still time for some unprecedented flair from the backs. Camped inside Ruts’ 22, Bond aimed a chip over the line for Drummey to latch onto in the corner, fighting of competition and breaking over the line to score. Jack’s final effort meant Croydon walked off the pitch with a 24-17 second half victory.
While the overall result wasn’t as favourable, the Poppies could take several positive lessons from the match. Moreover, a first ever try bonus of point showed real attacking promise from the team and a precious point that may make all the difference come the end of the season.
Final Score: Old Rutlishians 64 – 31 Croydon
Tries: Lyell, Biggs, Griffiths (2), Drummey
Conversions: Bond (3)
Gleig: A massive positive to see Sam return to the starting lineup after a lengthy absence, his impact was both immediate and immense. Playing in both the forwards and backs he was seemingly everywhere on the pitch, winning lineouts, creating attacking chances and making a nuisance of himself in defence like a metaphorical (and literal) punch to the balls.
Curtis: Another returning face with a big performance, Ginge shored up the distribution channels. Linking well with Bond and the forwards, he helped transform Croydon’s phase play into a much more dangerous force. Defensively solid, he also made try saving tackles on more than one occasion.
Griffiths: Steve has been central to the lineout, creating moves in training and calling plays in the game. His impact had been instrumental in helping the lineout to become a great attacking platform for the team and this was well demonstrated throughout the match. He played a critical role the success of the set pieces and scored an unexpected but well-deserved brace albeit using Defrates as a human shield.
Lyell: Two tries in two matches, Lyell’s powerful running is a key weapon within the Poppies back line. A destructive force with the ball in hand, he always managed to break the gain line and push the team in the right direction. Scored at a critical moment, completing an individual effort to open Croydon’s account and bring some self-belief to the team, which was built on in the second half.