With the rain holding off after a pre-match shower, conditions were perfect as Woodford welcomed Division 1 Upper Clapton for what turned out to be an enthralling and sportingly played game. With a significant number of first team forwards unavailable, the strength in depth and the spirit of the Woodford squad was going to tested in what turned out to be a very close run contest.
Sean Moore’s sure catch from the kick off and quick pass set Jed West off for the first of several bombastic runs. With Dan Farrelly keen to get the ball, Woodford stormed into the visitors half and kicked to the try line. Upper Clapton were not rattled, covered well and rampaged back into the Woodford half. Alex Marks, Haaris Sohoye and Michael Batt combined smartly to stop the attack.
Upper Clapton demonstrated good scrimmaging and got a foot in the game. It took a good tackle from Will Curness, and then a strong hold up by Victor Chujor with William Tindall in support, to stem the fight back. The visitors spotted a gap on the left though, and skipping tackles, opened the scoring after 5 minutes. With the conversion kick missing the mark, Upper Clapton led 0 - 5.
Immediately from the restart Upper Clapton caught Woodford on the back foot with a terrific run down the left wing and another try looked a dead cert. Sohoye had a different idea. Racing in at pace his crashing tackle carried his opponent into touch. With more pressure being applied, Farrelly and West made important tackles. A defensive kick by Farrelly was well caught and run back in by Upper Clapton. An excellent tackle by Marks, and another by Sohoye, gave Moore the chance to nick the ball and release it to Chujor for a short drive and a pass to Marks to relieve the pressure.
With 10 minutes gone, Marks caught a high kick, but with support slow to appear Upper Clapton regained possession. Tindall and Will Carey made tackles as play moved into the Woodford 22 once again.
Woodford won the ball and Moore, Marks and Batt exchanged passes, with the latter kicking and forcing an Upper Clapton knock on. From the resultant scrum, Arun Vaid hooked cleanly and with the ball getting to Marks the well organised Upper Clapton team intercepted and it took a Farrelly tackle on the right to prevent another breakaway.
With 16 minutes gone, Woodford lost a line out in their own half and Upper Clapton gained possession. As they passed left down the line with a clear overlap another try seemed certain. The sharp Sohoye saw an opportunity and nipped in to intercept and start off on a length of the pitch run. The Upper Clapton winger tracked back at an amazing pace to catch up but Sohoye was alert, checked his run, changed direction, evading his would be tackler, and getting the ball down. Both players deservedly received a rousing round of applause, the conversion was not made, but Woodford had levelled the game at 5-5.
The try really lifted the Woodford who had been doing well to defend against some skilful Upper Clapton passing moves. From the restart, Farrelly, Mick Chamberlain and West exchanged passes, before Jamie Ali on the wing did well to secure the ball until support arrived in the shape of the Taylor Wilkins and keep the ball with Woodford.
With 19 minutes gone, Matt Bastick replaced Ali. A run by Marks looked promising but no one was in immediate support when he was held up. Upper Clapton kicked deep into Woodford’s half but it was well claimed by Sohoye who made a twisting run through several Upper Clapton players before running into trouble. Momentum was shifting back to Woodford though. Marks made another good drive, and Carey then took over the move to make up more ground before securing and offloading to West who burst his way through attempted tackles for a superb try between the posts. With Marks converting the try, Woodford led 12-5 after 22 minutes. Ibrahim Ali came on for Tindall.
West caught from the kick off and Bastick then attempted a run with some good support from Wilkins, Vaid and the feisty Filip Goralczyk. As the visitors regained possession in Woodford’s half, West held play up well, and Vaid and Chujor flew in with strong tackles. Sohoye nearly found a gap to relieve the pressure but with men over on the right, and Woodford tackles missing the mark, the visitors scored again. Unconverted, Woodford’s lead was reduced to 12-10 after 24 minutes.
A mazy Upper Clapton run took a Bastick / Vaid combined tackle to halt the threat. A neat Woodford passing move then followed involving Marks, Batt, Farrelly and Carey before progress was halted. With 29 minutes gone Delford Perkins came on for Chujor.
Half-time score Woodford 12 – 10 Upper Clapton George Langley and Tari Branson came on for Moore and Marks at half time.
An early penalty, when an Upper Clapton player failed to release the ball, saw West tap and run. Passing to Batt, he fed Sohoye, who passed to Carey who was tackled on the wing. Despite good tackling by Farrelly, and Chamberlain’s marshalling of the defensive line, a top notch passing move by the visitors paid off with a try on the right. Unconverted Upper Clapton led 15-12 after 34 minutes. Ali J came on for Carey, soon followed by Andrew Whiting replacing Wilkins.
Upper Clapton had started the second half in much more determined mood and looked threatening all the time. Some handling errors created problems for Woodford, and with the visitors breaking, a fortunate knock-on gave Woodford some welcome respite. Bastick and Ali J made tackles, followed up by a well taken low tackle by Perkins.
Another Upper Clapton try looked to be in the bag, but as their played crossed the line he lost the ball and it bounced out of play. With 39 minutes played, Chujor came back on, with Perkins making way.
Goralczk made a good catch from another Upper Clapton kick and made an impressive drive with good support from West and Sohoye. With Upper Clapton punishing a stray Woodford pass, Farrelly did well to nip in and secure the ball. The relief was short-lived and with another overlap and an absence of tackles, Upper Clapton extended their lead with another try, which was converted. With 43 minutes gone Woodford trailed 12-22. Vaid and Ali J made way for Tindall and Marks.
Woodford Captain Curness led by example from the restart with a towering tackle. Chamberlain’s pass to West led to another strong drive supported by Curness and Goralczk. Branson made a positive run in the opponents half before being stopped. With play back deep in the Woodford half again, Sohoye and Bastick made timely tackles, followed by Farrelly, and then Curness but an overlap of three proved too much and extended the visitors lead. With the conversion falling short, Upper Clapton established a commanding 27-12 with 48 minutes played. Carey came back on for Bastick.
Upper Clapton knocked on at the restart. From the resultant scrum, Chujor made a strong drive, offloading to Goralczk, who passed to Chamberlain before the visitors regained possession. Carey and Tindall added tackles, the latter taking a knock in the process and making way for Vaid. Perkins and Wilkins came back on replacing Chujor, West and an Upper Clapton player, who were rushing off to link up with the Essex squad for training.
Perkins started off what was to be one of Woodford’s most creative passing moves. The re-jigged back line committed the Upper Clapton defence and slipped neat passes to the next player. The final pass gave Marks a lot to do on the wing but he scorched to the try line and round between the posts. Marks also converted making the score 19-27 after 52 minutes. Moore came back on for Langley.
Carey caught the kick at the restart. Farrelly made a pumping run into the Upper Clapton half, before passing to Carey who took over again. Offloading to Curness, Branson then joined the move and passed to Goralczk. With Upper Clapton defending well and punishing any mistakes play got pushed back into the Woodford 22. Woodford’s confidence was on the rise, starting passing moves near their own try line. Moore, Batt, Branson and Farrelly linked up well and Mark received the ball on the left wing. With cool aplomb, he waited until the last second before kicking, and as the ball sailed into the Upper Clapton half, he was tackled – empty-handed – into touch.
Upper Clapton attacked again, running the ball right back at Woodford and with overlapping players again, Woodford struggled to make the tackles count. Luckily the last Upper Clapton pass missed the mark and flew into touch. Farrelly and Curness meted out more hard tackles, and Sohoye did well to hold on to the ball as the game turned increasingly physical and draining.
Perkins made a deft pass to Carey on the wing, before a classy Woodford passing move brought in Batt, Wilkins, Goralczyk, and Ali. Under pressure, Ali did well to find Marks who made a dizzying, sidestepping run, jinking down the wing and around to the left of the posts for a fine try. Converting the try himself, Marks reduced the deficit to an exciting 26-27.
Upper Clapton re-acted by moving their speedster winger to cover Marks. Woodford mounted another attack as the seconds ticked away but lost the ball. Ali and Farrelly tackled their opponent into touch on the Woodford 22. From the line out Moore tried to release Batt as Woodford struggled to get back into the Upper Clapton half.
Time ran out though and Upper Clapton held on by for the victory in the face of a resilient and positive display by a Woodford team who belied their Division 2 status.
This was another excellent advertisement for youth rugby with both teams, and sets of coaches and supporters, participating positively and sportingly, in what proved to be a skilful and hard-fought nail-biter of a game.
Woodford Man of the Match (Backs) Haaris Sohoye
Woodford Man of the Match (Forwards) Filip Goralczyk