Watford into Final!
By Martin Lee
Watford battled to the final of the league cup with a nail biting one point victory over local rivals Mill Hill.
Having shipped 40 points to our opponents in the league fixture before Christmas, the hosts were certainly the favourites on paper – especially when factoring in Watford’s lengthy list of absentees. With the warm up complete and the sounds of the Allianz Park faithful next door washing over the pitch, Mill Hill kicked things off with Watford attacking down the slope in the first period. The visitors started like the proverbial house on fire, the pack looking particularly industrious in the loose with ball in hand. Watford pressure soon told, Mill Hill straying offside allowing returning centre Scotty Menzies to stroke over the subsequent penalty.
The hosts responded strongly, Watford doing well to repel some big MH carries with PJ, Georgio and Dunners all putting in telling hits. A turnover gave us the opportunity to clear our lines, the Watford dam holding firm. The set piece wobbles which plagued Watford in the same fixture before Christmas, whilst not entirely banished, were certainly nowhere near as prevalent this time round – credit to Gordon, Bees and Hancock who put in a solid shift in the tight. The lineout ran smoothly for the majority of the game, Powelly exhibiting his customary dominance of the air.
Watford pressure was soon once again converted into points, Mill Hill punished for their indiscretion at the breakdown with three more points from the boot of Menzies. The visitors sensed that their hosts were reeling, the men in red white and blue finishing the half in the ascendancy. We thought Radish had crossed the whitewash after being driven over from the back of a maul, only for the referee to decide a Mill Hill hand had gotten underneath the ball. This was soon followed by Upton definitely grounding the ball, only for the touch judge to interject and overturn it due to an illegal clear out at the breakdown in the previous phase. After a dominant showing which should have seen us into the break over two scores clear, we were instead only 6 ahead and playing up the slope in the second half.
Head Coach Silver used half time to introduce fresh legs, Wilson and Landen joining the fray for Gordon and Upton respectively. Watford started the second period as they had ended the first, laying siege to the Mill Hill line. The home sides discipline began to creak, Captain Bram opting for the corner from a kickable penalty. From the following lineout the hosts collapsed the subsequent maul as it inched towards their line, the referee brandishing yellow. Back to the corner we went, once again the maul was collapsed and once more the yellow card was brandished. Down to 13, into the corner once again, once more the maul collapsed. Playing the advantage, Bram called for the ball and found Martin Lee hitting the line at ‘pace’ to crash over. Menzies was accurate from the tee once again, Watford 13 points and 2 men up after 50 minutes.
What followed from the re-start was arguably our only mistake of the afternoon as we failed to gather the ball cleanly. Mill Hill capitalised on the spill and chipped the loose ball over the top of the Watford defence. Menzies appeared to have things covered, however the ball bounced as only a rugby ball can, rolling agonizingly away from the centre and allowing the onrushing attacker to ground. Try converted, Hill back in it.
With 5 minutes remaining on the home sides sin binnings, Watford knew it was essential to capitalise on their numerical advantage – especially given Mill Hill would be welcoming two fresh forwards back to a tight game with both the slope and wind in their favour. With this in mind, we were immediately back on the attack and had soon made inroads into the Mill Hill 22. Watford patiently worked through the phases, Powelly crashing into contact before offloading to Martin who was able to flick the ball onto Bees who cantered over for our second try. Menzies maintained his 100% record with the boot, Mill Hill 7 vs 20 Watford.
Restored to their full complement and facing elimination from the competition, Mill were a different animal for the final quarter. Time and time again the hosts powerful ball carriers attempted to batter down the red white and blue wall, time and time again Watford defenders hurled aching bodies into the defence of our lead. A clever kick through forced Upton to carry over, and despite the visitors scrum holding firm the home sides fly half was able to smash his way over for a converted score. 14-20, ten minutes left.
The final ten minutes saw the match reach brutal levels of commitment and physicality from both sides. Watford barely touched the ball as wave after wave of Mill Hill attack attempted to batter their way over our try line. Stand out moments include Radish continuing to tackle hard with what later transpired to be a fractured arm, whilst Gordon also had his gonads trodden on and now sports an impressive bruise (pics available on request). With two minutes left, Watford’s eagerness to get off the line saw us concede a penalty for offside. The home sides scrum half tapped and went quickly, Martin Lee feeling he had little option other than to take the player out. The 9 tapped and went again, Martin hit him once again and saw yellow. The referee indicated last play, one final Mill Hill attack seeing them work the blindside and score in the corner.
19-20. A tricky kick to win and send Mill Hill through to the league cup final. Miss, and Watford would progress. Despite a clean connection, the conversion drifted narrowly wide to send the away visitors into raptures and Watford to their first cup final in three years.
MOTM – Georgio Pitsialis. Incredible shift in defence, hits and turnovers galore.
WOTW – Martin Lee. Yellow card. Proper naughty.