By Martin Lee
Watford narrowly lost their opening league fixture at home to London Scottish Lions.
Having played Uxbridge the previous week in dry, firm conditions Saturday’s weather couldn’t have been more different. Consistently heavy rain meant an opening 40 minutes punctuated with frequent handling errors from both sides and as such, numerous scrums. The set piece was a fairly even contest, credit to the two Tom’s (McGee and Gordon) playing in new positions but more than holding their own.
Despite Watford enjoying a bright opening 5 minutes, it was Scottish who opened the scoring with a well worked try from their electric winger. The visitors perhaps guilty of showing their guests too much respect in the opening 40 minutes, forgetting the defensive structures we had worked on during the off season and too often leaving our wingers isolated and susceptible to overlaps. The visitors added a second following a fantastic offload from the back of a driving maul and with only 15 minutes gone, things were starting to look bleak. Thankfully, this served as a wakeup call and we gradually began to get ourselves back into the match.
Watford adapted to the conditions and began to generate cleaner ball for the backline. Man of the Match McGee was distributing well from scrum half, allowing Bram to bring his back line into the game with Harriott carrying well in the centre of the park. The home side were now edging the territory and possession stats, Scottish defending stoutly but beginning to concede an increasing number of penalties. A well worked lineout move saw Watford move to within 5m of the visitors try line. From the following phase skipper Bram almost broke through, only to have the ball knocked from his grasp by an excellent cover tackle as he went to ground the ball. Scottish rubbed salt into the wound, breaking from the back of the subsequent 5m scrum on their own line and despite some desperate Watford scramble defence, the visitors scored in the corner on the stroke of half time to make it 0-17 at the interval.
We knew we hadn’t been at the races for the first 40 and a repeat performance would lead to a potentially embarrassing score line. Thankfully, the Watford we all know and love decided to show up for the second half.
As a team, we finally played the rugby we had been working on during the off season and looked to manipulate the Scottish defence by adjusting angles of running and our lines of attack. McGee got us on the scoresheet, showing the defence a clean pair of heels to dot down in the corner having been put through by Bram. Menzies missed his conversion from a tough angle, 5-17 and game on.
Unfortunately for Watford, Scottish replied almost immediately. A Watford lineout on our own 10m line was disrupted, quick hands from the visitors putting their winger through to complete his hat trick with a fine finish in the corner. 5-22, 25 minutes left.
Watford roused themselves, determined to get something from the match. Josh Wilkinson was halted after a fine break, however his next break gave Watford their second score. Josh was first to his own chip, then hacked through before falling on the ball just short of the line. Pitsialis and Hancock were in support, the latter grounding from close range. Menzies added the extras, 12-22.
Scottish appeared rattled, Watford carriers now making yards with the ball in hand and passes which had previously been dropped or misplaced now finding their target. After one infringement too many, the referee brandished the yellow card to give Watford a man advantage. From the subsequent penalty Watford drove the industrious Hancock over for his second, our third, bringing us to within 5 points of a win which had seemed almost impossible at half time.
Watford laid siege to the visitors try line, further Scottish indiscipline seeing them reduced to 14 men once again. In horrendous conditions, Watford desperately pushed for the score which would have drawn us level. Martin Lee was hauled down just short after picking from the back of a scrum, the Watford pack tirelessly picking and driving themselves into a blue wall which bent, but never cracked. It was a frantic end to a fantastic game, however it wasn’t to be for the hosts who eventually lost possession on the try line. With both sets of players out on their feet, the final whistle blew with the score Watford 17, London Scottish 22.
MotM – Tom McGee. First start at scrum half, controlled proceedings well, scoring a try and defying terrible conditions to provide clean, accurate service.
WotW – Simon Bram. Knocked on with the try line at his mercy.