Watford Miss Out
By Martin Lee
On a bright sunny day Watford set out to do what no side had done, and many not even attempted, to beat London Scottish Lions.
Words from Head Coach Sean Silver
Heading into the game we knew the scale of the task ahead of us, with the unbeaten league champs having ruthlessly dispatched us a week earlier. But we also knew that we had been one decision away from winning the corresponding league fixture on the opening day, and that the squad we had available was excellent.
With it being a huge day for the club, back to back cup games a full 45 players were available for the hotly contested 39 spots. This made selection competitive, and ensured we had everyone at training for once this season.
When couple with the clock change bringing the pitch back into use, Watford were able to start the game more organised and aggressive than we’ve been all season. Williams nudged the kick off back and only a fumble from Murray prevented Watford from gaining the perfect start.
In the opening ten minutes the Lions tried to take the game away from us as they had done the week before but Watford were a different beast with Hammill and Dunlop returning to the side and looking sharp. Three intercepts and two turnovers in the opening ten minutes showed the huge amount of pressure that Watford were putting on the Lions with them unable to find any breathing space outside Watford’s ¾ press.
This meant the Lions were forced to kick early, and often in the opening period with Williams and Menzies dealing comfortably with the kick and chase. In fact the first twenty followed a pattern of Watford possession deep in our own half.
With a willingness to play out, and very effective use of the pop pass Watford were able to push up the field and put more pressure on the Lions. Menzies narrowly missing a penalty from 45 metres after 15 mins.
Watford were not to be denied the first score though, under a pressure they were perhaps unused to Scottish resorted to hitting high. The fourth such penalty (of a remarkable 13 conceded for high tackles alone) allowed Watford to put the ball in the corner and Powell rose highest to take the throw. As he has done all season Hancock took the glory for the pack’s hard work as we rumbled over.
Unfortunately the extra’s were missed leaving us 5-0 to the good with 20 mins played.
From here things took a turn for the worse, flanker Hammill’s injury woes this season continued. Forced from the field with a torn calf after less than half an hour of the game. Replacement Portway slid into the row and Powell moved to six.
Here the Lions strategy of playing territory bore fruit. Two poor clearance kicks in quick succession allowed Scottish the ball in the Watford 22. A clever lineout move dragged Bees and Hancock into a ruck that would have been better ignored which allowed their bearded Kiwi scrum half to finish neatly on the left.
With Watford’s defence out wide still oppressively good Scottish were forced to play a brand of ten man rugby that few saw coming. With their kicking game being accurate and a very dangerous full back able to punish any loose clearances Scottish put the screw on Watford for the final five minutes of the half.
When they scored to take the lead it was though in cruel circumstances. A disrupted lineout fell kindly for the aforementioned 9 who ducked into the line hiding behind his own lifters before finishing well under two tacklers. He would go on to complete his hattrick of close range tries in the second half, but Wilkinson called him Australian afterwards so we know who the real winner was.
5-10 down at half time it was clear that we needed the next score. Unfortunately this was not to be. Having kept the Scottish superstar winger turned centre, Edwards, out of the game for 40 minutes we were not able to do so in the second period. With Watford pressing hard, and having played the more expansive game, it was a simple dropped ball which gave Scottish all the space they needed to move it wide and run 80m’s up field in a matter of seconds.
With vice captain Lee, and the versatile Williams both joining Hammill on the injured list it would have been easy to capitulate. But this was not the case.
Watford kept pressing, probing and tackling. Captain Bram leading from the front in both defence and with his offloading game.
Unfortunately we made too many mistakes in the final quarter, and against a team as clinical as Scottish this made things nearly impossible. One missed tackle in the Scottish 22 led to a second breakaway try before a scrum penalty led to the Lions putting the ball in the corner and their 9 diving over.
Watford came back again, with the clock against them and aggrieved that Scottish had somehow kept the full compliment on the field after an off the ball incident Watford went on the attack. Another high shot led to another rolling maul, when this was collapsed prop Murray sent a long pass out to winger Nwefo who was stopped just short. After another phase it was who else but Hancock to round out his season in style wrapping up the first team top try scorer award with a familiar pick and go for his fifth try against the Lions this season. Menzies added the conversion.
12-27 down with not long to go Watford were still playing hard. Unfortunately we were unable to stay composed at key moments with one 3 on 1 out wide going to ground, before replacement wing Upton making a 50m break and running out of support.
With the injuries we were unable to get freshened legs back on the field, although Bees made his return count with a dominant scrummage for a penalty in the reshuffled pack.
Watford were finishing strongly, Holloway had caused problems for the Lions all day in both attack and defence and another strong carry drew yet another penalty. From this scrum Watford get deep into the Scottish 22 and only a wayward pass from the otherwise excellent Mcgee cost us the ball. From this turnover the game ended with Edwards summing up his and the Lions season, running 90m to score with the final play.
In truth this score flattered Scottish, and the fact that Edwards was forced to score in the corner under pressure from two Watford players showed the heart and desire with which this game was played.
Crucial mistakes against a ruthless team will always cost you, and this was the case on Saturday. However I know that you will all join me in having great pride in the way with which all involved represented the club on what was still a great day.
Finally a thank you to Vic Devers and Adrian Sparks for attending on the day as well as those players from Mill Hill Rugby Club who came to support us.