As we all continue to navigate the uncharted waters that is the Coronavirus pandemic, it is time to pick ourselves up by reflecting on the anniversaries of the two greatest days in the modern history of the club.
Next week I shall be reflecting upon the 4th anniversary of that incredible day when we won the Intermediate Cup and successfully managed to #turnHQblue in the process.
In Part One, though, we go back three years to Saturday 29th April 2017 and the promotion play-off at Chingford. This game was to decide who would take the final spot at Level Five of the RFU pyramid for 2017/18 in the newly re-named London Premier division. To do this I have spoken to several of the people who were at the heart of the match – the player, the coach, the physio and the linesman (and this conversation has led to a “spin-off show”) and will re-play the match report too.
Firstly, let me provide some context. Having been promoted to London One South following our majestic, unbeaten, 2015-16 season, the objective at the start of the campaign was a credible showing with the hope (and a genuine ambition to go with it) of a top four finish. Indeed, this was where we looked like finishing as we sat 3rd with five games to go ahead of a trip to the impressive champions-elect Sidcup, who were still unbeaten at this stage after 21 games. Havant were ahead of us in 2nd and still mathematically catch-able but we felt we needed to win 4 of our remaining 5 games at least and even then the Hampshire team had only to win three of their remaining games to be out of reach.
Defeat at Sidcup was not unexpected but what we hadn’t anticipated was the good news of Havant losing 15-7 at Chiswick, and to a side that were eventually relegated. However, when our worst performance of the campaign saw a home 12-17 loss to Brighton and news came through that our play-off rivals had secured a last minute 31-30 victory over CS Stags the pressure now seemed to be off. All we could do was ensure we won our last 3 games with full bonus points to maintain some pressure and hope that Havant slipped up twice…and we did know that their last game was likely to be a very tough trip to Sidcup.
To be fair, our run in was pretty straight-forward as we had two relegated teams to play before a home match against old rivals Maidstone. First up we thumped Gosport 5-52 and the coach journey home was made the much more enjoyable by the news that Havant had gone down 33-31 at Cobham. When we later heard they had missed a winning penalty with the last kick of the match we could be forgiven for wondering could the stars be aligning in our favour?
On the penultimate weekend we did what we had to do with an 85-0 win over Dover and even with Havant comfortably beating Chobham we knew we had a chance still to make the play-off match. April 22nd came with Havant on 98 points and the Wells on 95. We needed 5 points and for Havant to gather less than two at Sidcup…….and so it came to pass……Maidstone were demolished 46-14 at St Marks and our “contact” in South London gleefully relayed the news that Sidcup had beaten Havant 43-30 and planning began for the trip to Essex to play Chingford, runners up in London One North.
Saturday 29th April
As I was at St Marks running the Whiting & Hammond Sevens, Roger Clarke’s match report takes up the story:-
Whatever the result both Clubs had produced a great season and in the Wells case this was at the first attempt.
The away side saw Charlie Harding replace ever present Frank Reynolds (playing in trials to make the England Counties U 20 ‘s side) and saw Josh Crickmay added to a bench of 4.Within 8 minutes playing against a significant breeze Wells had conceded a penalty to go 3 points down and had lost second row Owain Withers to a twisted knee with Charlie Dagwell added to the back row and flanker Mike Hathaway moving into the engine room. Hayden Pope put Wells on the board with a well struck penalty as a result of an infringement when Withers was injured. 3-3.
With Wells finding the Chingford line speed giving them little room they then scored a fine try after good hands on the right- despite the narrow pitch – giving skipper Lee Campion the chance to stand- up his opposite number and score the try in the corner with Pope grazing the post against the breeze. 3-8 after 12 minutes.
It took Chingford another 2 minutes to claw back some of the deficit as despite parity or better in the scrummage and the edge through Christian Earle at the line out Wells continued to give a string of penalties away predominantly for offside for the rest of the half. No further score took place until the 30th minute as ferocious defence was the winner. However, on 30 mins Wells conceded another simple penalty converted by the Chingford full back who then a minute later, using the breeze slotted one over from inside his half to restore Chingford’s lead at 12-8. This remaining the score until half time.
The Wells halftime talk was all about composure and patience but Head Coach Matt Cook in his last game in charge would have been happy enough with this score against the wind.
The second half started with no changes and the first 20 minutes was characterised by a complete failure of the home line out being able to function to their advantage. Wells enjoyed better territory with the breeze and after a penalty to the corner and a maul Harding brought back memories of Twickenham 2016 with a well struck drop goal to bring the score to 12-11 48 minutes. At this stage the game was tense and tight with very few openings for either side as the defences dominated.
Wells continued to incur the displeasure of the referee and on 63 and 65 minutes the unerring boot of the Chingford full back put the home side 18-11 up.
The mood on the pitch had changed though and with the ‘pick and drive ‘ being employed and with Crickmay on the pitch the Wells build ups looked more solid. It took the pack until the 72nd minute to get the break they were looking for as Crickmay launched himself between legs and feet to get the touchdown which was converted by Pope 18-18. With full time close at hand and with Harding and Pope using the breeze to the corners Pope nudged Wells further in front on 77 minutes after a scrum infringement and at 18-21 the Wells supporters dared to see the win. Yet again after a Wells handling error in midfield Chingford broke away and were awarded another penalty to even the score in the 80th minute to level the scores at 21-21 Wells having conceded 7 successful penalty kicks most of which had been simple kicks and so to Extra time of two ten minute halves.
Wells got off to a flyer facing the wind yet again as within a minute of the start Hooker Jake Thompson latched onto a passing movement 30 metres out to twist turn roll and get over the line for a brilliant 3rd Wells try converted by Pope 21-28.
With the centre pairing of Dylan Barkas and Fionn McLoughlin making inroads in the middle gaps were opening up which Chas Spence was sending the backs into. Chingford had also lost a flanker to a yellow card for an offence on Thompson as he scored. Wells were dominating and after a penalty to the corner their rolling maul was used – not for the first time in the afternoon- to great effect as No 8 Nick Doherty was propelled over the line for Wells’ 4th try converted from the touchline by Pope for a fourteen point lead 21-35 at Halftime of extra time but by then Crickmay had been binned as well for a knock down in midfield.
If the crowd thought Chingford were finished they weren’t yet as they charged into Wells pinning them in their 22 and after 4 minutes of the second half after a long period of defence from Wells they drove over the line for a converted try 28-35.
There was still time for the two yellow carded players to return but it was McLoughlin’s turn to see a yellow as Wells went one down. As the second period of extra time was coming to an end Chingford forced themselves over the line in the corner. The fullback could not convert and it was all over. Had the conversion gone over Wells would still have been the victors on try count but all agreed this was the way to end a brilliant game from both teams and the right result for Wells as they now look forward for the first time in the Club’s history to National League Rugby next season and celebrate back to back promotions.Squad: Kyle McGarvie, Jake Thompson, Nick Blacklock, Stuart Nicholls, Josh Crickmay, Christian Earle, Owain Withers, Hayden Pengelly, Mike Hathaway, Charlie Dagwell; Chas Spence, Charlie Harding, Jake Jones, Adam Webb, Dylan Barkas, Fionn McLoughlin, Lee Campion, Hayden Pope.
Promotion secured to great celebrations at Chngford and back at St Marks. It made me wonder what memories some of the protagonists had…..
The Player – Owain Withers
“This was to be my biggest game in a Wells shirt as I was in my final year at university and playing rugby in Nottingham for the Twickenham season. I wasn’t surprised that my dad kept his word to run the Sevens rather then watch this game but my sister Eirlys was there representing the family. I was gutted to get injured so early after a dominant performance lol (my words… Ed!) . My memory isn’t amazing and I am a dreadful watcher of Wells games when I am not playing, but I think it was probably one of the most entertaining games the team played. The game was swinging both ways throughout and was very physical on a very hot day. Quite a narrow pitch so a lot of contact but we still played good expansive rugby.”
The Lino – Paul Robbins
“That match was one of the best I’ve ever seen because it had all the competitive things that make community rugby great but had the tactical play of an international.” Paul has quickly earned his place in TWRFC folklore and for more from Lino please see:-
The Physio – Russell Shingles
“The game was physically and mentally tough. The boys played to every ounce of soul they had. I can still see them becoming more and more fatigued as the game was going, hanging on the side line hoping no major injuries would happen. Unfortunately Owain’s was one!
As the game went in to extra time I was helping to make sure the players were hydrated and focused on what they could do, to look after themselves. It seemed like the game went on for an age and then when it got to the end I felt so proud of the team, honoured to be a part of the day and definitely had a little tear and lump in the throat! So proud. They gave everything.”
And the last word goes to the man who made it all happen……
The Coach – Matt Cook
The season until this point had been a bit of a strange one, and the conclusion of it against Chingford was to prove no different to the madness that had been unfolding around us each week. Throughout the season we were in with a chance of promotion one week and then out of it again the next week. To say the ‘run in’ really didn´t go our way would be an understatement. However, somehow, against the odds a battered and broken squad managed to defy it all just one more time with a match that was surely the perfect microcosm of the season.
For me, this one match summed up perfectly how the team and indeed the club had evolved over the previous few seasons. No longer were players content to take second place on match days, no longer did club members and supporters turn up expecting the team to put up a good fight before losing, no longer did anyone associated with the club think we were just a small town rugby club.
The match and subsequent victory against Chingford, as glorious as it was, was so much more than just another win or promotion. It was the day the club to a man stood up and said, “we are good enough and we are here to stay”. Ambitions had changed and rightly so! Vamos Wells. Cookie.
Graham Withers 28th April 2020