By Richard Grainger
THE HIGHLIGHT of the festive period was London Scottish’s performance at Kingston Park where they almost pulled off a shock win over Championship leaders Newcastle.
In front of the Sky cameras on Sunday 23rd, the Exiles put their bodies on the line in atrocious conditions but ultimately had to settle for a losing bonus point as young Joel Hodgson saved the league leaders’ blushes with four penalties to James Love’s three.
Neither side came close to scoring a try, and with the score tied at 6-6 at the interval it was a question of who would hold their nerve in the second half as the wind continued to move the goalposts around like a conductor’s baton.
Man of the Match Hodgson, who played scrum-half for England U18s, stood in for Jimmy Gopperth in the 10 jersey. Despite missing two shots at goal after the break he was on target twice which was enough to see the Falcons record their 12th consecutive league victory.
Needless to say head coach Dean Richards was less than happy with the outcome, and blamed the margin of victory on his opinion that referee Mr Matt Carley was rather more occupied with show-casing the new ‘ref cam’ than show-casing his refereeing skills. Richards put himself on the shortlist for Scrooge by refusing to acknowledge the visitors’ magnificent performance.
However, Christmas came early for Jersey when they reversed a 3-10 deficit at St Peter to defeat Leeds 20-17 on Saturday 22nd.
Conditions also played a large part in this game, limiting Carnegie’s attacking backs and powering up the Jersey pack, who, in the mud were the deciding factor.
Despite early second half pressure from Carnegie resulting in a disallowed try, it was the home side who struck with two tries in a six-minute period to swing the match their way.
First Max Stelling finished off Guy Thompson’s midfield burst, then the powerful islanders’ pack won them a penalty try. Mike Le Bourgeois converted both and added two penalties.
Former Jersey man David Doherty’s second try in the 75th minute, converted by Joe Ford, left the door open for Leeds, but the home side hung on, much to the delight of Head Coach Ben Harvey and the home support of almost two thousand who braved the conditions.
Bristol’s festive season got off to a good start as they ground out a 26-18 win over lowly Doncaster at the Memorial Stadium two days before Christmas. Mitch Eadie and George Watkins scored two second half tries to help them notch their sixth consecutive win in front of the biggest crowd of the season. This, briefly, put them into fourth place above the Cornish Pirates.
However, the clubs traded places when the Pirates inflicted a 32-17 defeat on Bristol at the Mennaye Field on New Year’s Day. Tom Riley bagged the Pirates’ fourth try near the end to terminate Bristol’s winning run and underline their miserable record in the principality.
Nottingham moved briefly into second place before Christmas with an 18-9 win over strugglers Moseley at Meadow Lane. Alex Lewington’s scored for the Green and Whites before the break and this was Nottingham’s only real attack of the first-half.
And it wasn’t until Tim Streather scored the second on the hour mark that the game swung in the home side’s favour.
The Pirates completed the double over Tamar neighbours Plymouth Albion with a 5-9 win at Brickfields on Boxing Day. In atrocious conditions, Kieran Hallett kicked three penalties for the Pirates and Luke Cowan-Dickie crossed for the home side late on to set up a nail-biting finish.
On Boxing Day, Bedford defeated Rotherham 22-16 at Goldington Road, to register their sixth consecutive win. The Blues were out of sorts in the first half and the visitors led 6-9 at the break before James Stephenson’s try was cancelled out by a late Peter Homan try. However, James Pritchard’s four penalties made the game safe for the Blues, who eased back into second place on the table.
Finally, on Boxing Day Newcastle travelled to Doncaster where they put the hint of a smile on Head Coach Dean Richards’ face with a 10-28 bonus point win. This leaves the Falcons 17 points ahead of the Blues, but the chasing pack will be sniffing blood after Scottish came so close.
Even with this lead, return to the Premiership for the Falcons is still far from guaranteed.
All this festive action leaves things looking like this: looking like this…