Thursday, February 13, 2014
The logistical difficulties that are evident for an East Devon club side playing in a national league were shown once again last weekend when the Cockles travelled to Kent for their latest National Two (S) game, writes Steve Birley.
The engagement began with a 5.30pm departure from Exmouth for an overnight stay in Canterbury and a return home was not until the early hours of Sunday morning!
Making the whole weekend all the tougher was the fact that facing the Cockles were second-in-the-table Canterbury plus Baltic-like weather conditions!
With a number of players injured or unavailable opportunities fell to some of the Cockles fringe players. As a result there was a real indicator as to the future at the Imperial Ground with the average age of the 20-player travelling squad coming out at just 22.
The weather threw a spanner in the works from the offset, as the teams were set to kick off a thunderous hail storm hit the ground, as the officials dived for cover the players were sent running to the changing rooms.
The storm was so heavy it was impossible to see from one side of the pitch to the other. Eventually underway. The Cockles started with the benefit of a gale force wind yet on their first attack it was the home team that found a gap to score out wide.
Worse was to come; the bitter cold wind making fingers numb and, as the Cockles attacked, a dropped pass was hacked up field the chase was lost and Canterbury led by 10 points.
The Cockles got more into the game, but lacked the cutting edge in the final quarter of the field and the host defence stood firm as both sets of players locked horns. It was a day for hard yards, fighting for mere metres of ground.
Canterbury showed their class with a fine converted try against the elements as the Cockles were once more punished for a dropped ball in midfield.
The young Cockles were straight back on the offensive and got their just reward, with a scrum 5-metres out number eight Todd Lowry showed great strength to brush aside the challenge of two Canterbury players to score and Rob Avery Wright added the extras.
With just minutes remaining in the half the Cockles battered the Canterbury line. However, typical of the way lady luck has deserted them this season, there was to be no further score and the players trooped off for a much needed respite from the weather.
With the elements against them it looked as if the second half would be a real challenge for the visiting side. However, during this difficult campaign the two components of the Cockles game; excellent stamina levels and big strong honest hearts, has not once been in question and post-match the home side commented on the defiance shown by the men in heliotrope.
As the half progressed a copy of Lowry’s try was scored by his opposite number.
Changes were made by both sides and Exmouth manfully worked their way up field. Unfortunately, a gilt edged try scoring opportunity went begging and the clearance downfield went 80 metres. As the Cockles tired a dominant scrummage resulted in a penalty try for Canterbury, a little harsh perhaps, but ultimately of little consequence.
Exmouth gave returning three quarter George Meadows his first taste of National Two rugby along with colt Brad Cooke making his first XV debut.
The final whistle saw both sides depart the field as quickly as possible, the hardy crowd showed great appreciation of both sets of players and the thawing out began!
On Saturday the Cockles host the table-topping Hartpury, The visitors are sure to contain a sprinkling of internationals and stars of the future, so it allows the Cockles to pit their wits, and raise their game against the very best in the division.