John’s Escape Downing Upset

St. John’s narrowly avoided a first league loss in 5 years as they edged a close encounter at Downing pitches, winning 12-10.


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St. John’s narrowly avoided a first league loss in 5 years as they edged a close encounter at Downing pitches on a windy Tuesday afternoon.

Two first-half tries were enough for John’s to recover from the shock of going 10-0 down after 20 minutes, in a match where both sides had to negotiate adverse weather conditions.  Meanwhile, the moustachioed Downing side, who are participating in Movember, will be proud of an inspired performance but will consider themselves unlucky not to have won a game they often dominated.

The match began in dramatic fashion as Downing fly-half Steve Townend crossed for a try under the posts after just 5 minutes. Downing kicked a penalty deep into St. John’s half and put several phases together before Townend broke through the John’s midfield with a shimmy Downing captain Matt Halford described as “worthy of Cindies’ dancefloor.”

Mathmo Townend capped an impressive performance with an assured display of game management and touch-kicking. He added 3 points to stretch Downing’s lead to 10-0 on 20 minutes after John’s infringed at the breakdown.

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With John’s trailing 10-0, suggestions of an upset began to circulate on the touchline. But captain Drew Barratt dragged his side back into the match with a much-needed try on 30 minutes. The powerful second-row burst through Downing’s midfield out with a barnstorming run and the John’s pack did the rest to drive their skipper over the line.

The Red Boys then seized the lead after Aaron Sonenfeld chipped the ball into Downing’s 22 and took advantage of a fortunate bounce to cross on the stroke of half-time. The subsequent conversion took the score to 12-10 in favour of the league leaders.

At half-time, Downing remained in the match, and one Red Boy was overheard telling his side “This is the best half of college rugby we’ll have to play this season.”

With both the score and the wind in their favour going into the second-half, John’s looked set to kill the game off, but instead opted for a conservative gameplan.

It was a John’s side lacking their characteristic strength-in-depth, and their willingness to kick for territory probably reflected fly-half Mathonwy Thomas’ lack of faith in a disappointing backline.

Thomas exploited the conditions and kept Downing in their half with some excellent kicking out of hand, backed up by a solid forward display. Downing hooker James Dibble commented, “They played the second half perfectly. All they had to do was keep us in our half and that’s what they did.”

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John’s failure to go out and win the game was nonetheless frustrating, and this frustration reached exasperating proportions 20 minutes from time when their backs squandered a 4 on 1 overlap, knocking the ball on.

But the Red Boys did enough to hold on, playing intelligently in the second half, and preventing a late Downing onslaught to maintain an unbeaten streak in the league which stretches back to 2005.

While disappointed at the loss, Downing took many positives out of the game. Centre Rhemayo Brooks told The Tab: “Feathers have been ruffled. We have announced ourselves as Cuppers contenders.”

Second row Rich Bennett was no less theatrical: “Jesus must be shitting themselves about playing us twice this season.”

When asked if this was the closest game they’d had this season, one John’s player, who would name himself only as ‘rent-boy’, said: “Numerically, yes. Downing fought really hard, they had a great game.”

Post-match reactions cut a confusing picture, with a disappointed but proud Downing side leaving the field united, while the victorious John’s side fought among themselves.

The result means that John’s remain certainties for the title, while Downing will now consider themselves strong favourites for second place.

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