Downing Silence Red Boys
Downing cause a shock by beating the champions on the opening day.
St Johns 7 – 19 Downing
Always one of the fiercest grudge matches of division 1, plenty of hype had surrounded the build-up to this season’s opening fixture between two stalwarts of the top tier college rugby.
All too often college sport results are blamed on adverse weather, but conditions at John’s Pitches were perfect for strong running rugby – a welcome change from the battle of attrition this fixture has provided in recent years.
Defence prevailed for most of the first half, with neither team capable of breaking down the other. Downing struggled to relieve pressure from within their half, being pinned down by strong John’s tackling.
Both sides showed aggression and ferocity in the contact area, with barely a missed tackle between them. Possession continually changed hands due to a series of unsecured break-downs and handling errors – perhaps the result of a prolonged freshers’ week hangover.
The Red Boys found their feet quicker and began to dominate at scrum time. With the referee searching for the holy grail of a perfect scrum, the pace of the game was slowed as the scrum was repeatedly being reset. While the home team enjoyed the majority of possession, Downing captain Rob Hall and younger brother Matt were doing their best to steal ball and disrupt John’s rhythm.
The John’s game-plan used big runners off star players, Cliffe (10) and Crawford (12), but this was nullified by strong tackling from the magenta pack and the high work rate of Downing’s centre partnership, Sam Arnold and Tom Rees putting in countless hits on their Johnian counterparts.
Having rebuffed this initial onslaught, Downing sought to utilise their experienced back line, expertly controlled by debutant Owen Roberts. A moment of magic came from fullback Ed Tombs who finally realised he could step off either foot, allowing Downing to launch their first assault of the game.
This was met with more solid defence, but the visitors added further pressure as their scrum began to find its feet. Hooker Clifton-Brown won a scrum against the head on the John’s 22, from which a well-executed backs’ move took Downing up to the 5 metre line. Tom Rees was able to burrow over in the corner to put Downing up 5 points.
The first half finished with the visitors on top, but no further points as the John’s defence held firm despite having to make several substitutions due to injuries.
With the half time hydration complete, DCRUFC’s attention waned, with Tombs failing to make 10 metres with the kick-off. Errors began to creep into the Downing game and John’s reverted to forward-orientated rugby; making ground around the fringes despite the best efforts of the Downing props. The Johnian pressure paid off mid-way through the second half; a missed tackle allowing Crawford to score in the middle of the pitch, swiftly converted.
Downing responded quickly, putting the ball wide through the hands to allow Number 8 Luke Thompson to stretch his legs, stepping the fullback to touch down under the posts. Despite the distraction of Thompson’s exuberant celebrations, Tombs slotted the extras to put DCRUFC 12-7 ahead.
Downing were back on top, and the John’s supporters were silenced as half-backs Roberts and Rought-Whitta controlled the pace game. Another well-drilled backs’ move finished with Arnold offloading to Tombs, for him to add to his points tally. The fullback subsequently bundled the ball over to add the conversion.
The final ten minutes saw the men in red suffocated as the clock ran down. The scores closed at 19-7 to Downing, ensuring Cindies wouldn’t have to endure another night of those lurid red jumpers.
Photos courtesy of Graham Bates