In brilliant sunshine on the most immaculate of playing surfaces the 2017 Champions of National 2 South took on the Champions of National 2 South in the opening weekend of the National 1 2018 campaign.
The match started brightly for Caldy who dominated the first ten minutes of play with a number of powerful attacking bursts, but the home defence held firm. There was little to choose between the packs but out wide Bishop Stortford were just that bit sharper. Apart from a brief period when Caldy held a slim lead courtesy of a try by Jack Collister it was the home side that was on top for most of the first half as their speedsters took advantage of every opportunity to score.
There was no denying that the home side had the advantage of the bounce of the ball and the rub of the green from the referee but in truth they were sharper and more alert in every aspect of their play against a listless Caldy side who were clearly affected by the 5 hour coach journey. As the penalty count mounted against the visitors they slipped to a 30 points to 7 deficit before pulling back a score just before the break after a scorching run by the quicksilver Ben Jones.
The introduction of flanker Nyle Davidson after the interval improved Caldy’s competitiveness at the breakdown and they started to feel their way into the match. A number of trademark kick and chase opportunities for Nick Royle would have yielded a score on another day but the bounce of the ball again favoured the home side and when a charge down and a Caldy missed tackle led to a couple more scores for the home side it seemed a rout was on the cards.
However although the visitors were clearly under cooked and off the pace for much of the game they rallied with two good scores of their own late on to give them a valuable away bonus point.
Both scores showed the pace that Caldy has throughout the side. First prop Jack Parkersurprised everyone other than his Caldy team mates with his pace and footwork as he stepped past the opposing centres and sprinted clear from 20 metres out to go in for a converted score and as Caldy pushed for the bonus point the excellent Rhys Hayes duly delivered.
A powerful midfield surge by youngster Jack Beavers was eventually halted but he managed to offload to Hayes who carved his way to the corner for Caldy’s bonus point score.
Bishop Stortford had some outstanding players with former Leicester Tigers centre Matt Ridington and 32 year old and 39 cap Samoan international Dan Leo being particularly impressive as Caldy favourite Louis McGowan found out.
It takes a lot to get the grizzled veteran off his feet but Dan Leo managed it in spectacular style. As a wrongfooted and injured McGowan looked to check the onrushing Samoan powerhouse he must have realised that it could end badly. As these two behemoths collided, 18 stone of static Scouse second row was catapulted skywards by 18 stone of fast moving Samoan flanker. ‘I have been hit hard many times ‘ said McGowan ‘but never as hard as that. I will not forget and I will have to return the favour when they visit Paton Field at the end of the season.’
This wasn’t the way that Caldy wanted to start life in National 1 as Head Coach Simon Verbickas confirmed ‘ The game was won and lost on commitment , we just didn’t get to the breakdown or the 50-50 balls as quickly as they did. They made their own luck and it took us to late in the second half to get to the pace of the game, but by then it was too late. The lads have just had a big lesson about life in National 1 and they will be the better for it. I am not pleased with the result but pleased to pick up the bonus point. The team will respond next week against Fylde.’