Three more weeks. Three more games. Three teams in with a chance of winning the league. Whatever happens, it’s been a special season for the Oaks faithful.
Ahead of the 1st XV match last week with Havant RFC, Head Coach Adam Bowman cited the importance of support for his side, saying that they could play a crucial role during the season run-in. And so it proved on Saturday, as with two minutes to go, Oaks kicked to the corner towards a packed Bradshaw-Pearl balcony, before setting up a well-executed driving lineout, cheered on by a vocal crowd. After the ball was recycled a number of times, Oaks centre Josh Thorneycroft bundled over to touch down and give Oaks a bonus point win, ensuring that his side kept in contact with the four other teams in the London 1 South title race. Deep breath, as you were.
‘I was pretty relaxed throughout’ said Head Coach Adam Bowman. ‘We played some good stuff and went into half time with a good lead. The drop goal before half time gave us a bit of breathing space and although they came back with a try, for the majority of the game I thought we were in control.’
Oaks seem to have continually matured over the season, and clearly grew again on Saturday, reacting and recovering quickly to the loss of scum half Ollie Shirtcliff fifteen minutes in. ‘I think in years gone by, there would have been some panic in the ranks. But on Saturday, the boys didn’t flinch – Ben (Adams) slotted straight in and did a very good job, including that drop goal. Rich (Adenyi-Jones) also did very well and in fact I was really pleased with the impact our subs had in the second half – they gave us great energy and caused Havant some problems. It’s exactly what we are looking for from the bench.’
With five minutes remaining, and Havant in Oaks 22, surely the Oaks Head Coach must have felt some pressure and desperation, knowing that a bonus point could prove crucial? ‘Not really’ said Bowman. ‘First and foremost, we have to be good enough to win. They’ll no doubt be lots of people from the outside saying that its crucial we win with a bonus, but for me, we need to concentrate on winning. The rest will come. If we start chasing a game to get four tries, then we will go away from what has been the cornerstone of our game which is our discipline and structure. I trust wholeheartedly in this group – they work so hard and practice scenarios like the last two minutes so I am pleased for them when that work pays off.’
More good news came from Dartford, as Oaks 2nd XV managed to overcome Dartfordians, despite a poorer showing in the second half. ‘Speaking to a number of the boys, there were disappointed with the way they played in the second half, but that said, we played very well in the first half and built a good lead. We remain top of the league which is good and we need to make sure we are on top form for the remaining two matches against Old Colfeians and Tonbridge Juddians. If we can win those, then we are in with a good chance of winning the league.’
Oaks 1st XV follow their 2nd XV colleagues with a trip to Dartfordians this weekend. Darts, promoted last season from London 2 South, have equipped themselves extremely well in this league and all but confirmed their London 1 South status for next season by winning away at Cobham RFC last weekend, allowing them to sit tenth in the table. In a muddy affair, Oaks overcame the men from Bourne Road by 37 points to 12, albeit the match being tighter than the score line suggested.
And so, with all four teams in action this weekend, with all Oaks Senior teams in action and competing at the top of their leagues, the pressure is surely on? ‘Not really’ said Bowman. ‘We are still taking one game at a time. We have to. Take our eye off the ball and every side that we play this weekend will punish us. If we stick to what we know, work hard and get the detail right, the rest will take care of itself.’