Charlton Park RFC are one match away from Twickenham

Charlton Park beat London Cornish away 32 – 17 last Saturday to win the London and South-East Region Intermediate Cup – the national cup for clubs at level 7. They now have to play Truro, winners of the south-west final, at Broad Walk on Easter Saturday for the once in a lifetime opportunity to play in the National final at Twickenham.

Cornish have remained unbeaten all season, and for most of the first half it was easy to see why. They are a well-coached all-round team posing threats all over the field and there were times when the visitors seemed to be hanging on. But hang on they did, and as the scrum began to dominate in the second half Cornish found themselves pinned in their own half by waves of attack.

After some nervous early skirmishing it was clear that the home side were quickest into their stride. With a smooth line -out and a creative back-row, fly-half George Kimmins was able to run the show, and he duly opened the scoring side-stepping through by the posts and then converting. Tom Amzaleg kicked a penalty to narrow the gap but Cornish’s dangerous runners like right winger Chris Kolapo-Ajala were still having too much room and they increased their lead from a line-out drive in the left corner.

Right at the end of the half, from an exhausting passage of play, Charlton managed to get a foothold in the game. Alan Knuckey started it with a dart down the blind-side, Park almost butchered a clear overlap but retained the ball and John Beith sliced through to score behind the posts. Amzaleg’s conversion narrowed the gap to two at half-time and tellingly showed the visitors how this game could be won.

The loss to injury of main line-out jumper Ross McManus further exacerbated Park’s ball-winning ability, but the scrum was beginning to dominate so Charlton’s ball-carriers took the ball up the middle, looking for contact, and slowly but surely the game changed.  An Amzaleg penalty gave the visitors a one-point lead, and after a prolonged battering Cornish defence gave way. Tshepo Mooki was desperately unlucky not to score from a 50 metre sprint along the right touchline but the position allowed John Beith to go over for his second try under the posts.

Park’s eight point lead lasted no time however when they could not retain possession from the restart and Kimmins’ clever running was able to put winger Matt Hakes in, but the missed conversion kept the deficit to 3. Now it was anyone’s game, but Charlton Park’s confidence was growing and their scrum was having a devastating effect. Fittingly prop Terry Read finished a series of charges at the line and finally, after a succession of scrums in the 22, skipper Rob Saunderson’s try in the corner finished the game off.

It was an exhausting and punishing game, a tribute (geddit) to both sides and the skills of supposedly level 7 players. Perhaps Cornish, having clinched promotion and the league title the previous week, were not has hungry as Park. Certainly every visiting player gave everything to the cause (special mention also to Mark Harlow-Singh, Jeremy Montes and Tshepo Mooki) particularly in a solid defence, and young coach Lee Amzaleg can feel proud of how his planning was put into practice.

Paul Astbury of London Competitions presented Rob Saunderson with the winning plaque, but there are bigger fish to fry, or pasties to bake, and it will be lovely to welcome Truro to Broad Walk for the semi-final. There are more games to play than Saturdays to be filled, Roe Belcher is tearing his hair out, but the disappointments of last year are being exorcised. Best wishes to London Cornish in London One next year.

By Andy Potts – The Bard of Beechhill