Candygram for Mongo
By Richard Cebreiro
As we crossed the bridge leading onto the Isle of Sheppey, the theme tune from Deliverance drifted across the mini-bus and we noticed several smoldering remnants of human shaped whicker effigies in the fields.
Even the 3 eyed sheep snarled as we passed by. It wasn't long before we found Sheppey RFC and after parking up we began our preparation for the quarter final of the Vets Evergreen cup.
No sooner had we taken to the paddock for our warm up than the light faded - absorbed by the opponents as they lurched from the changing rooms. It's not often that a PJF pack stand in anyone's shadow, but here, were at least 4 fellows larger in height and girth than us. None more so than Mongo.
Surprisingly the pitch was rock hard and with the wind at our back and playing up hill, we kicked off. Early exchanges were nervous and rushed as both sides eagerly tried to settle into a pattern. It wasn't long before Sheppey's game plan came to the fore - get possession and let Mongo and his mates punch it up the middle. Whilst this was effective, PJF managed this threat by tackling low and holding on for dear life. With 10 minutes gone PJF managed to secure possession and gain good territorial advantage and soon Bilchy cut a penalty in-between the posts to put PJF 3-0 up.
With the wind making lineouts a lottery the scrum was, more than usual, the point of re-starting the game - in this area the PJF front 5 manfully stuck at their task and despite being under pressure, did well against a larger pack. A series of snipes by Crumps and Norm around the fringes followed by more piercing runs by Bilchy and Julian Emmanuelle into the host's 22 allowed PJF to exert some pressure. From close quarter Crumps fed the ball to the thundering Steve Bruck who slithered, faked and dummied his way over the 3 yards to score PJF's first try. The half ended 8-0 to PJF.
The Sahara laden breeze was now in our faces and caused many problems when trying to clear our lines, going out on the full meant that Sheppey benefitted from the territorial advantage. They had also ramped up their pack and were exerting more pressure on a bruised and tiring PJF eight. None the less we stuck at the job in hand and marshaled Mongo et al across the pitch. Inevitably a moment occurred where there were just one too many attacks and Sheppey score and converted to bring themselves within a point.
Tony Mawer, Andy McHugh, and Matt Milner all managed to work the rucks and mauls well quite often stripping the ball from much larger gentlemen than themselves. This enabled us to keep the hosts at bay and clear our lines. From one such steal Tony made a break and fed Bilchy, despite being caught Bilch retained the ball and the boys re-cycled it quickly allowing Julian Emmanuelle to scythe his way through the covering defence, he freed the supporting Norm on the half way line and he ran in unchallenged under the posts - Bilchy converted and we stood at 15-7.
Sheppey unleashed an onslaught which we did well to defend - none more so than the returning prodigal son Jim Greenhalgh. At flanker and playing his first game in some 16 years Jim was soon up to his best. Snuffling out the loose ball on the ground and almost decapitating the oncoming barrage of Mongo at pace. Eventually the ref blew for full time and a collective huge sigh of relief emitted from the straining lungs of the PJF boys.
A tough, good, old fashioned game, hard fought and well won. And so to the bar where we availed ourselves of their delicious 4 bean and sausage stew - obviously cooking programmes had yet to reach the Isle. The Old Skool theme continued into the night as we climbed up on sunshine mountain, regaled about Father Abrahams and his 7 sons - not a night to have gone commando.
We managed, just, to leave the Isle in time before the bridge went down with the sunset and as we rolled across the Kent lowlands into the outskirts of Maidstone, we found the Chiltern Hundreds Inn. Upsetting the romantic evenings of several Kent couples we quaffed ale and related stories of the day's game.