Marlins clench victory from the jaws of defeat to win 24- 17
Marlins are one step closer to claiming the title
This game lived up to all expectations, and billed as the clash of the Titans in the mixed south-east conference league. Though the Merton captain claimed to have won the league, even before the toss was won, much to the surprise of the referee.
PJRFC won the toss and opted to play with the wind on their sails in the first half. PJFRFC were missing a few crucial players in the front five, and were up against a formidable pack with an Itoju protege, by far the tallest second row in the league. The first 20 minutes of rugby was played in Merton's half, though PJFRFC struggled to convert pressure into points. Bryn at 10 certainly made good headway into the opposition 22, and along with Ben and Jamie in midfield, came close to scoring. Del added his few yards deep into opposition territory, from one such attempt, and the supporting PJFRFC pack made further inches toward the line, before captain in waiting Paddy O'Neil scored under the post, just behind the formed ruck. This converted try, put a spring in the PJRFC backs who worked well from deep in their territory to spin the ball out wide to the wing and followed this through with support play from Bryn, Ben and Jamie to keep the ball alive and back through the hands for Bryn to score out wide. PJFRFC strughled witht the set pieces and this was utilised well by Merton to set up rolling mauls at will, though a concerted effort by Dan Wright and Tony Mawer, Dave Mole, Matt Milner did help PJFRFC off the back foot, with clever leverage to halt those mauls. Merton put PJFRFC to the test, playing some "proper rugby", Eddie Jones would have been proud. PJFRFC were unlucky with some decision not going their way, but held their nerve under guidance from many old heads and past captains. Scrum half Aden picked up a head injury, though was able to return 10 minutes later to marshall his forwards, Tom Browne stepped into this vacancy with much panache, with cheeky runs off the break downs to keep the ball alive and utilise the blind side. PJFRFC led 12-0 at half time.
Meton came off the blocks with all guns blazing and with a few fresh legs, and with the wind in their sail, and going down hill, played large chunks of the second half in PJFRFC territory, this combined with poor display in the set pieces, meant that PJFRFC had an up hill task. This became ominous when, Merton utilised their height advantage to score early from a line out in the PJFRFC 22. PJFRFC called on their attacking tackling, though poor decision making at crucial stages, leading to kicking the ball away, made this an impossible intensity to sustain. Jules, Mawer, Dan and Del all contributed to an excellent defensive display, though it was only a matter of time before Merton scored a try to equal points at 12-12. PJFRFC knew they had to dig deep and keep away from penalties and set play, and did well to keep ball in hand for long periods with several phases between back's and forwards, Rugby at its best, and played in the right spirit. However, poor discipline at rucks cost PJFRFC dearly, leading to back to back penalties and culminating in a try for Merton from a set piece. PJFRFC now had two scores to make up, against the wind and the hill, this would have usually led to bickering, though this Marlin team, pulled together and backed each other up, coming together and focused on their strengths. This approach rattled Merton who felt to be in a commanding position. PJFRFC never looked back from this point, and played with much valour and spirit, setting up rucks and supporting each other, at times running through a dozen phases of play, and calling on unexpected ball carriers to make those yards. Ross, Bryn, Dave, Dan, Milner, Jules and Del all took part, and forwards and backs got involved in rolling mauls and rucks. This team spirited approach paid off and the under-dogs came back through some excellent running by Ben Tompkins and support play by Bryn and Dan, culminating in 2 tries for Ben Tompkins. There were 5 minutes left on the clock at restart, and Merton brought fresh legs for one last attempt at sealing the title. Again, PJFRFC dug deep to defend deep in their territory, and especially at set pieces with Ben Tompkins standing in as number 8, and Dave Mole, scrummaging lower than his usual low, to thwart any last chances of a come back for Merton. PJFRFC learnt a valuable lesson on leadership and team work, not to mention never giving up. This has certainly been an incredible season for the Marlins, and one that would cement team work over style and panache. PJFRFC travel to Sutton and Epsom next week to clinch the Title, in what is a postponed fixture from February. Still everything to play for.