Jesus 17 - 5 Churchill

Jesus advanced to the rugby Cuppers final on Sunday with a 17-5 victory over Churchill. The match was shorn of some of its lustre with the absence of Blues Tom Harris and Ed White, but was nonetheless a hard-fought and entertaining game in front of a raucous Churchill crowd.

Jesus, it should be said, probably underestimated Churchill. Having their Old Boys’ match the previous day certainly wasn’t the best preparation and it showed in the early stages. The Churchill pack put in another huge performance and matched their illustrious counterparts blow for blow. But it was Jesus who drew first blood, an extended period of pressure ending with their fly-half popping over a drop goal. In truth, this was a mistake. Churchill were struggling to clear their lines, and Jesus, with their backs looking dangerous, might have been better served pressing for a try.

Going behind was not enough to subdue Churchill, and from the kick-off it was their forwards who dictated the play. Having gained a foothold in the opposition 22, Churchill refused to let it go, and got their reward when Vice-captain Greg Storrar drove over for a try from close in. Churchill missed the conversion but had the upper hand for the rest of the half. They had a chance to extend their lead with another series of forward drives, but this time Jesus were aware of the danger and did well to keep them out.

Trailing 5-3 at the break, Jesus needed to come out firing in the second half, and they were more than up to the challenge. With their forwards upping their intensity, they were able to pin the opposition back in their 22 for the first 15 minutes of the half. Churchill defended for all they were worth, but ultimately Jesus had too much in the tank. After sucking in the forwards with some punishing running in the tight, Jesus spread it wide, and Rob Stevens sliced through for a try. His conversion made it 10-5.

However, Churchill were far from out of it. The referee was quick with his whistle and tried to keep a tight rein on the match. With both sides fighting for everything, this led to a plethora of penalties for ruck offences. Eventually, the referee lost patience and sin-binned Jesus’ impressive number 8 Jamie Miller. With their opponents weakened, Churchill once again found themselves camped on the Jesus line, but couldn’t make the pressure tell. A real opportunity was missed when Churchill took a 5m tap penalty too fast, and Jesus were able to turn the ball over and clear to touch.

With Miller’s return, Jesus were able to relieve the danger, although the battle up front was still no more than even. But they ended hopes of an upset when Stevens hit a brilliant line off Miles Daly’s half-break to sprint 40 metres for a try under the posts. Churchill protested that their cover defence had forced Stevens to put a foot in touch, but the cries fell on deaf ears. Stevens knocked over the conversion and Churchill were more or less out of it. Despite this, they never stopped running. Their forwards, lead by Scott Jagger, were every bit the equal of the Jesus pack, and their backs defended well and had some good moments with ball in hand, Martin Young in particular making some big runs. Their Cuppers run has proved that with a full squad available they are far better than their League of Shame status suggests.

Jesus, for their part, took their chances well and did well to up their game when they found Churchill more of a challenge than expected. Their forwards didn’t take a backward step against a hugely committed Churchill pack, and the power and pace of their midfield ultimately made the difference. They have had a superb season and fully deserve to have reached the Cuppers final. They go into it as underdogs, but between Churchill and CCK Cuppers this year has been full of underdog stories. One more wouldn’t look out of place at all.

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