Shelford earn crucial win over Westcombe Park
Charlie Parkhouse at the try double for the hosts
The value of any given victory can only really be assessed at the end of a season, but if there is to be one crucial game for Shelford, then it is possible the 27-16 win over Westcombe Park will be it.
The Kent club occupied the final relegation place in the London & SE Premier table heading into the match, just three points behind Shelford after five wins in in their last six games.
It meant the pressure was on Mike Gillick’s side to make good on their home ground to earn some vital breathing space.
A 64-0 win over Guildford in their previous match shows what they are capable of achieving, the problem for Shelford though has always been consistency.
They have a brilliant attacking game when it gets in full flow, with an explosive back three, but against Westcombe Park, it was their resolve and defensive resilience that stood out.
Westcombe Park had pace to burn in wingers Sammy Sema and Dan Hamilton, but Shelford did a superb job in narrowing the pitch and then closing the door on their opponents.
The returning Grant Anderson and Gillick were shutting up shop in the midfield, and while they may not have had as much possession as they would have liked, that containment job was just as vital.
Equally as adept in a defensive sense was scrum-half Charlie Baker.
It is so easy to get drawn too often on what a No 9 does in possession, but Baker’s key contribution – alongside the usual duties of a half-back – was his work in tidying up around the fringes, almost like a sweeper.
Westcombe Park had targeted those narrow channels at the background, so snuffing out that threat and repelling the visitors was crucial, and it was a challenge that Baker rose to.
But the driving forces, from both an attacking and defensive perspective, were Al Whittaker and Luke Mongston.
Lock Whittaker was putting everything on the line all game, being a menace at the breakdown and a vocal organiser around the pitch, making sure his team-mates were in the positions they needed to be.
Such a role is often overlooked, but it can be worth considerable points to teams.
As for Mongston, he seemed to be a force of nature at times.
He was here, there and everywhere; looking to get involved offensively and appearing to be the first to every breakdown. His work at the kick-offs was also impressive as he was fractionally away from stealing Park ball on a number of occasions.
And the blind-side flanker had a hand in both of Shelford’s second-half tries.
It was Mongston that got the all-important second try in the 66th minute, finishing off after around eight phases of pick and gos for Shelford, who had shown great patience in just hitting the lines.
Seven minutes later, Mongston then put through a terrific low kick through towards the corner which Charlie Parkhouse collected brilliantly to race away and score beneath the posts. With Josh Simmons making it three conversions out of three, it was the breathing space Shelford needed.
They had controlled long periods of the game up until that point, but it did not show on the scoreboard.
Simmons had kicked Shelford ahead after four minutes, and then a great delayed pass by Gillick put in Parkhouse to race clear to score the opening try after 10 minutes.
But Shelford had started to concede penalties that were allowing Westcombe Park back into the game.
James Cameron kicked three points for the visitors after 18 minutes, and four minutes later, a spell of pressure saw Will Robinson score a good try, stepping inside by the posts to touch down, with Cameron converting.
Simon Hrbek was sin-binned for Shelford for tackling a player without the ball, and while he was off, Cameron kicked Westcombe ahead.
A crucial moment came in the 37th minute when Simmons produced a brilliant try-saving tackle on Cassius Deschamps – on such moments games can be decided.
So although Cameron went on to add another penalty, it restricted Westcombe’s lead to just 16-10 at half time.
Shelford then went on to control the second half.
It was a tentative opening 20 minutes where both sides knew the next score would be vital, and that came through a penalty from Simmons.
And then Mongston and Parkhouse touched down to give Shelford a deserved win.
Shelford: Hrbek; Parkhouse, Gillick, G Anderson, Moa; Simmons, Baker; M Anderson, Gardner, Mann, Whittaker, O’Neill, Mongston, Beswick, McIver.
Replacements: Boyce, Pauta, Tuitavukui.
Westcombe Park: Robinson; Sema, Deschamps, Hennah, Hamilton ; Cameron, Durkin ; Porter, Bonner, Forsyth, Clarke, Christopher, Springer, Lindfield, O’Sullivan.
Replacements: Saunders, Pohlen, Pursell.
Scorers: 4min Simmons pen (3-0), 10 Parkhouse try – Simmons con (10-0), 18 Cameron pen (10-3), 22 Robinson try – Cameron con (10-10), 34 Cameron pen (10-13), Cameron pen (10-16), 62 Simmons pen (13-16), 66 Mongston try – Simmons con (20-16), 73 Parkhouse try – Simmons con (27-16).
Sin bin: Shelford – Hrbek (foul play, 26), Whittaker (technical offence, 80+1).
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell.