The final kicked off under clear skies on a dry firm field. Chilly, but nowhere near the freezing, raining final of last year.
All to play for at kickoff, Exiles had a 7 point lead, but ended the first final desperately defending their own line. Could easily have been a tied game as we the competitive season came to an end.
Exiles started strongly, but strong defense Pingvin caused an early turnover. Exiles promptly stole the ball back and for a period kept using the strong wind to pin Pingvin back. After a scrappy lineout Exiles were awarded a penalty, well within Jack Andersons range and on the “easy” side for a right footed kicker. Kick slotted and the aggregate lead was now 10 points.
An acrobatic save from Oliver Sharp prevented a long touch finder for Pingvin, combined with a spectacular reverse pass to Ian Gowland, who stabbed the ball back.
The game swung Pingvins way and after a strong period were awarded a long range penalty. The Pingvin scrumhalf took the attempt, which was short and to the left.
Exiles kept using the strong wind to push Pingvin back and after sweeping play, with the ball moved slickly from side to side, Oliver scored in the left corner with an extra man outside him. Beautiful touchline conversion from Jack made it 10 – 0 and 17 points in aggregate. Not over by any means, but a tough uphill battle for the visitors from the South.
20 minutes in and Pingvin disrupted the Exiles scrum and were awarded the put in. After a high tackle by Exiles another long touchfinder was negated by Oliver, who placement was perfect.
Another penalty tp Pingvin after Exiles released binding in the scrum. Second attempt made by Pingvin nr 9, second miss.
30 minutes in starting hooker James Derbyshire was taken off for a head injury assessment and did not return. Replaced by Casper Forsberg. Exiles pressing close to Pingvins line, several strong carries by Theo Karlsson and Sami Paulsson, who were excellent throughout the game. Two fine additions of Sweden qualified players to the club over the last couple of years.
32 minutes in, penalty to Exiles, long kick, lineout close to the Pingvin line. Lineout supremo Sean Burke won it clean and the whole pack shifted the maul over the line in a great concentrated drive. Casper coming round after the throw-in got the touchdown. Another fine kick by Jack made it a 17-0 game and +24 points series for the defending champs.
Oliver Sharp who was indeed sharp all day almost slipped through in the corner and offloaded at the last second to supporting fullback Ian Gowland, who was unable to continue his talent of scorying tries in finals.
A strip was made by Neil Erasmus, who showed power throughout. Exiles continued to use the wind, but also mixed in powerful bullocking runs by the big man Franco de Lisa, who needed two, three men to slow him down.
Halftime, 17-0 and still +24 points in aggregate.
Pingvin started the second half with energy and power and after a long touchline kick from a penalty they had a great attacking lineout, just 5 meters from the Exiles line. A score could have swung the momentum of the game, but Sean just reached the throw with his fingertips and managed to deflect it down to Theo who had a great big man run to clear the Exiles lines. Theo is an incredibly mobile prop who had a series of powerful runs.
After multiple penalties to Pingvin they were finally awarded an easy kick, 17-3. Still trailing by three converted tries the clock was ticking loudly and quickly for the team in white.
Exiles missed a couple of lineouts due to squint throws, but still continued to pressure Pingvins throws, again mostly through Seans leaping ability, aided by strong lifters.
Exiles miscues led to a strong period by Pingvin, mainly using their powerful and well drilled forwards. A breakout by Ian led to a streaking run by Dan Nissila down the wing, which almost led to a third try, but scrambling defense disrupted the opportunity.
Shortly therafter a third touchline save by Oliver again negated the ability for Pingvin to move the ball up the field after numerous penalties, the origin of which was not always crystal clear to the observers.
Jack Andersson took a shot at a long range drop kick, but it curled left. Jack shortly thereafter was replaced by Gianandrea Giacometti, who entered the centers, with Dustin Eaton moving back to his preferred position of flyhalf. In that role he had an outstanding final 20 minutes where he time and again harassed the defense, creating openings for both himself and others. This after 60 minutes of rock solid tackling as a center. As always a pleasure to watch Dustin play.
Ian Gowland off replaced by ash Kitchen.
A case of handbags brought on by some unsighted event in a ruck. Only niggly part of the game, which was played in a very sporting atmosphere.
Veteran Rikus van Niekerk came on as flanker to replace Nikorn (Neex) Thammavongsa after a superb day at the coal face, strong runs and low center of gravity tackles to stop big men in their tracks. Rikus was not to be outdone and immediately put in a tackle also.
23 minutes in to the second half and Giga K left the field to be replaced by Mark Beveridge. Both men contributed to exiles having marginal upper hand in the scums seen over the game as a whole.
The benches were being cleared. Jason Keen on for Matt Mitchell, who as always had had a magnificent game, with a spectacular work rate. Jason did not want to be ourdone and had a strong showing in the final 20 minutes.
In that period the penalties were suddenly going Exiles way, which meant most of the play was kept out of the Exiles half.
Levan and Chris came on to close out the game in the forwards.
Final ten minutes were inconclusive, with neither team being able to make anything happen.
Referee Rami Aro blew his whistle and the defending champs managed to keep the streak alive.
Captain Erik Sandberg, a second generation Exile, was able to raise the silverware over his head.7 straight golds and 12 out of 18.
Exiles had about as good as team as we have ever seen, with not only a very strong bench, but also 3 – 4 men, who were unlucky to not get into the final 23. Certainly there will be some players contemplating their playing future, but speaking from personal experience, an official retirement is not really binding…
Oliver Sharp gets the nod as the man of the match, but was closely followed by Dustin and Sean. Three saved touchfinders, a try and several incisive runs gives him the award.
A special mention to Ian Gowland, who by my count has 9 gold medals since joining the club in 2008.