If Caterham v KCS Wimbledon is anything to go by, the Daily Mail Trophy is going to be quite some competition this season!
KCS were one of the top teams in the competition last year, finishing 6th overall, while Caterham are in their first year of the competition after organising a tough fixture card for the 2014/15 season.
Naturally then, KCS were favourites for this one, though of course you can never be one hundred per cent confident at this stage of the season, but Caterham were expected to be a tough nut to crack â€“ having entered the new Schools Champions Trophy (the first fixtures of which are just two weeks away) they have been working hard to make sure they perform well.
On paper the game went to script, with KCS winning 20-7. However that far from tells the true story. KCS were indeed the better side, dominating possession and territory, however Caterhamâ€™s organisation and defence was sublime under the most extreme pressure.
KCS had dominated much of the first period, spending a good amount of time camped deep in Caterham territory but up until the half hour mark all they had to show for it was a solitary penalty.
Caterhamâ€™s line speed was putting KCS under pressure in attack, while any breaches were being brilliantly mopped up by their corner flagging scrum half and number 8.
KCS did eventually cross the line just before the half hour mark though, and inevitably it came through their bullocking number 8, Will Lockhart-Smith. The Harlequins Academy man is tough enough to stop anywhere, but with the try line in his sights he is nigh on impossible.
He was central to KCSâ€™ next score too as his pack, led by the excellent Ollie Adams, powered the way towards the Caterham line with a big driving maul. Caterham managed to stop it just short but it gave KCS perfect front foot ball to sweep out to the wings to score a simple second try.
That gave KCS Wimbledon a 15-0 lead at the break and left the game in an interesting state as the coaches came in. At 15-0 down on the first game of the season there were two possible reactions from Caterham, one would have been to get disheartened and wilt, conceding a hatful of points, the other would be to be buoyed by their defence and to come out all guns blazing in the second half.
Caterham wholeheartedly took the second reaction, coming absolutely flying out of the traps in the second half an scoring a try after only a couple of minutes play that will be remembered for a long time yet.
The Caterham fly half, Joe Percival, audaciously made a chip pass with the outside of his right boot to his left winger, who only had to take the ball a few metres ahead of the gainline. It was a genius piece of play and completely opened up the field of play. Caterham shifted it inside and out before eventually going back inside to their big number twelve, Marcus Hodgkinson, to sprint over from just inside the 22.
It was a truly brilliant try, definitely one for the season highlights reel, and was made even better by Percival landing the extras.
Having not had much to play with in the first half Percival was now running the show from the pivot position. Just a few minutes later a turnover deep inside his own 22 saw Percival dart and dash away from the flailing arms of KCS to go charging back to the other end of the field, eventually releasing his winger for what looked like another glorious try before a magnificent covering tackle from KCS fullback Harry Rickards saw him bundled into touch.
That was perhaps the defining moment of the game though, KCS are too good a side not to bounce back from a quiet period of play and they did so with aplomb as the midway point of the half arrived.
Using their bigger, more powerful, pack they started punching away at Caterhamâ€™ defence again before Lockhart-Smith came charging onto one ball, dismissing a couple of would be tacklers in the process. Two phases later KCS were over in the right hand corner, the momentum caused by his surge proving impossible to stop.
Once the conversion landed to make the score KCS Wimbledon 20-7 Caterham, that was it as far as the scoring went. It had been a superb spectacle, helped as ever at this time of year by firm, green, pitches and glorious sunshine (is there an argument to make rugby a summer sport?!), both sides certainly contributed and both came out of it with plenty to praise.
Caterhamâ€™s defence was brilliant, and their second half optimism in attack was a joy, while KCS are clearly once again a very good side. Organised in both attack and defence, and will just hope to be more clinical when it comes to taking their chances. That said, they wonâ€™t come up against many more determined defences. Caterham were not a big side at all, but they had no fear of putting their bodies on the line.
KCS were the deserved winners though, a very good side indeed.
Final Score: Caterham 7-20 KCS Wimbledon
Photos of the game can be seen on our Facebook Page via this link: Caterham v KCS photos
By Angus Savage