London Cornish go down after nightmare start
Winchester 31 London Cornish 20
The Exiles suffered a hugely disappointing London Two South-West loss at Winchester, having never recovered from trailing 26-0 with just 25 minutes gone, writes Ben Gilby.
In a first half which displayed alarming similarities to last week's home game with Old Reigatians, Cornish had the vast majority of ball and territory, but circumstances contrived to see the Black and Golds concede four tries.
Winchester were ahead after just two minutes. Cornish had the best of the early exchanges, but a clearing kick from the visitors was charged down and fell perfectly for the hosts' winger Nick Fielding who raced away to score. Connor Breen converted.
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Cornish hit back, and Ben Devonport burst through the middle, but the pass went loose. From more 'Exiles' pressure, the impressive Rob Healey combined with Dave Warwick and Luke Spells.
The ball was played through, but was pounced on by Winchester forward Matt Burt who collected the ball and ran between the posts once more. Breen kicked the extras and it was 14-0.
The same pattern was repeated - Cornish had all the ball and territory, but could not get on the board. Buoyed by their big early lead, the home centres combined and Alex Day barged through to score try number three. Breen's conversion extended Winchester's lead to 21-0.
Quite inexplicably, the home side secured the try scoring bonus point in the 25th minute as Cornish's horrendous luck reared its ugly head once more.
A superb kick through from Winchester took the hosts from their own half to within five metres of the 'Exiles' line.
Cornish secured the line-out, but once more a clearance kick was charged down, and this time Matt Lown simply had to dive onto the ball to chalk up the fourth try. Breen's conversion missed, but the damage had been done at 26-0.
Cornish came back off the ropes and pinned Winchester back in their own 22 for the remainder of the half. Pick and drive was the order of the day, and 'The Exiles' were camped on the home line.
The ball was played back to Luke Spells, who ran through, and, after several offloads, Rob Healey dived over from scrum-half to score. Spells converted for 26-7.
The visitors had further chances before the break, but Winchester did well to hold out.
Despite trailing by nineteen points at half-time, confidence was high in the London Cornish camp that another 'Lazarous like' return from the dead was more than possible.
'The Exiles' had much of the second half and Luke Spells had a chance almost immediately to peg back the home lead, but his penalty hit the right hand upright.
Five minutes later, following heavy pressure, he had better luck with a penalty. Cornish were urged by the coaching staff to run the ball and go through the phases.
This was successful and, from one such move of pick and drive, replacement forward Oli Low muscled over the line following a period of heavy pressure. Luke Spells' tricky conversion attempt was successful.
The gap was then reduced to a mere six points when Spells landed a penalty with eleven minutes to go.
However, this was as close as Cornish got. A combination of kicking away possession, errors and the home defence conspired against 'The Exiles'.
As the game entered the seventh minute of second half stoppage time, a fine move down the left hand touchline saw Winchester put the icing on the cake with a fifth try which sealed their first win since Octobe 12.