Taunton hosted the side that were the last team to have beaten the Titans at home in the extended season last year in May on Saturday (29th March) and were hoping not to concede their unbeaten home record to them this term.
Southend are a team that are well organised and can play varying styles and on their day can beat anyone in the division. The game earlier in the season saw a 12 try thriller with the Titans edging it 33 – 44 Saturday’s game wasn’t as free flowing but was just as exciting in other ways with the lead changing hands several times.
Taunton started the game playing into a strong wind that made them play with ball in hand rather than trying to clear their defensive 3rd. As Taunton tried to play out of their half Southend’s quick defensive line caused Taunton to concede a penalty just inside their own half and which Southend’s fly half Brad Burr kicked to give the visitors the lead 0 -3 after 13 minutes.
The Titans then started to string some phases together and made their way down the pitch and managed to claim a lineout in Southend’s 22. The lineout drive was brought down and with some strong drives from Paul Davis, Freddie Fraser and Jon Gatford the Titans edged closer to the Southend’s try line. With the play going from one touch line to the other and stretching the visitors defence the ball was recycled in midfield and sped out wide where Freddie Fraser, who had an excellent game in attack and defence, stepped back inside and went in for a try. The conversion was missed but Taunton took the lead 5 – 3.
For the next 20 minutes of the half both sides tried to gain an advantage but strong defence by both sides meant that the only score came from the boot of Southend’s fly half Burr with a second penalty giving the visitors the lead going in at half time 5 – 6.
There was a sense of déjà vu from the previous week when Taunton played into a strong wind in the first half and went in only one score down. With instructions and some gentle reminders on what happened the previous week Taunton came out for the second half and took the game straight to Southend and once again showed that their style of play combing backs and forwards is not only pleasing to watch from a supporters point of view but also leads to great trys and ways of unlocking the most stubborn of defences.
The Titans turned over a Southend ball just outside their own 22 meter line. Dan Lee carried it forward and the ball was then spread along the back line for Man of the Match Brett Harvey, who for some reason was lurking out wide, who then carried it into the Southend half. The ball was then passed back along to the other side of the pitch where Paul Davis, who was back starting for the Titans after his exploits with England Universities during the 6 Nations period, stormed through to score. Gary Kingdom added the conversion that took the score to 12 – 6.
Kingdom added a penalty 5 minutes later to stretch the Titans lead and ensure that Southend needed two scores to get back into the game.
Southend then started to use their forwards more into the wind and started to make inroads and with 20 minutes to go drove prop Mike Guess over for a try converted by Burr. This closed the gap to 2 points and the Titans home record was under threat once again.
The play then swung back and forth as both teams tried to make the break through and 5 minutes later with a scrum in their own half Taunton scored the next points. With a solid scrum the ball was passed to Fraser who jinked his way through and took the ball into the Southend half, it was recycled quickly and Paul Davis made further in roads and from that resulting quick ruck Toots Vakalutukali, who never seems to have a quiet game, sped down the grand stand touch line to draw the last few defenders. Ash Harney then stepped off his wing to offer Toots the inside ball which he duly delivered for Ash to run in under the post for an easy conversion for Kingdom and once again stretching the Titans lead to two scores with 10 minutes to go.
That wasn’t the end of it as Southend came back once more through a try for second row Dan Legge with two minutes to go. With a simple conversion by the posts to take Southend within 2 points and a penalty or drop goal away from snatching victory fly half Burr decided to drop goal the conversion but pushed the kick wide leaving the score 22 – 18.
The Titans saw the rest of the game out and took the 4 points which moved them up to 5th in the table and also kept their unbeaten home record.
With this victory and the 4 points even though they looked safe in the league Taunton are now mathematically safe and will be plying their trade in National League 2 South once again next season. They have won 15 games this season 5 more than last season with 3 more to play. A different story from the last time Southend came to Hyde Park and thankfully a different result.