I'm not entirely sure what has happened in the Chesham area recently - it's possible that there's been something introduced into the local drinking water supply, but when I arrived for the match 30 minutes before kick off as usual I found almost a full compliment of Chesham players in the changing room already changed. We even had 2 replacements. I admit it took me a few minutes for the brain to compute what was happening but then something occurred that had me totally flummoxed and ready to be persuaded that the world was, indeed, flat...
...We indulged in a team warm-up.
Even more amazingly, none of our number injured themselves during the said warm up and we approached the kick off against the Tring 4th XV almost ready to play - although with a certain amount of trepidation as a glance at our opposition revealed them to be a somewhat youthful outfit with barely a grey hair to be seen.
The world may be flat, but the pitch we played on was certainly not, a slope running across the pitch meaning that play tended to be concentrated along a 20 metre strip - conditions which probably favoured us on the whole and certainly upfront we were able to get amongst the opposition and prevent them getting much ball out to their backs. Our set pieces were solid - the scrum was very steady and we won a surprising amount of ball at the lineout - even yours truly leaping salmon-like (well, minnow-like) in the middle to claim a few.
The referee this week was a Kiwi and, despite that, did a pretty good job (other than one bizarre moment in the second half) adopting a refreshingly pragmatic (rather than dogmatic) approach to the breakdowns.
When Tring did get the ball they looked dangerous when moving it wide and they scored an early try under the posts to take a 7-0 lead. What was strange though was that whenever they were awarded a penalty (and there were more than a few) they kicked for touch (where we were strong) instead of running wide (where we were not). Conversely we tapped and ran almost everything, even from our own 22 (much to my consternation), in the mistaken belief that we could run the length of the field - all of which added to the surreal nature of the afternoon.
The Twilight Zone continued to exert its influence in the second half. Tring had crossed for their second try via the simple tactic of giving the ball to their youngest, quickest player and making us chase him up the hill. Thereafter we pretty much dominated territory and possession and, at one stage, were camped in the Tring 22 battering away under the posts when a Tring player kicked the ball out from the back of a ruck. The referee blew his whistle and raised his hand and I immediately took up a position on the left flank (bottom of the hill) waving my arms frantically to indicate that I was ready to receive a pass or a kick - a certain try assuming I could catch the ball (!). The next thing I knew the ref had uttered the words "penalty try" - much to everyone's surprise - and it looked as if all our hard work had been rewarded, only for him to change his mind and award a penalty again - but this time to Tring! He didn't actually reverse his decision, just decided to change his mind, and we still haven't a clue what the supposed infringement was.
Anyway, just as it was looking as if we might suffer an undeserved shutout, Tring decided to spread the ball wide down the hill (much easier to chase) and Tim, our centre, intercepted to sprint most of the way to the line before offloading to his fellow centre Eric to score under the posts.
So, a 14-7 defeat but, unlike England, nothing to be ashamed of. With a bit of luck we may even have won and, from a personal perspective it was certainly the most productive and enjoyable of the games so far this season. Next up is Beaconsfield Vets on 17th January - so plenty of time to eat and drink myself fit.