In a thoroughly deserved victory, London Nigerian reclaimed control of their own destiny at the Linford Christie Stadium. With their survival in London Division 2 at stake, both sides brought a distinct edge to the game and as is usually the case in relegation dogfights, this was not a pretty display.
Thurrock had their hosts under pressure early on keeping Nigerian penned in their 22 for lengthy periods. The Nigerian lineout suffered a serious malfunction (winning zero out of a tally approaching double figures), starving the home side of any ball and turning the opening minutes of the game into an extended session of tackling practice. After about ten minutes, Thurrock returned a Richard Small clearance kick with interest towards Nigerian’s bottom right-hand corner. Ugo fielded the ball and sparked a lively counter-attack as he weaved his way through the first couple of chasing defenders before offloading off the floor for Wole in support. As the skipper was snagged he found Ibi Shelleng on an inside line, the sprightly winger carrying possession into the Thurrock half where he set up a ruck. Remi spun a long pass which Sima latched on to racing towards the Thurrock line before he was stopped shy of the 22 by good cover defending. The visitors infringed and Small did not wait for a second invitation before pointing to the sticks and stroking over the opening points. 3 – 0 to Nigerian.
Thurrock came straight back from the restart. An excellent crossfield kick bounced into touch near the Nigerian line in the right-hand corner. The home side coughed up the lineout possession and the visitors mauled the ball hard towards and over the try line only for a superb last-ditch tackle from Tunde “Pops” Aiyegbusi to prevent them from grounding (taking a blow to his “delicates” for his heroics). This was however just a brief respite as Thurrock’s forwards launched a series of short range attacks from the ensuing scrum, with one of their second rows touching down as he spun out of an Osahon Omokhodion tackle. The visiting fly half missed the conversion but had kicked an earlier penalty with the scores now at 3 – 8.
As the second half wore on, Nigerian finally broke out of their own half with Chima Ijeoma charging 40 metres through the midfield to be stopped shy of Thurrock’s line. Wole was close in support, picking up from the base of the ruck to squeeze his way over the try line to even the scores at 8 apiece.
Early in the second half, Nigerian applied the patterns they had worked on in training over recent weeks and these paid dividend as Olufunwa doubled his tally inside of two minutes to give Nigerian the lead at 13 - 8. As the half progressed, the host’s lineout failings continued to limit their effectiveness though the forwards had begun to establish ascendancy at the scrum and in the loose. Other than a strong running inside centre and the clever kicking of their fly half, Thurrock had little to trouble the Nigerian defence.
Nigerian extended their lead midway through the half after Ali Shelleng was stopped shy of the Thurrock line but found Jemi Akin-Olugbade supporting him on the inside for the score. 18 – 8. Not long after, the Nigerian forwards drove at the heart of the visiting pack with Omokhodion bagging a rare try as he battered his way over the line before treating his team mates and supporters to a flash of his 100 megawatt smile. Small’s conversion took the Nigerian lead to 25 - 8.
Nigerian blotted their 2nd half copy book as they relaxed and allowed Thurrock claw back a consolation score as they once again mauled the ball over the Nigerian line. Final score: 25 – 13.
Highlights: The return to action of several players gave this Nigerian performance far better shape than in the week before against Chingford. In particular, Omokhodion’s power in the scrum and Small’s direction from 10 were vital elements in the victory. After missing two games through injury, Cap’n Fantastic Olufunwa showed that despite a relatively quiet game, he has not lost his nose for the try line – this brace continued a remarkable try-scoring record this season.
Man of the Match: Ibi Shelleng – his aggressive defending in the first half helped keep the Thurrock side at bay whilst his sharpness in possession often carried his side out of tight spots.
1. Osahon Omokhodion
2. Steve Hanlon
3. Tunde Aiyegbusi (r: El-Marazki, 65mins)
4. Anthony Obiekwe
5. Chima Ijeoma
6. Jemi Akin-Olugbade
8. Olumide Thompson (r: Ross-Forrester, 40mins)
9. Remi Williams
10. Richard Small
11. Sima Pale
12. Ali Shelleng
13. Wole Olufunwa (C)
14. Ibi Shelleng
15. Ugo Ekeowa
16. Hisham El-Marazki
17. Ritchie Ross-Forrester
18. Nathan Bond