Match of the day proved to be the match of the season so far with Exiles getting their nose in front of Pingvin by the required amount with only a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Exiles started off well with most of the ball for the first ten minutes. Pingvin defended well and were helped by repeated penalties in their favour. This resulted in many lineouts, well taken by Oscar Larsson. The Pingvin attacks consisted of their backrow running at the Exiles´stand-off but they came to a shuddering halt against the outstanding Exiles backrow. Otherwise the Pingvin backs seemed a little short of firepower and they repeatedly kicked for position, mainly down the throat of Sweden´s best fullback, Ian Gowland, who used the back-three to counterattack. The penalties in the scrum were certainly stopping Exiles´ momentum and Pingvin missed a couple of kickable penalties. There was something of a stalemate with neither team finding a breakthrough but with halftime approaching, Pingvin tried another tactic. They got within a few metres of the Exiles´ line and keeping the ball in the scrum they made repeated attempts to force the ball over the whitewash. Once again, heavy tackling by the Exiles´ defence kept them at bay. Suddenly, only a few yards from their line Matt Mitchell burst away, made ground, and handed on to Sean Burke. Sean had one of his mazy runs and suddenly Exiles were only a few metres from the visitor´s line. Pingvin defended desperately but Matt bobbed up once again to force his way over under the posts and André added the two points. The whistle went and Exiles went into a halftime lead of 7 – 0, which could easily have been the other way round. Halftime assessment: Pingvin had just the edge in the scrums and took all their own lineouts. Their pod-drives were getting nowhere, however, and their backs kicked rather trying to create gaps in the Exiles defence.
Exiles´ backs had greater power and created some huge openings which broke down through careless final passes. Just about honours even with Pingvin still defending their 11 point lead from the league game in Trelleborg. Penalty count 7 – 1 in favour of Pingvin.
Direct from the second-half dropout, Pingvin were level again. A well-placed kick was fumbled by Exiles and from the ensuing scrum a further dropped pass gave a 5-metre scrum. Pingvin had the power to go for it and their Georgian flanker picked up to drop over the line. An easy conversion made it 7 – 7.
After that jolt, Exiles began to get on top. A long-range penalty hit the post but a few minutes later Ian put over an easier one to make it 10 – 7. Then, from the drop-out another blunder by Exiles, Pingvin made a few more yards and Cambell equalized from another penalty
With 25” minutes to go, Exiles were still 12 points away from a possible final home game and they began to dominate with a sense of urgency. Their backs cut holes in the flagging Pingvin defence and on 60” Liam went over. The relatively easy conversion was missed and Exiles were still 7 points adrift. But the Exiles pressure continued, winger Maxime Pouliquen broke free and sprinted 50 metres to the line. The conversion was needed to make it plus 12 points, but once again it slipped by. Exiles had a much stronger bench, Pingvin started losing their lineouts thanks to sterling work by Sean and when Bevo came on at prop their pack started to go backwards at speed. Desperate defence gave Exiles an easy penalty in front of the post and Ian made no mistake, securing a probable home final. Realising the situation, Pingvin threw everything into the last couple of minutes but were comfortably contained by Exiles. An outstanding display by both teams but with 3 – 1 in tries, Exiles just had the stronger squad. The Pingvin pack, including three Georgians, had the edge early on, but crumbled in the last 20 minutes. The Exiles backs always looked more dangerous with the small Pingvin imports unable to mount a challenge. Another great display by Sean and a rock-solid performance by the oldest man on the field, full-back Ian Gowland. Fine come-back by Dustin in the centre and a barnstorming display by Glendon du Plessis at flanker. Penalties: 6 – 5 in favour of Exiles, total 12 – 7 in favour of Pingvin. Rami had not a bad game as referee, letting the game flow more than usual.
Exiles will now in the semi meet Göteborg who were well beaten by a very average Hammarby. Pingvin will face Enköping who should give them a decent game after thumping Södertälje. But, for the fifth year in a row, it´s likely to be Exiles – Pingvin with Exiles, just, the favourites.
For the record:
Exiles started with 10 Swedish internationals and had three more on the bench. They had no more Swedes starting and one more on the bench. Thus 14 qualified to play for Sweden with another three available in a year´s time.
Pingvin started with 4 internationals and a further 4 Swedish qualified. They had another 5 Swedish qualified on the bench. Thus 13 qualified to play for Sweden, not sure how many are available in a year´s time.
With so much top Swedish talent available it was expected that Kanogo Njuru would make an appearance with notebook at the ready. Not for the first time, he did not appear. I can only conclude that he has been dismissed or resigned from the position of chief coach and selector for the Swedish national team. Could the Union confirm this and, with internationals in two month´s time, inform the rugby public about who will be replacing him and what preparations are under way for the two matches against Latvia and Luxemburg.