Ashford 1st XV continued their preseason programme with a first home game of the season against Hastings who play out of Kent 1, a league below Ashford. Having finished 3rd in their league last season based on this performance they will certainly be one of the favourites for promotion this coming season.
With a decent crowd enjoying the warm weather, the game kicked off in what would we played as 4 quarters each lasting 20 minutes. The first quarter was a tight affair with neither team giving an inch up front and Hastings utilising what was a well drilled line out to move Ashford up the field, which Ashford defended well. What has become the norm in recent seasons for Ashford 1st XV is a litany of early penalties for normally avoidable reasons and Saturday was no different. Fortunately for the home team, Hastings were unable to convert this advantage into points.
The second quarter followed much the same story as the first but with the Hastings backline using every possible opportunity to stretch the home side it was clear that given the opportunity they had the pace and skill to create chances. With 2 minutes until half time, Ashford not for the first time showed little sympathy in their passing as they tried to exit their own 22 and the resulting spilled ball was picked up by the Hastings winger to score, half time 0 – 5 to Hastings.
After the break, Hastings once again seeing the space out wide attacked and despite a couple of wayward passes were able to escape from their half, avoid the despairing tackles and run in a very soft try which was converted to leave Ashford 12 points down. The earlier introduction of Craig Coggle into the front row had meant Ashford were starting to move their opposition around and with extra fresh legs added, Ashford finally sprang into life. A period of sustained pressure resulted in a yellow card for Hastings, leaving Ashford with a man advantage for the next 10 minutes. They capitalised on this with firstly Dan Brown crashing over from close distance before Nathan Wood rounded off some smart interplay between backs and forwards, with both tries unconverted Ashford were just 2 points down.
What looked like a chance for Ashford to record a much needed first win of the season was quickly dispelled. Firstly a mix up in the forwards allowed the Hastings flanker to walk in an easy try and then some further sloppy defending resulted in the Hastings winger running in a well-earned try from his own 22.
Final score was 12 – 24 and Ashford could have no complaints with this outcome.
For the coaching team and players the next couple of weeks will require real application both physically and mentally as Ashford looked off the pace with only 2 weeks to go until the league campaign starts. Captain Rhys Fussells post gamewords around “being the wakeup call that was needed” were accurate and now the challenge has been laid down as Ashford look forward to playing Blackheath at the Beer Festival this Saturday.