Ashford 1st XV’s league campaign started on Saturday, having been relegated alongside Thanet Wanderers from London SE 2 last season they were both keen to size up each other’s chances for the season ahead.
Playing up the Thanet slope Ashford started brightly, dominating the early exchanges showing physicality and energy in the pack through among others Will Welsh and Jake Fletcher which seemed to catch Thanet cold. This early pressure was converted into points as Ashford hit through the middle before Rhys Fussell switched blind and fed Macauly Jordan who evaded the last tackle and smartly ran in under the posts. Steve Tanner converted and Ashford were 7 – 0 up after 15 minutes.
Ashford had their tails up but this was short-lived as Thanet’s pack started to control the set piece and break down, and were making significant inroads in midfield through their inside centre who had an excellent game. In truth Ashford had only themselves to blame as poor tackling, stupid choices and ill-discipline allowed Thanet to score 2 quick fire tries and add 2 penalty kicks before half time leaving the score at the break, 18 – 7.
The 20 minutes of rugby after half time, saw Thanet showcase their promotion favourite credentials with a strong set piece, fast back row securing excellent quick ball and a backline which had both power and finesse. Ashford were caught off the pace and weren’t matching their opposition in any area of the pitch. This coupled with further needless mistakes meant Thanet scored 3 more tries and another penalty taking the score to 40 – 7, game over.
Ashford having lost Ben King early on, replaced by Jimmy Cox, then threw on Harry Norman and Kyeran Shilling for the final 15 minutes. Despite being reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes, Ashford upped their game and started matching their opposition up front led by Ashford Man of the Match Dan Brown. This was coupled with a backline which was showing what potential it has, as they moved the ball well with Shaun Woolford running great lines and Macauly Jordan coming off his wing at every opportunity, in truth they should have scored again but for dogged Thanet defence. The game finished with another Ashford mistake seized upon and Thanet running in their final try which was converted, final score 47 – 7.
Some wise words from both Captain Fussell and Vice-Captain Brown meant this largely young side were left, knowing that they all need to up their game but that also there are plenty of games and teams who won’t have the firepower Thanet possess. Despite the injury to Ben King, Ashford will hope to have a number of absent 1st XV players back next weekend and with local derby rivals Folkestone next up at home, Ashford will need to ensure they are ready for what is always a titanic battle.