Park House 32 – Ashford 5
Ashford travelled to Park House on Saturday with a number of changes from the previous week’s game to Folkestone due to injury and unavailability. In came Craig Coggle to the front row, Dan Sherrin made a welcome first appearance of the season and Charlie Colman into the centre, there were new faces of the bench too in the shape of Matt Richards and Aaron Bowes.
Park House were the same as Ashford so far this season, in that they’d played 2 and lost 2 and so for Ashford this was they hoped the chance to end a losing streak stretching back over a season in league rugby. What followed unfortunately was arguably the worst first half performance Ashford 1st XV has given in many seasons.
Park House started with pace and power through their forwards and looked reasonably comfortable moving the ball around. Ashford’s defensive line was all at sea from the first minute and so it didn’t take long for this pressure to result in a fumbled ball collected by Park House who scored a soft try which was well converted, 4 minutes gone and Ashford were 7 points down. One of Ashford’s biggest issues over the last season or two has been indiscipline and this again reared its ugly head as they gave away a number of avoidable penalties in these early exchanges and with a solid kicker Park House were soon 10 – 0 up with 10 minutes gone.
The flow was stemmed for a short while as Ashford made some territory with some smart kicking from Captain Fussell but the combination of a lineout which wasn’t working and no apparent attacking structure meant Park House were easily able to keep these attacks at bay. The half ended with Park House using the conditions to their advantage and through a couple of well executed forward plays they were able to score out wide and leave the half time score at 15 – 0.
Honest words were delivered at half time and in fairness the away side did start slightly better than they had, but Park House had the wind in their sails and soon scored again making it 20 – 0 with half an hour to play. Not quite game over, but a recovery of gargantuan performances would have to occur.
The Ashford forward pack who for so long had looked slow, ponderous and lacking passion suddenly stirred into life and did themselves a great deal of credit for the next 20 or so minutes. Led by Vice Captain Dan Brown they kept things tight, attacked hard and some particularly strong running from Brown and Ben King was opening up huge gaps in the Park House defence. Brown crashed over from close range and whilst this was unconverted, Ashford looked truly up for the battle. They continued to apply the pressure up front and were well marshalled by the lively Jack Weaver making only his 2nd senior league appearance, the introduction of Aaron Bowes in the backs seemed to add an extra element with him making a couple of excellent breaks. Despite this barrage of pressure, a combination of poor decision making and solid defence meant Ashford were unable to score again but they did at least prove to themselves that they could take their game to a higher level.
With the game lost and the Ashford pack in particular looking out on their knees, Park House seized on a couple of mistakes in the backs and some appalling tackling to score 2 more tries, one of which they converted taking the final score to 32 – 5. The score line did slightly flatter what was a fairly standard Park House team, but credit where it’s due as they clearly had a simple and effective game plan which they executed very well. This is more than be said for the Ashford side who for large parts of the game looked bereft of shape and structure both in attack and defence.
If there was anything pleasing to take out of this performance it is that the Ashford boys showed for 20 minutes that when play at intensity they are tough to handle. The issue currently is that too many players both from a physical and mental perspective don’t look capable of playing at that level for the 80 minutes needed to win these games. The great thing is that there is clearly the talent in the squad to start achieving positive results, this isn’t a time for panic stations as with only 3 games gone there is a long season ahead but everyone concerned knows they need to deliver and soon.
Captain Rhys Fussell was rightly frustrated and annoyed with the performance of many but was wise to encourage a week of hard work and positivity at training as the only way to stop the slump.