Ashford 24 – Pulborough 25
Ashford entertained unbeaten league leaders Pulborough who were much changed from the last time Ashford met them in the league 3 years ago, many clubs had talked of them being title favourites so it was always going to be a battle. Still, Ashford have been a different force at home this season, looking switched on and unfazed by the challenge of anyone coming to take them on at Kinney’s Field, Saturday was no different.
Pleasingly there were only a limited number of changes made from the previous weeks performance. With Shaun Woolford injured, it was down to Nathan Wood to play in yet another position this season and he had by far his best game of the season at 12, forming a combative and skilful partnership in the centres with Tom Hinckes who also had a great game too, particularly with the boot. The consistency of picking the same half backs 2 weeks in a row really helped and Liam Murrays calming presence and desire to play on the front foot meant the opposition defence were always on their toes.
Ashford started strongly and were soon 7 points up, winning the lineout Weaver fed Liam Murray who rolled back the years with a trademark snipe through the gap and acceleration under the posts which was duly converted by Charlie Colman. Being solid in defence after scoring has been a continued problem for Ashford this season and this game was no exception, after a period of sustained pressure Pulborough served notice of their intention to move the ball wide and scored a well worked try with the kick narrowly missing.
The 20 minutes before half time were like watching a boxing match with both sides trading blow after blow up front, it was clear though that Ashford were winning the physical battle and the front row in particular of Charlie Norman, Ben King and Paul Curry who replaced the injured Danny Leech were exceptional in work rate, aggression and execution. It was King who scored next and after missing last week through injury he gave his best performance of the season and thoroughly deserved the try which was again converted by Colman. Once again though Ashford made poor choices and relaxed allowing the away side to score from a scrum push over . Dan Brown scored his 8th try in as many games with just minutes until half time but again Pulborough struck to leave it at 19 – 17, half time.
The game continued at a pace in the 2nd half with the hard running Will Welsh and Shane Redman always willing to take the ball on and given the stiff breeze Ashford were now playing into this was a smart move. Ashford moved the ball wide from a one of these midfield smashes and Liam Murray once again found space to draw the last line of defence and put Oli Finn for his first try of the season. With well over 25 minutes still to play and all the Ashford subs used this was going to be a long slog to the end and when Pulborough scored a try with 10 minutes left the score line was 24 – 22. Ashford had for the majority of the game kept on the right side of the referee but in the dying minutes they gave away a kickable penalty and the away sides kicker slotted confidently to give them the lead by a point. Despite a valiant last 3 minutes of attack Ashford were unable to score and were left with 2 bonus points for their efforts.
All agreed that this was a performance of real intent and purpose and shows a growing maturity in the team, there is still fragility to the recovery and a small amount of negativity on the pitch which needs to be stopped. However the emergence of young leaders in this side with the likes of Andy Ticehurst and Shane Redman being more vocal, and the older heads of Paul Curry and Liam Murray providing much needed experience means that Ashford don’t just rely on 1 or 2 now to provide direction and focus when needed. Injured Captain Rhys Fussell was very positive about the performance and attitude after the poor showing from the previous week and lifts the club off the bottom of the table.
Ashford welcome Sheppey on Saturday in the cup before continuing their league campaign on the 19th with a trip to Eastbourne where there is a coach being provided for players and supporters.