Ashford 27 – Eastbourne 12
It’s been a long time coming but finally Ashford showed that their weeks of commitment on the training field, positive attitude in the face of numerous defeats and growing squad camaraderie were really worth something, as in the warm Spring weather they toiled early on before showing their class in the 2nd half.
An unchanged pack of forwards was named for the first time this season and the return of Nathan Wood and Oli Finn in the backs meant that Ashford looked altogether more assured in their play, and the confidence seemed to flow through the team as the game developed. With a decent sized and vocal crowd behind them Ashford kicked off and had a characteristically strong and positive start without converting the early pressure into points. Despite an apparent size disadvantage the pack of forwards looked once again capable of dominating the set piece and an early catch and drive where they marched their opposition up the field was a positive sign.
Eastbourne slowly came into the game and attacked confidently through their forwards without ever looking threatening out wide, disciplined and aggressive defence were evident from the home side and clearly the hours spent specifically on this area are reaping their rewards. Almost 20 minutes into the game and Steve Tanner was given the chance to convert an easy penalty into 3 points which he did with aplomb, and should have made it 6 – 0 when a long range effort dropped short. If the first 25 minutes were Ashford’s then the remainder of the half was quite clearly Eastbourne as the tell-tale signs of fatigue showed and the Ashford intensity dropped off allowing Eastbourne to score 2 well-earned tries with one converted. Half time and 3 – 12 felt unjust considering the early pressure but once again there was the 2nd half mountain to climb. Changes were made with Wood having to retire early and Pilcher needing bandaging but the oncoming Richards and in particular Shane Redman seemed to bring renewed vitality to the Ashford pack immediately.
The 2nd half was tense early on with the abrasive Eastbourne pack often on the very edge of the law but fortunately Ashford didn’t respond to such provocation and instead let their rugby do the talking. The scrum once again was a powerful and dominant force, and off consistent pressure Jack Weaver who had a real return to form managed to scamper over with Tanner missing from out wide. 3 minutes later and some lovely hands and lines of running from the backs from Andy Ticehurst in particular allowed Tanner to find space out wide and his pace allowed him to power to the line, he was unfortunate to again miss the conversion from out wide but Ashford were now in the lead, an unfamiliar position of late!!
By this point Ashford were camped in the Eastbourne who looked powerless to stop the onslaught, another scrum allowed Weaver to feed Ben Gray who hit Captain Fussell early and taking a line that Leigh Halfpenny would’ve been proud of resulted in a perfectly executed try and conversion, Ashford 20 to Eastbourne’s 12. With 10 minutes left Ben King burst through, stumbled but had enough momentum to score a well-deserved try, meaning a bonus point win and with another conversion from Tanner it was game over. The last 10 minutes showed some resistance from Eastbourne but the Ashford boys defended aggressively and were deserved winners at the final whistle.
Ashford now have a week off before their final away trip of the season to Old Dunstonians where they will be focused on another victory.