Ashford made the short trip across Kent to second placed Cranbrook on Saturday, and were braced for what would be a tough game against a side which has cemented itself in the promotion hunt over recent weeks, and who inflicted defeat on the Ashford side earlier in the season at Kinney’s Field.
Ashford had enforced changes to make with injury and absence effecting the availability of players and were pleased to give Ryan Hammond a first appearance. The boys started with fire and ferocity as they bombarded the home side with attack after attack, it was this sustained pressure which led to the first score as a perfectly weighted crossfield kick from Captain Rhys Fussell was collected by Farai Myezwa who with a well-judged fend and some twinkle toes raced into score the first try which was unconverted by Steve Tanner.
This woke up the home side who started to apply some pressure and through their hard running 8 and 6 started to make inroads into the Ashford defence which as is so often the case now, held firm. The game was being played at a great pace and certainly as the first half progressed it was evident this would be a titanic battle but also a great spectacle for watching supporters.
The Cranbrook boys played some great rugby in the latter parts of the first half and probably felt like they deserved more than the solitary penalty kick which they converted but a mixture of a poor final pass and resolute defence meant they were continually frustrated. With 1 minute until half time the constant home pressure broke the defence and Cranbrook scored their only try of the game which was unconverted, half time 5 – 8.
Head Coach Chris Dengate was right to challenge and question his players at half time as they had let Cranbrook back in by dropping off in their intensity and not making enough of their chances in attack.
These words weren’t seemingly heeded though as Cranbrook started well and spent the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half camped in the Ashford 22 launching attack after attack but to no avail, as once again Ashford were organised, physical and determined in defence. They did eventually yield a penalty but this was scant reward for the Cranbrook effort.
This inability to break Ashford down seemed to drain the Cranbrook players and the remainder of the game was largely played in the Cranbrook half as a buoyant Ashford side sensed a famous win and were dominating things up front. When the scintillating Chris Baker broke from wide and raced down the wing it seemed certain he would score but an excellent covering tackle prevented a certain score. It was left to the magnificent Ashford pack to regain control as some aggressive close quarter carries allowed the outstanding Dan Sherrin to collect a loose ball and race away to score under the posts, this was Shez at his best and was duly converted by Tanner. Ashford were back in the lead at 11 – 12 with 17 minutes to play!!
Cranbrook did come back and on a couple of occasions broke away but good cover defence led by Captain Fussell stemmed the tide. Cranbrook were awarded a penalty which they chose to kick, sadly for them they missed this kick and Ashford regained their composure to ensure the final few minutes were all about the away side. A 79th minute penalty allowed Steve Tanner to run the clock down and slot a final triumphant penalty to close the game off once and for all. The only sad note in the whole 80 minutes of rugby was how a proud club like Cranbrook were let down by a small contingent of so called supporters who berated and abused the Ashford players at every moment including when kicks were taken etc. It’s a shame that the Cranbrook players were so let down by this group, although I’m certain that the Cranbrook club will ensure this minority is properly educated moving forward on the values of rugby and what positive supporting is all about.
Ashford are now 7 wins from their last 7 games, this was certainly the toughest assignment of the 7 and it’s a huge testament to what Chris Dengate and his players have accomplished in turning around a season which 2 months ago looked like a possible relegation battle to now, which sees Ashford right in the hunt for 2nd place in the league.
Ashford return on the 6th January with a home league game against league leaders Beccehamians.