Gillingham Anchorians 17 Ashford 34
Following their poor display against Vigo the previous week, Ashford could have been forgiven if feeling daunted by Saturday’s trip to second placed Gillingham Anchorians. But a good week in training had set them up for what was likely to be a tough test of strength and character.
Playing into a strong wind in the first half, Ashford started well and showed early signs of having the edge in the scrum. After 5 minutes, this worked to the visitors’ advantage, and from a five metre scrum Callum Stuckey controlled the ball as Ashford drove forward and touched down to open the visitors’ account.
The opening quarter was fairly even, but after 25 minutes the loss of prop Charlie Norman, yellow carded for deliberate offside in a ruck, gave Anchorians an advantage that led to an equalising try in the corner., Any hopes the home side might push on and secure a lead were, however, dashed as Ashford upped their energy levels to compensate for the temporary loss of a player. They monopolised possession until back to full strength, and in the closing five minutes of the half secured two tries.
The two tries marked a contrast between forward power and backs creativity. The first saw No. 8 Dan Brown picking up at a five metre scrum and crashing over, the second started in the Ashford 22, good running and passing moving the ball deep into the Anchorians’ half, and Chris Baker running an angle that proved too difficult for Anchorians to counter to round off the move. With Steve Tanner converting the third try, Ashford reached the break with a well earned 17-5 lead.
The second half started in the same vein, with Ashford scoring their fourth, and bonus point, try courtesy of Dan Brown’s second, again from the same routine and distance. Steve Tanner’s conversion extended the lead to 24-5, but any thoughts that the game was won were soon dispelled as Anchorians came more into the game and worked the ball to the other end of the field. Awarded a try, their full back took a quick tap and caught Ashford asleep, leading to a try plus conversion that brought them back into the game at 24-12.
Despite the very real threat that Anchorians could score again and make the game too close, Ashford decided that attack was the best form of defence and were rewarded when prop Ben King finished off a series of forward drives and opened the gap to 17 points. Anchorians then showed why they are second top of the league, again taking play back into the Ashford 22 and once more off a quick tap penalty finding the defence vulnerable. Their unconverted try reduced the gap to 12 points with an uncomfortable 12 minutes to play.
In the closing minutes, Ashford showed a new dimension to their game, controlling the flow of the game and closing down any opportunities for the home side. With two minutes to play their forwards set up the platform for Dan Brown to secure his hat trick, again from a few metres out. Anchorians thtrew everything they had left at Ashford seeking to secure a fourth try and bonus point but the visitors were happy to play out the last two minutes to enjoy a 34-17 win, securing five points that take Ashford up to sixth position in the league.
This was a hard won game against a good opponents. Ashford’s forwards proved to be an effective unit, got onto the front foot and provided the platform for their backs to attack. The backs were incisive, and if the timing of support runs had been better might have created more scoring opportunities. In defence, the effort was focused and intense, although this dropped on a couple of occasions, as witnessed by the two Anchorians’ tries scored off quick tap penalties.
The return of Chris Baker at full back provided Ashford with speed and guile. Andy Ticehurst provided a big physical presence at 12 in both defence and attack. Steve Tanner put in a commendable performance playing out of position at scrum half. The ten forwards in the squad all deserve praise for their collective effort, and scoring five of the six tries was a just reward. Special mention should go to three players, Dan Brown for his hat trick, Lewis Remington who was involved in everything, not least on one occasion chasing back 50 metres to put in a try saving cover tackle, and Aaron Bowes for controlling the midfield, giving nothing away in defence and inspiring confidence.