Going into last Saturday’s match, both teams were unbeaten, with six wins and six try bonus points each to their name. It was a game that both were keen to win to gain an edge in their ambitions to secure promotion to London and South East Division 3 next season.
On a bitterly cold, wet and windy day, Ashford chose to play into the elements in the first half and dominated the opening minutes. An early passing move created space on the right wing for Farai Myezwa who was brought to ground by the scrambling Anchorians defence deep inside their 22. A series of mini rucks allowed Ashford to suck in the visitors’ defence before swinging play to the left where prop Marc Huxted breached the defensive line before offloading to Callum Stuckey who touched down in the corner for the opening score and an early 5-0 lead.
Anchorians were the more dominant side in the following thirty minutes, and Ashford’s efforts were not improved by having a player sin-binned on 25 minutes. Despite all their possession, however, Anchorians were unable to prise open the home side’s defence, and in the 35th minute paid for a lack of precision in their attack when they lost possession only for Farai Myezwa to seize the ball and run 50 metres to score near the posts. Steve Tanner duly converted to widen the gap to 12-0.
Encouraged by their opportunistic try and by this time restored to a full side, Ashford pressed hard for a third score before the break. This came in the 39thminute, when a series of drives off a lineout created the opening for Ben Knight to cross the line. This rounded off a good half for the home side, and the advantage both of a 17-0 half time lead and playing with the wind in the second half.
If anyone had thought the game was over at that point, the following twenty minutes were a rude awakening. Anchorians played with purpose in the opening minutes of the second half, trying to reduce the deficit. Ashford found themselves on the back foot, and a number of poor judgement calls added to their woes. Despite this, they did not concede any points and ten minutes into the half regained possession and started to move upfield. Developing a series of attacks, Ashford had to contend with Anchorians well drilled rush defence. Will Alkin put in a crossfield kick targeting Henry Hall as the receiver, but he failed to collect and Anchorians regained possession, releasing their fullback Jonathan Mann who outflanked the home defence and provided the scoring pass for stand off Dom Saunders.
Buoyed by this breakthrough, Anchorians continued in a positive vein, and proved adept at closing down Ashford’s forward drives. They also lived dangerously on the offside line and in the 60th minute as Ashford were again seeking to move play into their opponents’ half, a loose pass was anticipated by Dom Saunders who intercepted and raced away to register his second try of the day.
From having enjoyed a comfortable seventeen point advantage, Ashford were now being asked to defend a narrow 17-10 lead with twenty minutes to play. In that period, Ashford tightened up their play and ensured the game was played in their opponent’s half of the field. Scoring opportunities were at a premium with one break by Henry Hall that broke down on the Anchorians’ line and a quick tap penalty by Dan Brown being spoiled by an over-ambitious pass that flew into touch rather than the hands of team mates. Ashford’s pressure, however, forced penalties from the visitors, and Steve Tanner slotted home two in the last five minutes to provide a more comfortable final margin of 23-10.
This was certainly Ashford’s most challenging fixture to date. The team will draw satisfaction from their first half performance, providing resolute defence and the ability to make the most of the opportunities that arose. There will be less satisfaction at their third quarter play, where their mistakes gifted two scoring opportunities to the visitors. Their application in the last quarter was strong evidence of their ability to finish a game strongly, although there will be concern about a lack of composure that resulted in wasting a couple of opportunities to put the game out of the reach of their opponents. There will also be some concern about playing another game in which two players were given yellow cards, even if one could have been judged as harsh.
Ashford reach the end of October unbeaten and top of their league. Any thoughts of easing off will, however, be dismissed as next up are two away fixtures, the first against New Ash Green, a game where they failed to perform last season, then a Cup game against Uckfield, who top their regional league. As Director of Rugby Chris Dengate has conveyed to his players, they will need to up their game and be at their best to maintain their unbeaten record.