Against the backdrop of the first autumnal match day of the season with rain a constant feature, Ashford welcomed Kings College Hospital to Kinneys Field last Saturday for their Kent 1 league fixture. Both sides started the game defending 100% records, and last season the honours were even with ironically both teams securing an away win.
The opening minutes highlighted the respective strengths of the two teams, with Ashford’s forwards gaining yardage through their driving play and Kings showing an ability to move the ball and probe for gaps in the opposition defence. This cat and mouse phase of the game lasted for ten minutes, when Will Alkin, making a reappearance for Ashford after several years away kicked to the corner to test the Kings defence. Their winger fumbled the catch, tried to offload to his fullback but the ball fell between them. Farai Myezwa, following up, was alert to the opportunity, collected the ball and drove over for the opening score. Steve Tanner’s conversion cemented a 7-0 lead.
Ashford’s game suffered a setback after 15 minutes when Ben King, scorer of two tries in the previous week’s game against Cranbrook, suffered a knee injury that forced him to retire. Danny Leech moved to prop and Lewis Remington shifted to the second row, making space for sub Dan Brown to take the field. If this had been a tactical substitution, it would have been regarded as a masterstroke as he then scored the following two tries, both resulting from kicks to the corner and drives off the ensuing lineouts. Steve Tanner again did the honours in adding the conversions.
Just before half time, Ashford secured a bonus point when following a long period of pressure in the Kings 22, from the base of the scrum Dan Brown passed to the blind side feeding fullback Chris Baker who drew the defence before a switch pass to centre Danny Bushell created the opening for Ashford’s fourth try. Steve Tanner rounded off the half with a 100% record, slotting the conversion to reach halftime 28-0 to the good.
Kings used the halftime break to regroup and played a positive brand of rugby that tested the home defence. Having weathered that initial storm, Ashford moved play upfield and a break from Farai Myezwa took play deep into the visitors’ 22. When his progress was stopped, Ben Knight maintained the momentum providing a scoring pass for Chris Baker. Kings continued to play positively and were rewarded in the 70th minute with a well worked try that resulted from a prolonged period of pressure rounded off by their scrum half diving over near the upright. The successful conversion moved the scoreboard to 33-7, but Ashford had the final word, with a strong drive that provided an opening for Callum Stuckey to run in Ashford’s sixth try. The ensuing conversion from Steve Tanner brought proceedings to a close, leaving Ashford deserved winners by 40-7.
Ashford can draw a number of positives from the game, including the aggression and power of their forwards, the running angles of their backs, and the control of the pitch by their half backs. There are still areas for improvement, including the penalty count, spilling the ball going into contact, and failing to maintain a high level of intensity for the full 80 minutes, thereby allowing the opposition back into the game, which in a closer contest could prove costly.
Ashford and Gillingham Anchorians top the league, the only remaining teams with a 100% record and 3 bonus points. This weekend, Ashford head off to Sidcup to take on Foots Cray who are currently in the bottom half of the league, but with home advantage will provide a different type of challenge.