A drab rainswept day provided the backdrop to the first of Ashford’s three December league games, the opposition provided by Sheppey. The game brought together teams at opposite ends of the league, and the opening exchanges demonstrated the gulf between the two. Whereas Sheppey enjoyed the majority of possession in the opening ten minutes, they made no impression against a miserly Ashford defence, in which Ben Knight and Danny Bushell’s physicality stood out. By contrast when the home team were in possession, their speed created problems for the visitors’ defence. With ten minutes on the clock, Ashford launched an attack on their right, using Steve Tanner’s speed to stretch the Sheppey defence. His pass inside to Chris Baker created an opening for the Ashford captain who, with a deft chip ahead and catch, rounded off the first try of the match. Will Alkin converted to create an early 7-0 lead.
The following 15 minutes were disrupted by a series of injuries, first to Ashford prop Ben King that required his withdrawal and replacement by Shane Redman, followed by a series of injuries to Sheppey players. The game returned to a more normal pattern after 25 minutes when pressure on the Sheppey defence led to a scrambled kick for touch from inside their 22. Any sense of relief was short lived as the kick fell short and was collected out wide by Will Blyth who used his speed and strength to draw the Sheppey defence before passing inside to Chris Baker who crossed the line for his second try. Will Alkin’s conversion extended the lead to 14-0.
There then followed a ten minute period when injuries again disrupted the flow of play and it took until the last five minutes of the half for Ashford to string together their support play, resulting in tries from Shane Redman, Rhys Fussell and Danny Bushell. With a further two conversions from Will Alkin, the home side reached half time enjoying a comfortable 33-0 lead.
The third quarter of the game proved to be as frustrating for Ashford and their supporters as earlier games this season. Whilst not conceding anything in defence, there seemed a lethargy and lack of accuracy in their attacking play. On the hour, the score remained unchanged but, as in earlier league games, Ashford raised their efforts in the final fifteen minutes, starting with a brace of tries from Adam Knight, the first resulting from a good forwards’ drive, the second rounding off a good team move that saw Danny Bushell and Chris Baker creating havoc in the Sheppey defence before play was switched to the opposite wing and a long pass from Andy Ticehurst, making a welcome return to first team rugby, created the opening for Adam Knight to touch down.
There followed a further two tries in four minutes from captain Chris Baker, the first coming off a five metre scrum when Dan Brown broke right, drew the defender and gave him the easiest of run-ins. The second featured the same two players, on this occasion Baker using speed and a good angled run to outwit the defence. And in the last minute, Ashford registered their tenth, and final, try, when Charlie Norman created an opening with a storming run deep into the Sheppey 22, and quick second phase ball found Dan Brown whose well weighted pass set up Danny Bushell who registered his second try of the day. With Will Alkin kicking all the second half conversions, the home side ended the day with a comfortable 68-0 win.
Overall, a comfortable win. Whilst satisfaction will be drawn from having conceded no points and adding to the club points difference total of 402, the fact that the home team scored nine tries in two fifteen minute periods raises a number of questions for Director of Rugby, Chris Dengate, notably how to maintain a sustained level of performance over 80 minutes that will be necessary against stronger opponents. Next Saturday, the team travels to bottom of the table RBS, before returning to Kinneys Field for their final December league fixture against Cranbrook. The immediate task will be to remain unbeaten and top of the league, then using the Christmas break to recharge batteries and bruised bodies before the league and cup challenges arrive in January and February, a period that will go a long way to determining the outcome of the club’s season.