Following last week’s comprehensive victory over Foots Cray, Ashford returned to Kinneys Field to face Whitstable. The club’s respective Under 11’s provided an entertaining pre-match opener which the visitors won by 5 tries to 3. The one person on the Ashford staff happy with the outcome was coach Chris Dengate whose son was playing for the visitors.
Against a backdrop of persistent rainfall, the early pressure came from the home side, with the first score coming in the sixth minute. From a 5 metre scrum, the ball broke to Lewis Remington who drove over to register the first points, and together with Steve Tanner’s conversion securing an early 7-0 lead. This was reduced two minutes later when, following the award of a penalty against Ashford, talking back to the referee resulted in giving Whitstable a penalty kick within easy range, and reducing the lead to 7-3. Ashford quickly got back onto the front foot and in the 13th minute secured their second try when a break in midfield involving Henry Hall, culminated in a try in the corner for Steve Tanner, extending the lead to 12-3.
A series of injuries disrupted the flow of the game, and allowed Whitstable to build momentum that led to a try in the 22nd minute, and narrowing the Ashford lead to 12-8. Whilst there was a suggestion that the Whitstable winger had put a foot in touch prior to scoring, there was no signal from the touch judge and arguing the point with the referee resulted in an Ashford player being yellow carded. Against more proficient opponents, that loss could have been costly, but Ashford weathered the storm and moved play upfield and, despite having a second player yellow carded, secured a third try just before half time when a strong run from Danny Bushell took play deep into the Whitstable 22, and a skilful reverse pass by Ben Knight created the opening for Charlie Norman to cross for his first try of the season, Steve Tanner’s conversion extended the half time lead to 19 – 8.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the previous week’s game, with three tries in the third quarter. The first on 46 minutes followed good passing by the back line that created the space for Steve Tanner to score in the corner. The lead was further extended five minutes later when Henry Hall created an opening for Farai Myezwa to capitalise. The third followed the arrival on the pitch of Tommy Murray and Dan Brown, the latter maintaining his habit of scoring tries from a five yard range. Steve Tanner converted the last of the three tries, and Ashford reached the hour mark 34 -8 ahead.
The last quarter of a rugby match can be painfully long for teams on the wrong side of the game, and for Whitstable Saturday proved no exception. In the final 20 minutes, Ashford crossed their line five more times, all stemming from crisp, fast passing by the backs, creating space on the outside. Try scorers were Danny Bushell, Grant Burden and Henry Hall, a second for Farai Myezwa and a third for Steve Tanner, who also contributed two more conversions to the final score of 63-8.
After almost a quarter of this season’s league games, Ashford can reflect on a positive start with five wins and a points differential of over 200. They have scored 43 tries and conceded only 3. They have beaten two teams who finished above them in the league last season. So lots of positives, but with their next two league games against teams currently in second and third place in the league (Anchorians and Old Gravesendians), they can expect stern tests in the weeks ahead. Areas of their game they will want to pay some attention to are the lineout which did not function smoothly, maintaining the tempo of the game, where for a time the initiative was passed to opponents and the team became too passive, and discipline.
Ashford had two players yellow carded on Saturday, which in effect meant the team played with 14 men for one quarter of the game. Fortunately on this occasion the two suspensions did not overlap and the team rallied to deny opponents any advantage. What is less forgivable is when a lack of discipline results in giving away yardage for talking back to a referee and arguing a decision to the extent of being yellow carded. This hands an unnecessary advantage to opponents and in tighter games may make the difference between success and failure. This is an issue that Chris Dengate has raised with players this season, insisting on higher standards of discipline and he will no doubt be reminding them of this in the run-up to their next two games.