The build-up to Saturday’s game was overshadowed by news of the passing of Dave Knight, a long term servant of Ashford Rugby Club, both as player and Committee member, and whose sons Adam and Ben figure prominently in the current 1st XV. Captain Chris Baker said that everyone in the squad was keen to deliver a performance worthy of his memory.
The first half quickly established what was to be the recurrent pattern of the game, with Ashford monopolising possession and pressing the Foots Cray defence. Despite enjoying most of the possession in the opening ten minutes, Ashford had nothing to show on the scoreboard as they conceded early penalties through over-exuberance. The impasse was broken in the 11th minute when, following a penalty kick to the corner, the Ashford forwards secured good lineout ball, and initiated a drive that was rounded off by a touchdown from Lewis Remington. Steve Tanner’s conversion created an early 7-0 lead.
From the ensuing restart, Ashford launched a forwards’ drive on the left before switching play to the right and creating an overlap that winger Farai Myezwa exploited to score in the right hand corner. The third try followed eight minutes later when Danny Leech and Tommy Murray showed slick handling skills in midfield to create space for Steve Tanner who executed a skilful kick and chase, outpacing the home defence to score the touchdown and added the conversion to extend the lead to 19-0.
After such an frenetic start, the game dipped in the ensuing fifteen minutes, with Foots Cray coming more into the game. Ironically, it was an Ashford player being yellow carded half an hour into the game that seemed to spur the visitors to greater efforts, resulting in two further tries before half time. The first was an opportunist effort, as Foots Cray overthrew a lineout ball that Ben Knight snapped up and ran in from 30 metres out. The second resulted from good driving play by the forwards, notably Danny Leech who created an opening before offloading for Callum Stuckey to score. Steve Tanner converted both tries, giving Ashford a comfortable 33-0 half time lead.
In the third quarter, Ashford registered three more scores. The first, in the 43rd minute, followed a strong drive upfield by centre Henry Hall into Foot Cray’s 22. From the ensuing ruck, stand off Will Alkin delivered a precise crossfield kick to prop Marc Huxted, allowing him to score on his first team debut. The second, two minutes later, stemmed from a powerful break upfield by captain Chris Baker, rounded off by an inside pass to Danny Bushell for the try. The third came just on the hour, created by slick passing from Grant Burdon that provided an opening for Chris Baker to exploit and score. Steve Tanner converted all three tries to help create a 54-0 lead with 20 minutes to play.
The last quarter saw five more tries, with slick handling again creating opportunities for Henry Hall in the 62nd minute, Steve Tanner in the 65th following impressive workrate from Tommy Murray, involved twice in the handling moves that created the opening. In the 74th minute, Burdon and Baker again combined to create space out wide for Henry Hall who, when stalled, lobbed a pass inside to scrum half Ben Gray to score. Steve Tanner contributed two more conversions to bring his tally for the day to 28 points.
In the closing minutes, Dan Brown continued his habit of scoring in games, rounding off a period of pressure, and in the last minute, following a passing sequence that started in the visitors’ 22 and covered the full length of the pitch, Henry Hall was on hand to deliver the coup de grace, the 13th try and complete the scoring at 83-0.
Sterner challenges will lie ahead, and Ashford still have work to do to reduce the penalty count against them but on a day when they ran in 13 tries it would be churlish to be negative. This game showed that when both forwards and backs are on song Ashford will be a difficult team to beat. Coach Chris Dengate reflected on a positive opening month and four wins but cautioned about what lies ahead. “In October, we have three different challenges in our league campaign. We face Whitstable who have proved competitive in their games to date. We then travel to Old Gravesendians who have started well this season and playing their pitch will be key to a successful outcome. Then we welcome Gillingham Anchorians who also have a 100% record so far, so there can be no room for complacency”.