Following on from last Saturday’s table-top clash with Gillingham Anchorians, Ashford travelled to eighth placed New Ash Green for what, at least on paper, should have been an easier task. However, Ashford were mindful that in the corresponding fixture last season, they had put on their worst performance of the season and the home side had won comfortably, so the game had to be viewed as a potential banana skin to their 100% record.
A number of Ashford’s regular first team pack were unavailable on Saturday, but the game saw the return of a now fit Ben King to the fray, and an opportunity for Owen Piper to make his first team debut. The late withdrawal of Rhys Fussell due to a family bereavement also resulted in a late call-up for Joseph Campbell, who had been playing well in the club’s 2ndXV.
Making the most of a dry, warm afternoon, Ashford attacked from the off, and following early pressure attacked the home side’s left wing, where a timely incursion by captain Chris Baker opened the defence for Ashford’s first score, and a simple conversion for Steve Tanner that created an early 7-0 lead.
The following twenty minutes showed a marked contrast between the two teams, with New Ash Green expending much energy to no avail and Ashford looking dangerous whenever they stepped up a gear. The home side were, however, monopolising possession, thanks in no small measure to Ashford’s propensity to give away penalties, and the culmination was a kick to the corner, followed by several phases of play before securing the equalising score after 22 minutes.
The home team’s joy was, however, short-lived, as Ashford struck twice before half time. The first came when Henry Hall released Farai Myezwa, giving the winger a metre of space in which to outpace his opposite number, and then cut infield leaving two despairing defenders in his wake and touching down near the post. Steve Tanner’s conversion extended the lead to 14-7. The second started with a fine midfield break by newcomer Owen Piper who breached the defensive line and then offloaded to Henry Hall whose slight of hand confused the defence and created the opening for Farai Myezwa to exploit and score his second try, which was not converted.
Just before half time, the home side launched one more attack, producing wave upon wave of assaults on the visitors’ line. This culminated in a pile-up on the Ashford line and, to some surprise, the referee awarding a try to New Ash Green.
At the midway point, Ashford enjoyed a 19-12 lead and showed their desire to create a more comfortable lead with a series of attacks, culminating in a driving maul that took play towards the home side’s line with prop Marc Huxted touching down to secure the bonus point for the four tries scored. Steve Tanner’s conversion extended the lead to 26-12.
The rest of the game can best be described as disjointed. This was caused primarily by a series of injuries to New Ash Green players that culminated in having to play uncontested scrums, a real disadvantage to Ashford whose scrummaging is a strong feature of their game. The litany of injuries reached its nadir when the referee was struck in the face by the ball, fell to the ground and had to be revived by medical staff.
In the closing minutes, New Ash Green launched one final attack and having failed to breach the Ashford midfield defence where Danny Bushell had been outstanding all day, a speculative kick to the corner was collected by their winger who scored out wide. This proved to be the final score in a game that had started brightly but deteriorated into an essentially forgettable spectacle.
For Ashford, there is the satisfaction that their record remains intact and a further five points added to their tally. But this was an occasion when they allowed themselves to drop to the level of their opponents instead of imposing their standard. In doing so, they passed the initiative to their opponents. Future teams may not be as charitable and the team will need to reflect on what they need to do, individually and collectively to set and maintain a level of performance that will maintain their league campaign and for the forthcoming trip to Uckfield for the RFU Intermediate Cup game.