Category: Match Report

Match Report: Tunbridge Wells vs. Wimbledon

TUNBRIDGE WELLS RFC 1st XV.        10.
WIMBLEDON RFC 1st XV.    40.

This was a rearranged game from earlier in the season which was switched from St Marks to Bennett Memorial School’s AGP after a pitch inspection by the referee and the two captains at 1 00 pm.
Wells found themselves without successful right wing Max Hobbs after three minutes with Eddie Croft replacing him on the wing and Charlie Rigby coming off the bench to play at scrum half.
These changes can be added to changes in the front row and back row from the team who last week played so well against CS 1863.

The first few minutes of the half set the pattern for the next 40 minutes with the visitors in 3rd place in the league demonstrating almost complete scrum dominance and the Wells- currently 7th showing that they had some dangerous backs. With Wimbledon not finding their touches adding to the ball available for Wells to counter attack from deep.
The Don’s were first on the scoresheet after 13 minutes when an electric break from scrum half Ben Newman saw centre Jack Reville in under the posts for James Moffat to convert. 0-7.
The Don’s were a man down on 15 mins as No 8 Chris York was yellow carded for an offence on the floor. Wells enjoyed plentiful possession and were unlucky not to score after a brilliant handling move initiated by the Doherty brothers carried on by Ryan Taylor Dennehy and involving 10 players in all. The home side did not have to wait long though as on 24 minutes the improbable figure of the Wells hooker Stuart Nicholls popped up on the right wing to score an unconverted try 5-7.
As the half approached it’s end Mike Hathaway made a great break up the middle only for the ball to be spilled, Ben Whales was yellow carded and then a Don’s player followed him for a head high tackle on Taylor Dennehy which could have been more.
Wells continued to attack and Matt Spicer was adjudged held up in the tackle over the Don’s line on 43 minutes before Wells got the ball wide again on the right to Eddie Croft who got the ball down for an unconverted try and a Wells halftime lead of 10-7.

If Wimbledon were to win and keep pressure on the top two sides their game needed to be tightened and they needed to be more accurate with their kicking in the second half.
Sadly for Wells their second half form was much better with more aggressive defence and if possible even more scrum dominance. Nick Doherty was off to be replaced by Josh Hawkins within a minute of the restart and Don’s regained the lead on 44 minutes as Reville scored his second after a switch in midfield to score under the posts with Moffatt adding the extras 10-14.
During the first 20 minutes of the half Wells could retain little possession as they conceded a number of scrum penalties. On 50 minutes impressive Don’s 6 Kane Albani broke up the middle  and fed No 4 Jack Cooke for try 3 which was unconverted 10-19.

In the last 20 minutes Wells struggled in both the scrum and in accuracy at the line out as the Don’s squeezed the life out of the home side with further tries from a high possession rate from 15 Blane Wilson again through the middle and under the posts on 62 minutes 10-26, by effective hooker Ugo Ogodulunwa on 78 mins 10-33 and by probably Man of the Match Kane Alboni on 83 minutes and Moffatt adding his 5th conversion. To make the final score 10-40.

Wells had a good first half but could not live with the aggressive defence and set piece mastery of the visitors in the second half. They will have to bring a full 80 minutes of precision and a rethink on scrum technique before the replay in South London in a few weeks time depending on whether the London and SE Premier season is still running.

Roger Clarke.

Match report – London Irish Wild Geese 17 Tunbridge Wells 29

Tunbridge Wells travelled to Hazelwood, Sunbury on Thames on Saturday hoping to repeat their win over London Irish Wildgeese at St Mark’s earlier in the season. Played under lights on a perfect pitch the game was to be heavily influenced by a strong cross field wind which affected both sides’ ability to put together consistent periods of play. 

In a stop start first half, Wells were awarded a penalty on 17 minutes which Reynolds converted from 20 metres out, to go 3 nil up.  Three minutes later this advantage was cancelled out when the home side were given a penalty on Wells’ 22 for offside. Three all.  With the Wells scrum under pressure LIWG managed a sustained period of possession in midfield.  Poor Wells tackling allowed Willie Lafolafo, the impressive LIWG flanker, to burst through for a converted try close to the posts on 30 minutes to give the home side a 10 – 3 advantage.  

In the build-up to the try Wells’ hooker, Stuart Nicholls, suffered a cut to the head and had to leave the field being replaced by Josh Hawkins, with Nick Doherty moving to hooker. Wells came back in the remainder of the half with strong forward play keeping them in the LIWG 22 but they were unable to convert this territory into points.

Wells emerged for the second half with a more determined air and when LIWG were penalised at a lineout on the Wells 10 metre line the penalty was taken quickly and a 50 metre surge downfield resulted in Mike Doherty scoring a try which Reynolds converted.  Ten all.  On 53 minutes, quick thinking and precise handling resulted in the Wells running the ball from their own 22.  They outpaced the opposition and captain, Ryan Taylor-Dennehy, scored in the corner.  The wide out conversion was missed by Reynolds. Three minutes later Wells scored again when Mike Hathaway touched down under the posts following strong running from No 8, Nick Doherty, and Taylor-Dennehy.  With the conversion Wells had turned the game around in a quarter of an hour and led 10 – 22.

However, LIWG did not crumble, and on 65 minutes following sustained pressure on the Wells’ line, the hardworking Lafolafo forced himself over close to the posts.  A successful conversion closed the gap to 17-22 with 15 minutes to play.  

However, the best was yet to come.  Following a Wells scrum on half way the ball was moved quickly to left winger Max Hobbs who with great pace and scintillating footwork beat three defenders in running infield and successfully scoring under the posts, securing the try bonus point.  Reynolds converted to make the score 17-29, and, despite energetic play from both sides in the final ten minutes, this was how the game ended.  This leaves Tunbridge Wells seventh in the table on 47 points and LIWG fighting against relegation. 

Wells next game will be on 15 February at St Mark’s against CS Stags 1863, 2.30 kick off.

By Alan Skinner

Elsewhere in the league…..

Rochford Hundred’s advantage at the top of the table over Guernsey is now just one point but they are more likely to delight in their 12-3 win over third placed Wimbledon than focus on this. They now have 84 points with the Channel Islanders on 83 after their resounding 10-52 win at CS Stags. Wimbledon stay on 75. Dorking’s equally comfortable 12-46 victory at a struggling Bedford Athletic means that they are now 4 clear (on 54 points)  of Hertford and 6 ahead of Sevenoaks in 6th after these two fought out a 10-10 stalemate at Knole Paddock. We are now on 47 points in 7th just three ahead of Sidcup, who also banked a bonus point in a 32-17 win over bottom-placed Guildford. 

There is then a 9 point gap to Brighton who’s fine 4 match winning run now sees them up to ninth on 35 points replacing Tring, after a 13-16 win on the road in Hertfordshire. None of the bottom four teams picked up any points so it’s then CS Stags (31), London Irish Wild Geese (27), Bedford Athletic (24) and Guildford (20).

Next Saturday heralds a “rest week”, but not for the players of Sidcup and Sevenoaks who play their rearranged fixture in South London. On the 15th when we host CS Stags, there is the always keenly contested Hertford v Tring “derby” and Sevenoaks go to Guernsey. Guildford will be wary of the Wimbledon backlash too….

Match Report – Tunbridge Wells 11 Rochford Hundred 22

Wells started this home game back on grass at St Marks facing the league leaders after a tough three weeks against top sides, and having been forced to change their front row with Carl Straeche injured and Stuart Nicholls and Aston Croall unavailable. Charley Smith moved from second row to prop, Kyle McGarvie started as hooker, Mike Hathaway and Rich Murray returned and Duncan Hales, Jake Smith and Richard Webster formed a new bench.

Both sides completed the first quarter of this game without being able to dent their respective defences with possession fairly even and most of the play in midfield. The Wells set scrummage stood up well and the back row of Doherty, Hathaway and Pancaldi did enough to secure ball in the turnover. It took until the 27th minute for Wells to get on the scoreboard with a simple penalty which a number of touch line pundits thought could have been a penalty try.  3-0.

After this period of play Wells had some bright spots in the game with Horne, Murray and Hobbs looking sharp but the large and physical pack from Rochford were enjoying a larger share of the ball. It said much for Wells’ team defence that despite pressure it took until the 36th minute for this to be translated into points as Wells dropped the ball behind their line and Rochford 8 Hudson got the touch down 3-5.

Rochford continued to apply pressure and Wells were punished for this indiscipline as first Smith and then Hawkins were sent to the sin bin and Wells were down to 13 as halftime approached. Surprisingly this didn’t seem to hinder their game in attack at all because as injury time beckoned skipper Ryan Taylor- Dennehy pick the ball off his toes from a loose kick and initiated a great run and spinning break to find Mike Doherty on his shoulder to finish off a 45 metre move for the try and to finish the half down in numbers but 8-5 in the lead. A lead they just deserved as Rochford finished a half in which they never seemed to get going.

Wells started the second half back to 14 but faced a different Rochford side who had received an audible roasting from their coach during the interval. They had a simple  and limited game plan which was to use their physicality and maul and drive to the line.

Wells could gain little ball at this juncture and Rochford camped in their half. Further valiant defence could not prevent a succession of mauls from penalties to the corner seeing an early score as the maul rolled over the home line for a try to Rochford hooker Ferrier on 48 minutes 8-12 with a Greenhall conversion.

Wells now back to full numbers had brighter moments with Eukaliti, Hathaway, Doherty and Hawkins punching some midfield holes. This got the home side closer to the Rochford try line and on 50 minutes Reynolds got the scores within a point with a penalty 11-12. This was followed by a Horne break with Reynolds in support but Hathaway couldn’t hold the final pass.

Pressure then began to tell again as Wells lost all line out precision and with it the opportunity to keep possession which was then added to by the loss of scrum half Eddie Croft to a third yellow card of the game on 57 minutes. Despite these handicaps Wells kept Rochford out until the 63rd minute when a succession of bravely defended pick and drives finally brought success to Rochford as Wells were sucked in and the ball was moved swiftly to left wing Meads for a try in the corner 11-17.

The last 10 minutes of the game approached with Wells still having a say in the game and with a chance of at least a losing bonus point but Rochford pack pressure continued and with some inaccurate attempts at touch kicks from the Wells their task was aided. Rochford yet again camped on the Wells line and patiently picked and drove which despite further valiant defence ultimately saw Rochford’s very well built 6 Duaibe score the try 11-22.

Wells with their usual spirit roared back and had a good go at getting something out of the game. In injury time Rochford’s 5 Shields was sent to the bin but this was too late to help the cause and the final whistle blew with the home side on the Rochford 22.

This was a spirited performance from a Wells side that is still capable – once the squad is returned to full strength – of a top 6 place in this their third season in this league.

Discipline and line out technique cost them in this game but the work of a makeshift front row, the return of Mike Hathaway and a promising performance off the bench from Duncan Hales are all cause for optimism as the side look forward to their game against London Irish Wild Geese at Sudbury this Saturday KO 2 30pm.

By Roger Clarke

Elsewhere in the League

It’s a case of “as you were” at the top with the three leading sides all gaining bonus point wins. Rochford Hundred’s victory at St Marks moved them on to 80 points ahead of Guernsey on 78, after the Channel Islanders laboured to a 29-19 win over our next opponents, London Irish Wild Geese, having been behind twice. Wimbledon stayed hot on their respective heels on 75 points (with their game in hand against us in March) after a comfortable 42-19 win over Sidcup.

Dorking’s strong form since beating us in December (they have now won four in a row after seeing off Tring 38-22) sees them climb to 4th but they are a whopping 26 points off Wimbledon. They leapfrog  Hertford and Sevenoaks who will have both been disappointed at their losses – 25-27 to CS Stags and 12-8 at Brighton respectively. 7th, 8th and 9th remain exactly the same as none of us, Sidcup nor Tring picked up any points so stay on 42, 39 and 34 points respectively. However, it is certainly getting much tighter down below. Brighton’s resurgence continues and sees them up to 10th on 31 points after winning their arm wrestle against the Oaks, where they are joined by CS Stags. The Chiswick-based team earn pride of place for their bonus point victory at Hertford. Having pulled off a shock win at Rochford earlier in the campaign, this is another notable scalp for the Stags and shows that no one apart from the top three sides can rest on their laurels if they do not want to be pulled back towards the relegation battle. The Wild Geese sit 12th on 27th, ahead of Bedford Athletic on 24 and Guildford on 20 after the Surrey team beat Bedford 29-8. 

The “big game” next week is clearly in Essex where 1st play 3rd as Rochford Hundred host Wimbledon. Both Sevenoaks and Hertford will be hoping to get swiftly back on track when they meet at Knole Paddock. Guildford, Brighton and the Wild Geese will also go into their games with more optimism now as they take on sides above them at Sidcup, Tring and hosting us respectively. 

Match report – Tunbridge Wells 30 Guernsey Raiders 33

With St Marks suffering the effects of the week’s heavy rainfall, the superb 4G facility at Bennett School became the venue for what was always likely to be a tough challenge for Tunbridge Wells against a powerful Guernsey side. When the teams met in September the Channel Islanders registered a 31-7 win and there was a certain amount of trepidation amongst the Wells faithful given that the visitors had lost 13-19 last week to their nearest rivals Rochford Hundred which dropped them to second spot. Would Wells be the recipients of a reaction and backlash? Ultimately, the answer was yes but only really for the last 25 minutes as Guernsey turned the screw, with Wells having managed to pour more fuel on their fire themselves too by then……

Wells made four changes to the squad that had battled hard at Hertford last week. Carl Straeche started at prop and Agy Eukaliti moved to his favoured flanker position due to the injury to the highly influential Mike Hathaway. Charley Smith, therefore, started at lock whilst fellow forwards Tom Follows and Jake Smith came onto the bench. The latter is a highly promising flanker and an Academy product who was to make his First XV debut. In the backs, Mike Doherty played despite still feeling the after affects of last week’s injury and, with Rich Murray absent through illness, he was paired at centre with Angus Horne. Another Academy product, Horne had impressed in the role temporarily last week and was to stake his claim for a more permanent role with a man of the match display. Richard Webster returned on the wing after missing the last two games and it was great to see firm fan favourite Matt Spicer back on the bench after some time away from the club.

A beautiful, still, clear blue-sky day made for a great backdrop and was to bear witness to a thrilling “try-fest” of a match. Guernsey kicked off and in what was to be a feature throughout the athletic Eukaliti soared high to gather the ball. Wells cleared their lines but the visitors had a clear desire to put width on the ball all the day and this started from the opening minutes. However, when they were halted on halfway Nick Doherty created the turnover before Josh Hawkins made a powerful 15 metre run up the right touch line. The forwards created rapid ruck ball which scrum half Eddie Croft used to free his back line. Horne then made a searing break 35 metres out before finding the instigator of the attack Doherty on his left. He powered on before being hauled to the ground just a few metres short. Again the ball was recycled quickly and two long passes later it found the unlikely figure of tight-head prop Straeche standing alone on the right wing. He gathered the ball before carrying the last defender over with him for his first try at this level. The crowd were delighted as there are few more popular players than Carl in the squad. The connection of boot to ball for Frank Reynolds’ conversion attempt brought a strange sound from the ball and it drifted wide (and it was noticeable that place kickers struggled all day with the balls). Three minutes played and 5-0.

On more than one occasion this season I think it is fair to say that Wells have been slow starters but it was the Channel Islanders who seemed to suffering from this malady this time. A strong Webster carry put the home team back In Guernsey territory and when Croft’s box kick was knocked on it was Hawkins who was on hand to re-gather. Although Reynolds’ clever kick through came to nothing, Guernsey were penalised for offside so the outside half fired a fine touch finder and Wells had an attacking line-out 15 metres out. Hooker Stuart Nicholls found his jumpers well throughout and he connected with Eukaliti on this occasion. A rolling maul was set and started to make headway as several backs joined in. However, just as it splintered and momentum seemed to be lost it was the centre-playing Doherty brother Mike who, supported by Nicholls, was to force his way over wide on the left. The tough conversion was missed but it was now 10-0 on 10 minutes.

And soon two tries were to become three. Nick Doherty, skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy and Horne made good ground before Guernsey managed a turnover. However, a thumping James Pancaldi tackle created pressure on the visiting backs who knocked on. Nick Doherty again carried powerfully before recycled ball found its way to Taylor-Dennehy. The full back seems to have rediscovered some of his customary “zip” since the turn of the year and his pace took him clear and deep into Guernsey territory. The cover got to him but not before he slipped the ball to Horne on his left shoulder and centre dived over for the score. Another strange sounding connection saw the conversion missed but it was now 15-0 after just 17 minutes. Spicer replaced Colangelo who had taken a heavy blow to his back.

With all the crowd confined to one side of the pitch there was a cracking atmosphere at the game. A large number of post-lunch attendees who had battled their way through Saturday afternoon traffic from the club stood shoulder to shoulder with a healthy travelling support and it was they that were to cheer next. Tui Tauaika and Eukaliti combined to create a turnover which Spicer fly hacked forward but the bounce took it away from his grasp and the visitors were awarded a penalty. A long touch kick saw a line-out and maul which was halted illegally. The large Guernsey pack chose a second bite at this particular cherry and the Wells forwards could not halt the ensuing maul in time. With the usually reliable Owen Thomas missing the conversion it was now 15-5 after 23 minutes. Worryingly for Wells it was clear that Reynolds was now inconvenienced by a leg injury. It’s testament to the Kent County player that he soldiered on for the rest of the game despite clearly being in significant discomfort.

Guernsey now also seemed to have blown away the cobwebs but it only takes a second for momentum to be lost or gained. Tauaika managed to steal the ball and it was fed to Spicer. He tore down the left wing covering 25 metres in a blink of an eye before he was superbly tackled. However, as he fell to ground he was able to engineer an exquisite pop up pass to the supporting Croft and the scrum half crossed out wide on the left. With Reynolds’ injury clearly incapacitating him it was the try scorer who now assumed place kicking duties but this his effort fell well short. However, remarkable as it might have seemed before kick off, Wells had the 4-try bonus point in the bag after just 27 minutes. 20-5.

A Wells error at the kick-off handed possession back to the visitors via a scrum and the much larger Guernsey pack were starting to demonstrate a clear edge at this set-piece. A hefty drive saw a penalty awarded. A line out followed and although the attacking grey and green maul was halted just short, a powerful pick and go saw a try scored which Thomas converted, to some ironic cheers from the sidelines at the sight of the first successful place kick of the day. 30 minutes played and it was 20-12.

To be fair to the team from St Marks they were playing some lovely, ambitious rugby but it was as much poor discipline and imprecision from the visitors which was proving key, and this was epitomised by an incident on 34 minutes. After Pancaldi had made another fine tackle, Mike Doherty was cleared out illegally some distance away from the ball by visiting prop Jacob Pinkney and he received a yellow card. Crucially, though, Wells missed touch with the penalty and when Guernsey kicked clear, chasing flanker Lewis Hillier earned them a penalty for Wells not releasing.

Before the Guernsey line-out 35 metres from the Wells line, and sensing that frustration and ‘tetchiness’ was setting in, the excellent referee Dominic Bunning called both skippers together to ask them to remind their players of the importance of discipline. The warning was to go unheeded though. After the line-out was overthrown Straeche and Charley Smith combined well to bring the ball clear before a penalty was awarded to Wells. However, the whistle brought a bout of “handbags” that led to two more players heading to the sin bin – Nicholls for the home team and flanker Dom Rice for the visitors.

An attacking line-out saw Tauaika assume throwing in duties and he found Eukaliti (who was having an impressive game). Taylor-Dennehy again made good yards and when he was awarded a penalty 35 metres out he had no hesitation in asking Reynolds to kick for the corner. This he did with such aplomb that when Tauaika connected with Hawkins the maul was formed just 5 metres out. What started as 7 v 6 rapidly became 10 and then 14 as the Wells backs joined and lifted Tauaika over the line for a very much deserved try. Sadly, the conversion again went wide but it was now 25-12 three minutes into added time.

There was still time for one more Guernsey attack during which Straeche received a bang to the head. Perhaps surprisingly when awarded a free-kick 15 metres out the visitors decided to tap and go rather than opt for a scrum and excellent Wells defence held them at bay. Half Time: 25-12.

There was little doubt that Guernsey had yet to play their best rugby. They had shown signs of petulance but this was amidst frustration stemming from a combative and aggressive Wells performance. It is an old rugby truism that “you can only play as well as you are allowed to”. Sadly, for the home team this was to be absolutely the case in the second period…..but unfortunately it was the Channel Islanders who were to dominate and illustrate exactly why they are very much in the hunt for promotion.

And yet the second half started very brightly. Jake Smith temporarily replaced Straeche as Wells kicked off. Guernsey then went through almost 20 phases only for Wells to turn the ball over and clear. Poor discipline (for virtually the last time in the game) saw a penalty to Guernsey reversed in favour of the men in blue and Reynolds found a fine touch inside the opposition 22. Both teams were now back to 15 and Straeche also returned.

Spicer, Eukaliti and Taylor-Dennehy made good initial carries to take Wells to 15 metres out. Patience was key as Wells looked to find space and when the ball was switched back to the left, Horne set off on a pacy run on an outside arc before crossing in the corner to make it a brace of tries for him. Croft’s conversion attempt dropped just short but it was now 30-12 after 48 minutes.

However, this was as good as it was to get for Tunbridge Wells as the “real” Guernsey now stood up to be counted! To be fair the last 30 minutes were completely dominated by the visitors without Wells doing an awful lot wrong. Time and again they attacked the hosts out wide and through the middle and with clear scrum dominance now, the home support quite understandably had an ominous feeling.

On 54 minutes Guernsey had an attacking line out 20 metres from the Wells line. Brave defence kept them at bay but at the expense of an injury to Hawkins who was replaced permanently now by Jake Smith, and the young debutant should be proud of his efforts in what were now very tough circumstances. An attacking Guernsey scrum was halted illegally and when another scrum was set they might have anticipated a penalty try. However, Wells front five were to do better this time and held them at bay. The was only temporary, though, as after a series of drives number eight Doug Horrocks burrowed over under the posts. Thomas converted to make it 30-19 on 59 minutes.

There was little respite now for Wells as the visitors were straight back into the home side’s half. Wells were feeling the brunt of Mr Bunning’s whistle as the penalty count rose inexorably as the pressure began to tell. Another attacking line-out saw a maul drive 20 metres before the ball was lost forward just as the try line beckoned. Home supporters relief was short-lived though as the referee had been playing a penalty advantage and to make matters worse Nick Doherty was sent to the sin bin for the original offence. There are no prizes for guessing what happened next…..a line-out was set 5 metres out and a driving maul surged over the line for the try. With Thomas adding the extra two it had become 30-26 after 64 minutes.

There was one glimmer of hope for Wells on 70 minutes. Mike Doherty did superbly well to rip the ball clear in he tackle before feeding Spicer on half-way. The gap seemed to be there with an open field in front of him but just as he looked like evading the cover a desperate last gasp ankle tap brought him to ground and then he was penalised for holding on. A case of what might have been…..

Despite fierce resistance from the likes of Tauaika and Pancaldi the momentum was all with the visitors now. Just when a ball looked to have been stolen a high tackle penalty was awarded. Yet another attacking line-out was won on the left wing and although the maul was brought down effectively and legally, Guernsey were not to be denied. They picked and drove at the posts sucking in the desperate defenders before cleverly switching the play back to the blind side for left wing Mike Agyei-King to cross. Thomas’ fine touch line conversion made it 30-33 on 72 minutes.

Doherty returned to play at prop replacing Straeche and was accompanied by Follows. Eukaliti was impeded in the air which led to a Wells line out on halfway where Nicholls linked well with Follows. Tauaika took the ball up again but suffered a heavy knock and although Wells tried hard they couldn’t break through. Follows was unlucky when he made a cracking turnover only to see that Guernsey had earned a penalty earlier in the play.

As the game moved into injury time Tauaika eventually had to depart which saw uncontested scrums and Wells down to 14 players. Could Wells hold on to a richly deserved bonus point? The answer was yes and Guernsey showed their professionalism (and a healthy respect for their opponents) by simply maintaining possession and running down the clock.

An exhilarating contest that saw 11 tries and the proverbial “game of two halves”. The Wells players will no doubt be disappointed to have let an 18 point lead slip. However, when they reflect on the game they should bear in mind the quality of the opposition and the adversity they faced in both carrying injuries into the game and then incurring several more on the pitch. They played exciting rugby at times and really should look at this as two points gained more than anything else. They faced up to the challenge with both bravery and skill.

Now it’s over to Russell Shingles and his physio team to do what they can to patch the lads up ahead of the visit of league leaders Rochford Hundred next week. Kick off is 2pm at St Marks.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Richard Webster, Angus Horne, Mike Doherty, Harvey Colangelo (Matt Spicer); Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Carl Straeche (Tom Follows), Charley Smith, Josh Hawkins (Jake Smith), Agy Eukaliti, James Pancaldi, Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League

Rochford Hundred maintained their two point lead over Guernsey at the top of the table with a 29-13 win over Sidcup. They have 75 points, Guernsey are on 73 and Wimbledon remain right on their tails on 70 with a game in hand after a hard-fought 31-40 victory at lowly Bedford Athletic.  Hertford remain 4th on 46 points but will be very disappointed to have only taken a losing bonus point at London Irish Wild Geese who earned a 17-14 win in south-west London. Sevenoaks and Dorking remain in 5th and 6th on 45 on 44 after their game up the road at Knole Paddock was postponed. On 42 points we are now three clear of eight-placed Sidcup on 39. 
Tring will be relieved to have edged a nail-biter at home against Guildford with the bottom team taking a losing bonus point as the game finished 16-14. The winners move on to 34 points in 9th but it is all change in the bottom five.

Wild Geese’s win over Hertford moved them from 12th to 10th on 27 points and they are joined on that mark by Brighton who have moved out of the bottom three for the first time since September after what could prove to be a hugely significant 26-29 win at CS Stags. The Chiswick-based side now fill the first relegation spot with 26 points and Bedford Athletic have dropped from 11th to 13th on 24 points. Guildford are 9 points adrift at the bottom of the ladder on 15. For your reference, the team in 12th in both of the last two campaigns went down with 49 points….#justsaying.

There are lots of top half v bottom half games next week. The three promotion-hunting teams all be expecting to win but it’s down to us (home to Rochford), London Irish Wild Geese (at Guernsey) and Sidcup (away to Wimbledon) to try and upset the apple cart. Brighton v Sevenoaks is an intriguing clash, whilst the bottom sides square off in Surrey when Guildford host Bedford Athletic. 

Graham Withers

Match report – Hertford 21 Tunbridge Wells 19

Tunbridge Wells were on their travels to face a Hertford team who, by their own account, had produced their best performance of the campaign the week before in a narrow 14-8 defeat at table-topping Guernsey. They sat in 4th but just two points ahead of Wells in 7th and although the Hertfordshire side comfortably defeated a depleted Wells team 15-34 at St Marks in September, the pre-match chat was much more about a final kick 33-32 win to them in this fixture at the end of last season. As it was, this game was to be almost as close.

The visitors were able to take the field with just two changes to the side that had got 2020 off to such a good start with a dominant performance against Brighton. Harvey Colangelo stepped up to start on the wing in place of Max Hobbs and this enabled talented Academy product Lucas Scully to return to First XV action from the bench. In the pack it was heartening to see the same starting 8 plus popular prop Carl Straeche amongst the replacements, with Ben Isbell having returned to University.

The gravel-bed nature of the land at the club meant a soft but excellent playing surface on a wide-pitch. There was a very strong wind blowing down the pitch and it was Wells who kicked off playing into this. It was evident from the early exchanges that Hertford are a team who like to play running rugby ball-in-hand and they were to stay loyal to this pattern of play, even with the breeze at their backs.

Wells looked to have made a perfect start when the Hertford clearing kick was charged down but the ball fell kindly for the home side and they were able to clear downfield. Strong carries from the industrious Nick Doherty and ever-willing Josh Hawkins took the visitors back into Hertford territory only for the men from St Marks to be penalised for not releasing in the tackle.

This gave Hertford a fine attacking platform with a line out 35 metres from the try line. Although the intended maul was well sacked, Hertford showed great patience as the ensuing phases moved into double-figures. Outside half Liam Batty made use of a penalty advantage to make a lovely grubber kick that wing Charlie Parkhouse gathered. A quickly recycled ball then saw powerful centre Kyle Lemon crash over for the first of a brace of tries. With a good wide conversion from Batty it was 7-0 after 5 minutes.

The Wells scrum had been much improved last week by the availability of player-coach Aston Croall and it was the same again in Hertfordshire. The first set piece provided good ball off which Mike Doherty (twice) and flanker James Pancaldi made surging drives. When a penalty was awarded outside half Frank Reynolds found a good touch to set up an attacking line out, and when hooker Stuart Nicholls connected with Josh Hawkins a maul was set. Backs poured in to try and help the ball over the line but it splintered and the ball was knocked on. Poor discipline then conceded a penalty and Hertford could clear their lines.

It was the home team’s turn to use a powerful maul now but despite making 25 metres they could not secure the ball and the referee awarded the turnover to the men in white (we were in our away kit!). However, it was Croall who was penalised at the next scrum and Hertford were inside the Wells half again. Good defence kept them at bay though and soon after strong Mike Hathaway, Agy Eukaliti and Colangelo carries saw Wells back on the attack before busy scrum half Eddie Croft was played without the ball 35 metres out in front of the posts.

The wind meant a shot at goal was out of the question so it looked like a kick to the left-hand corner was likely….at least so thought the 250 or so in the crowd and, more importantly, the home players! Instead, Reynolds and skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy spotted their chance and tapped and came swiftly to the right. They linked with Hathaway who found Mike Doherty who breezed around the outside defender and crossed from 20 metres. Reynolds expertly manufactured a low, driven, conversion and it was 7-7 after 18 minutes.

From the re-start Nick Doherty again made good yardage before the ball was spun wider. Clever inter-play by Angus Horne released centre Rich Murray but he was bundled into touch. On 22 minutes the younger Doherty did superbly to tidy up ball at the base of a retreating scrum before Eukaliti made a thrusting run. Props Croall and Tui Tuauika were involved in a phase showing good continuity before a knock on saw the ball lost. Sadly, though, a lower-leg injury saw talismanic centre Mike Doherty leave the pitch to be replaced by Scully. Horne moved into outside centre and Murray to the ‘12’ channel.

Whilst it would be fair to say Wells had not taken some chances they had created, it was the home side who were very much in the ascendancy at this stage. It was surprising to see them not use a kicking game to gain territory but they seemed very confident in their passing and running game and it needed important tackles from Taylor-Dennehy, Hathaway and Eukaliti, coupled with some key passes going astray to keep Hertford at bay. They even took a leaf out of the Wells play book with quick ‘tap and go’ options. The attacking momentum was only ended on 33 minutes when a huge Wells scrum earned a penalty.

Just as the visiting supporters thought their team would get to the half time whistle level despite playing into the wind, a momentary loss of concentration in the re-jigged back line saw Hertford score again, much to the frustration of the coaching team. The home team had an attacking scrum 35 metres out and when Batty threw a long-miss pass towards the left it was Parkhouse from the right wing who took the ball in space and the lively winger showed good pace to score under the posts. Batty’s simple conversion made it 14-7 on 39 minutes and there was still time for one more attack that was thwarted by sound defensive work from Colangelo before the half time whistle blew.

Half Time 14-7.

As the players re-emerged for the second period it was immediately evident that influential flanker Hathaway had not been able to shake off the calf injury he had incurred and Charley Smith replaced him. This saw Hawkins move to flanker. The loss of two key men to injury seemed likely to put a major dent in Wells’ aspirations of getting back into the game and when a vibrant Hertford opening spell saw them cross again one could have feared the worst. However, this Wells squad has spirit by the bucket load and it is testament to them that they so very nearly came away with the win.

Nick Doherty gathered and returned the kick off but that was the last time the visitors were to see the ball for three minutes. Excellent controlled play saw drive after drive at the heart of the Wells defence and, despite a crucial last-ditch Croft tackle, Hertford could not be resisted and centre Lemon scored again, with Batty adding the extra two. 21-7 after 43 minutes.

Wells’ response was superb. A scrum penalty on halfway, followed by a long Reynolds touch-find put the visitors just 15 metres out. Nicholls again hit his jumper and although the maul was halted Murray and Taylor-Dennehy made good in-roads. As the ball was switched from the right Reynolds threw a deft pass only to be tackled late. Not only was it late but it was high and there were little in the way of arms involved. Thankfully, there was no lasting damage to the Kent County 10 but a penalty and a yellow card to home flanker Dave Archer were awarded.

Wells were to channel their anger well. Taking the attacking line-out option from the penalty, Nicholls hit Hawkins and a powerful maul saw Nick Doherty gain a thoroughly deserved try to join his now injury-departed brother on the score sheet. The touch line conversion proved too difficult but it was now 21-12 after 50 minutes.

The men from Kent had their tails up now and a raking 60 metre kick from Reynolds saw them back in Hertford territory. Murray and Pancaldi made good carries before Tuauika was hauled down agonisingly short. As the phases reached 15, deliberate interference on Croft as he tried to play the ball saw another penalty and a second yellow card to the men in blue. It did not take a Ph.D in rugby to realise what was to happen next. A scrum option was taken and as Wells moved inexorably forward it was halted illegally bringing the award of a Penalty Try. 56 minutes played and it was now 21-19.

Such was the expansive desire of both sides that I would have wanted very long odds to bet that this would end up being the final score. However, the fact that despite the attacking intent on show, this was, indeed, to be the case, pays testament to the fierce defensive efforts by both teams in the second 40 minutes.

Marauding Hertford flanker Redmond Newberry was correctly made Man of the Match for his influence in this final part of the game. It started when he forced a Wells knock on as they looked to clear a ruck. He then made two powerful runs but he was well  held at bay, before another booming 60 metre Reynolds kick cleared the pressure.

With Hertford restored to 14 and then 15 men they now spent a long period encamped in Wells territory. Several penalties led to several attacking line-outs as a combination of the head-wind making goal kicks difficult, plus the desire to gain a 4 try bonus point, made this the primary option for the hosts. One maul was held up over the line, another was collapsed illegally and then when a powerful counter-ruck seemed to have created a turnover in favour of the visitors the ensuing penalty saw a team warning handed out. It had taken brave covering work earlier by Horne to stop a likely try but surely now it was just a matter of time?

Understandably, another line-out was formed and when it went to ground it was Tuauika who received the ‘team’ yellow on 68 minutes. Straeche now entered the fray at prop with Hawkins sacrificed. Again, though, the next maul was defended well leading up to a Hertford scrum.

A player down they might have been but the Wells pack resisted manfully. As a result, the home side spun the ball wide and after a Lemon charge, they created a three on one overlap. Full back Harry Barker could well have scored himself but he unselfishly shipped the ball on to Parkhouse just 2 metres out. The winger had been one of the stand out players on show but he will want to forget the fumble that saw the ball lost forward. Wells could breathe again….at least they could after yet another 20 metre Nick Doherty carry from a retreating scrum. Simply magnificent and topped off by a 40 metre Reynolds clearance kick.

However, if Wells were hoping for one last chance to score it was not to be. Newberry again carried deep into the visitors territory. A series of attacking scrums were held at bay until Wells created a turnover as the clock edged into injury time. One last shot perhaps? Well no….after just 12 seconds of added time the game was over.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable game, if a bit scrappy at times, and in all fairness Hertford were deserved winners. Wells will regret the 5 minute spell either side of half time that saw 14 points conceded but given the loss of highly influential personnel during the match and the, therefore, relatively callow and inexperienced back line that finished the game this can just as much be seen as a point gained away from home against one of the “benchmark” teams in this division, rather than points dropped. That the only sustained period of Wells dominance (apart from a 5 minute spell early on) was when their opponents had players in the sin bin says a lot. However, what it also illustrates is the tenacity and work ethic of the squad as they held a team dominating territory and possession at bay.

The tough matches come thick and fast for Wells in January and next week they host a Guernsey side who will be smarting after losing the league leadership following a home defeat to Rochford Hundred. Indeed, Rochford who are the new leaders, then come to St Marks the week after next…..

Kick off v Guernsey is 2pm.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Angus Horne, Rich Murray, Mike Doherty (Lucas Scully), Harvey Colangelo; Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika (Carl Straeche), Stuart Nicholls, Aston Croall, Agy Eukaliti, Josh Hawkins, James Pancaldi, Mike Hathaway (Charley Smith), Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League

Rochford Hundred’s highly impressive 13-19 win at Guernsey takes them top after the two leaders clashed in the Channel Islands. Coming from 3-0 down the Essex team went clear in the second half and Guernsey only secured what might prove an important losing bonus point with the last play of the game. The winners now have 70 points, with Guernsey next on 68 and Wimbledon third on 65 after beating Tring 36-12. They have a game in hand still, which is the one at St Marks (this has now been re-scheduled for 14th March). The gap is 20 points to Sevenoaks on 45 who move ahead of Hertford on points difference after a hard-fought 15-26 bonus point win over bottom team Guildford. Dorking beat CS Stags 1863 28-14 to stay 6th on 44 ahead of us on 40 points. Sidcup are one point back after they beat Bedford Athletic 20-7. 

The gap is then 9 points back to Tring who sit 9th on 30, ahead of CS Stags, Bedford Athletic (both on 24) and London Irish Wild Geese  on 23 points, who only picked up a losing bonus point in their crunch clash at Brighton. The Seasiders’ 22-20 win enables them to stay in touch with the teams above them on 22. Guildford are 8 points adrift in 14th.
Next week’s stand out games see Rochford looking to cement top spot at home to Sidcup whilst we have the unenviable task of dealing with Guernsey’s quest for a positive reaction! 4th take on 6th as Sevenoaks host Dorking, whilst Brighton continue to have their relegation “fate” in their own hands as they travel to CS Stags. 

Graham Withers

Match Report – Tunbridge Wells 38 Brighton 5

Tunbridge Wells started this season’s London South East Premier League with a flourish but 2019 ended as something of a damp squib with two disappointing (and heavy) defeats in December. Brighton might well have arrived at St Marks in a relegation spot at 13th but they were just 16 points behind the hosts in 7th and had showed much-improved form in the past few games. With Wells’ next three games being against teams in the top four this was a game that they could ill-afford to lose.

The match day squad featured four changes from the last game at Dorking and, in particular, featured the very welcome return from long-term injury of Rich Murray and the hugely influential Mike Hathaway. Player-Coach Aston Croall came in at prop for his first game since impressing against Sevenoaks and flanker James Pancaldi was also back after his man of the match effort in defeat at Sidcup. This saw something of a reshuffle in the starting XV. Josh Hawkins moved into the second row as Charley Smith went to the bench, to be joined by Ben Isbell as Pancaldi and Hathaway edged ahead of them in the back row; in the backs skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy returned to his customary full-back spot as Murray replaced him at centre and Angus Horne had his first start on the right wing.

Bright sunshine and a blue sky greeted the teams and the playing surface had recovered well. Tunbridge Wells kicked off playing down the slope with an unusual north-westerly breeze behind them. A switch of direction that was dealt with by Brighton via a boxed clearance kick However, Taylor-Dennehy seemed back to something approaching his best form throughout and he returned the ball into the visitors half before connecting with Horne who made ground.

It needed a fine break by Brighton skipper David McIlwaine to relieve early pressure as the outside half took the ball back towards the halfway line before his pass to his supporting runners went into touch. When the Wells line-out was over thrown Brighton had a scrum put in. Wells were, though, to have a significant edge at the set scrum all game with Tui Tauaika strong and Croall exerting huge pressure from the tight-head position. Agy Eukaliti and Hathaway took the ball on before Reynolds made an excellent break, only for his final pass to go astray.

Wells was soon back on the attack with a superb Nick Doherty charge making 25 metres before the supporting Hathaway was hauled to ground with the ball. A try scoring opportunity was still on offer but when the ball went wide to the right the Brighton defence was up quickly exerting pressure and forcing a knock on. The visitors clearing kick was well dealt with by scrum half Eddie Croft who linked with Taylor-Dennehy and Mike Doherty before Reynolds made further in-roads with ball in hand. However, McIlwaine was able to steal the ball at the ruck and was awarded a penalty, enabling his team to clear their lines.

Isbell was now on as temporary blood replacement for Nicholls. Wells were very much in charge at the stage and after another series of phase play they were awarded a penalty which Reynolds converted from 30 metres in front of the posts. 3–0 after 16 minutes.

The tide was starting to turn in Brighton’s favour (despite one outrageous Croall pass between his legs!) as Wells started to fall foul of the referee. Discipline issues saw a rapid series of penalties in favour of the visitors so that after 25 minutes the count was 5-1 in favour of the men from Sussex. Imprecision was hurting them, though, and one misdirected penalty kick to touch simply gave Reynolds the opportunity to fire a wind-assisted drop out deep into Brighton territory. Nick Doherty was clearly enjoying have his long-standing back row colleague Hathaway back, and they combined again before a fine Taylor-Dennehy touch kick took Wells into the visitors 22. Hawkins seemed to have stolen the ball legitimately at the next breakdown but was (perhaps) harshly penalised and Brighton received another penalty to add to their collection……. 

This led to another period of Brighton being encamped in the home half. An attacking line-out produced a dangerous maul that appeared to be moving inexorably towards the Wells line before it splintered and went to ground. Unfortunately, Mr Lamb (who was to have a very good game) deemed it to have been halted illegally and another penalty awarded. The line-out was knocked on to Wells’ relief, and the home front row then once again put their opponents under pressure and were awarded a clearing penalty.

Neither side’s line-out worked particularly efficiently in the first half but it was Brighton who had the lion’s share of possession in the second quarter and they looked to use an expansive game to exploit this. The Wells defence was proving robust though, with the likes of Eukaliti and Croall making influential tackles in wide channels. After several minutes of attacking play it was Hathaway who secured a key turnover and Taylor-Dennehy’s kick took Wells back into their opponents half.

The game was very open at this stage and this suits the way Wells want to play. An excellent Pancaldi offload put Hathaway surging into space and he burst through a tackle as he made 25 metres. Brighton’s scrambling defence prevented him from finding the supporting players he had on either side, but when he was eventually dragged to ground he was just 10 metres short. Croft was able to get quick ball to his backs and Mike Doherty’s eye for a miss-pass saw him find winger Horne who crossed for his first try at this level. With Reynolds’ straight-forward conversion it was now 10-0 on 35 minutes.

The try-scorer was soon back in the thick of the action when he chased up his own kick and delivered a thumping tackle that belied his physical stature. It was certainly well received by the 150 or so predominantly home supporters! The last few minutes of the half saw Max Hobbs and Tauaika link well in attack and some further impressive Eukaliti, Pancaldi and Hawkins defensive work as Wells secured a hard-earned but deserved half-time lead. 10-0.

On returning to the field for the second period Brighton would have been justifiably optimistic of turning matters around with the advantage of the slope and breeze. However, it is something of a truism that in recent years Wells seem to have played their best rugby playing up the hill towards the clubhouse and this was to be the case once again. In fact, the second half was to witness as good a 40 minutes of rugby as the boys from St Marks have produced all season.

Wells had a lot of good field position in the first half but, thwarted by robust Brighton defence and poor discipline, they had struggled to convert this into points. There was no doubt that their supporters would have liked to see an early score in the second half to settle any anxieties and they were to get their wish.

Reynolds was having a huge influence on the game and when another of his long territory-gaining kicks was only partially cleared, the home side had an early attacking line-out 35 metres out. Tauaika hit Hawkins before the prop (come ‘thrower-in’) peeled around the tail and into the heart of the Brighton midfield defence. Reynolds then put centre Mike Doherty into the sort of midfield gap the ‘try machine’ thrives on. Bursting clear from 30 metres he showed too much power and pace for the defenders before diving over for a try that Reynolds converted with aplomb. 43 minutes played and it was now 17-0.

From the re-start number eight Doherty took responsibility for the clearance kick. McIlwaine tried to launch another attack for the visitors but after his initial break the follow up pass went forward and Wells had a scrum 10 metres inside their own half. The scrum set-piece was much improved by the presence of Croall and Brighton were penalised again for collapsing.

This gave Wells a fine attacking platform that they were to exploit to its full potential. Hawkins again soared high to secure the line-out before a powerful maul was set. This made 20 metres before the ball found Horne coming off his wing for an incisive run that ended with him slipping a lovely pass to the supporting Murray, for the ever-popular centre to mark his first game back with a try. That it was virtually under the posts made the score even better as Reynolds popped over the extra two. 24-0 on 48 minutes.

Although there was still over half an hour to play this felt like the decisive moment in the game. From the kick-off Eukaliti was able to secure the ball with ease and Wells were soon back in the Brighton half. Tauaika and Hathaway again drove powerfully forward before Nicholls received more running repairs. The hooker has become an integral part of the starting line-up this season and all were relieved to see him continue.

It was, therefore, somewhat against the run of play when Brighton eventually troubled the scorers. A penalty saw an attacking line- out and after McIlwhinie’s initial break, full-back Maxx Morris showed exquisite footwork and good pace to cross for an unconverted try. 24-5 after 55 minutes.

To be fair, though, this was the only time the visitors were to threaten the Wells line until deep into injury time. It was the home team who resumed control and then further extended their lead. After a Brighton forward pass, Wells again secured their own solid scrum ball and this enabled a typical Nick Doherty power-packed run. He linked with Reynolds who found the ever-eager Croft. When the ball was released from the ruck to Reynolds again, the Kent County 10 made a thrusting run breaking two tackles before a sublime offload to Hathaway who became the second returning player to cross the whitewash. It was fitting that it was these two players who combined for the bonus point try as on a day of excellent individual performances these were arguably the stand-out pair. Reynolds added the extra two to complete a satisfying 100% kicking day too. After 61 minutes this made it 31-5.

Harvey Colangelo replaced Murray (which saw the versatile Horne move to outside centre) and Charley Smith came on for Hawkins in the second row. Another Nick Doherty run took play away from the Wells line before a raking Reynolds clearance kick made 40 metres. Hathaway should have been mightily pleased with his comeback game and now made way for Isbell. 

Brighton, to their credit, were still trying to create opportunities but Wells now had their measure and even a seemingly clever kick through was comfortably dealt with by Isbell. Indeed, this put Wells back on the front foot as Taylor-Dennehy burst forward before finding Tauaika. As Wells tried to go wide a Brighton defender knocked the ball forward and as this was correctly deemed deliberate, the visitors were now temporarily down to 14 men as a yellow card was shown.

Wells opted for the attacking scrum and a slick backs move almost saw Horne get outside his opposite man to put Hobbs into space on the left. Fine continuity saw the ball make its way to Nicholls on the right-wing and he beat two men before finding Colangelo with an inside pass. Just as the replacement looked like he might get over desperate defence thwarted him. However, it was at the expense of a penalty 5 metres out and with such scrum dominance there was no surprise when Taylor-Dennehy opted for the set piece. There was a certain inevitability about the outcome as the men in blue moved towards the Brighton line and a deliberate collapse gave the referee little option but to award a Penalty Try. 38-5 after 76 minutes.

As the game moved into injury time Brighton looked likely to cross in the right corner but a superb Mike Doherty and Colangelo combined tackle thwarted them in front of the eagle-eyed linesman. Hawkins returned for Nicholls and Murray replaced a limping Taylor-Dennehy but even though replacement Smith received a yellow card for illegally halting a rolling maul, Wells were determined to prevent any further breaches and they managed this until a Reynolds kick to touch brought the final whistle. 

With such a tough run of games ahead of them this month, this could prove to be a crucial bonus-point win. It will, however, be the manner of this win, as much as anything else, that will undoubtedly please Head Coach Simon Whatling. The return from injury of important players and a much stronger set-piece will be other encouraging elements to take into this week’s preparation for the task away next week at 4th placed Hertford. Kick off is 2pm.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Angus Horne, Rich Murray (Harvey Colangelo), Mike Doherty, Max Hobbs; Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Aston Croall, Agy Eukaliti, Josh Hawkins (Charley Smith), James Pancaldi, Mike Hathaway (Ben Isbell), Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League
Guernsey continue at the top of the table, but only just, after leaving it late to win a hard-fought game 14-8 against Wells’ opponents next week Hertford. Rochford Hundred’s 59-7 bonus point win over Bedford Athletic means they are now just one point (67 v 66) behind the Channel Islanders. Despite having a game in hand. Wimbledon are now 6 points back in third after Sevenoaks’ superb 24-16 bonus point win over them at Knole Paddock. This keeps Sevenoaks in fifth place on 40 points, one behind 4th placed Hertford, and one ahead of Dorking (who came from 26-8 behind to win 26-30 at London Irish Wild Geese) and us on 39 points. Sidcup won 22-34 at Tring to stay 8th on 35 points ahead of the team they beat on 30.

It is getting very tight in the relegation places with the 5 remaining teams covered by 10 points, and with bottom side Guildford showing some real fight as epitomised by a 10-10 draw at CS Stags 1863. Stags are 10th on 24, ahead of Bedford Athletic (on points difference), Wild Geese on 22, Brighton on 18 and Guildford on 14. 

Next week’s stand out games are at the top and the bottom. It doesn’t get much bigger than when first play second as Guernsey host Rochford Hundred, whilst at the bottom Brighton v London Irish Wild Geese could also prove highly significant. Wimbledon will be looking to bounce back at home to Tring.

Graham Withers

Match report – Dorking 31 Tunbridge Wells 3

The final whistle had blown and despite having witnessed another pair of typically robust performances from his sons Mike and Nick, Mr Doherty senior turned to me and said “The only positive is that it didn’t rain”. That was not completely fair as once again one could not fault the 18 boys in blue for their effort and commitment but it did sum up the palpable sense of frustration felt by players and supporters alike. Let’s be honest –  Dorking deserved their win, but a lack of spark and precision by Wells coupled with being on the wrong end of some key refereeing decisions at crucial times thwarted their efforts to take anything from this last game before the festive break. Oh, and then the heavens opened again anyway….

The locals colloquially refer to their ground as “Big Field” so it was a shade ironic when the match was switched from the usual First XV clubhouse pitch to a more distant one. This was small (which was to be to our detriment given our preferred expansive style) and had a slope running down the pitch that makes St Marks seem almost flat!! However, the surface was excellent given the wet weather we have all experienced and Dorking should be applauded for getting the game on.

Wells made three changes to the team that started at Sidcup. Ollie Allman had a well-deserved start at full back, which saw skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy move into the centre. Richard Webster returned from injury on the right wing and university student Ben Isbell replaced the unavailable James Pancaldi in the number 7 shirt. One additional change saw Academy and Tonbridge School product Angus Horne come onto the bench ahead of earning his first cap.

With the advantage of the slope in the first half, Dorking kicked off via a cheeky grubber kick to try and take advantage of the slippery surface which was well fielded by Isbell, earning a scrum. From this first opportunity, inside-centre Mike Doherty burst into space to beat three defenders before being finally brought to ground 50 metres from where he had started. With all the Dorking back-Iine offside just 10 metres out a penalty looked inevitable but, unfortunately, it did not come and and when Allman was halted he ball was lost and the hosts were with able to kick clear.

Indeed, Dorking’s ability to relieve pressure via the use of the boot was a major difference between the two teams as they consistently won the kicking battle. Home full back Killian Wilson, in particular, was a notable thorn in the side of Wells throughout in this regard.

Dorking earned a penalty at the next scrum and kicked the ball deep into Wells territory before a massive Taylor-Dennehy return of almost 50 metres put the ball back to halfway; when the home line-out was disrupted Wells were able to gain a scrum feed. The Wells scrum  has struggled under pressure this season but this was to be a much better effort against a bigger pack with Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls and Carl Straeche  more than holding their own for most of the match (even taking one first half set-piece against the head). On this occasion, it did need some excellent Nick Doherty tidying up work at the base of the scrum to release scrum half Eddie Croft, and his kick made ground.

Shortly after, Dorking did win a scrum penalty and kicked deep into Wells territory. From the line-out their forward surge was thwarted with a  particularly big Nicholls tackle being well received by the significant travelling support. However, a penalty was given at the ruck for players being off their feet and home outside half Cameron Pimlow slotted the kick from directly in front of the posts. 3–0 after 9 minutes.

The visitors from Kent spent quite a bit of the first period in the opposition’s half with Josh Hawkins and Agy Eukaliti getting through a lot of work, together with the irrepressible Nick Doherty. However, Wells’ attempt to gain a toe-hold in Dorking territory now was thwarted when the home side’s flanker Freddie Dalton was able to secure fine turnover. It was to be the first of several he managed to do in the game.

Whilst the Wells scrum was performing better, the line-out was sadly, having something of a “hit and miss” sort of day. On 17 minutes an overthrown ball was collected by Straeche who made good yardage before setting up a platform from which Taylor-Dennehy looked to attack. However, when the ball was turned over another booming 50 metre clearance from Wilson soon put the men from St Marks back in defensive mode. For the best part, the Wells defensive effort was a robust one with Charley Smith, Hawkins and and both Doherty brothers very much to the fore.  On 22 minutes a strong surging run by the younger Doherty took Wells back over halfway before a neck roll by a supporting player was spotted and  penalised. 

This gave the home side another sound attacking platform and this time they were not to be denied. Although the initial maul was successfully sacked, Dorking remained patient in the face of strong tackling from Eukaliti and co but 15 driving phases later, home lock Jean-Pierre Alberts powered over under the posts for a try converted by Pimlow. 25 minutes played and it was now 10–0.

Soon after, a crucial flash-point was to occur which could have seen the match turn out very differently. Following a strong Straeche tackle on halfway,  Hawkins legally tackled the scrum-half as he got his box kick off. However, this seemed to upset the home forwards and a melee ensued in which some punches appeared to be thrown by a player in red and white. The referee looked to have an excellent vantage point for the incident but decided that the best course of action was a general warning to both sides and to restart with a set scrum. It has to be said that both sets of supporters appeared to be somewhat bemused by this.

Shortly after, another roll of the dice seemed not to go the Wells’ way. A fine Reynolds territorial kick seemed to have done the trick when it glanced off Wilson’s foot and went behind dead at the Dorking end. Surely, this would give Wells an attacking scrum 5 metres out? However, the referee determined that the ball had not touched the home player and, consequently, the Surrey side had a scrum 10 metres inside their own half. This proved the catalyst for a major momentum shift after Allman’s clearing kick drifted marginally out on the full. The line-out gave Dorking a chance to build an attacking platform and although they was held at bay they were rewarded with a scrum. The back row attacked forcefully and despite several last-ditch tackles from Wells, home hooker James Catton burrowed over for a try, converted by Pimlow to make it 17–0 after 38 minutes.

Despite not getting the rub of the green, the visitors were still very much in the game given they were playing up the hill, and finally got on the board as the clock ticked into injury time. Another powerful 25 metre Nick Doherty run was well defended by Dorking but the back line was caught offside in the next phase, and outside half Frank Reynolds slotted the kick from 18 metres. Half-time 17–3.

In spite of the slippery conditions, both teams had shown a good level of ambition in the first 40 minutes. With the advantage of the slope Wells was certainly in the match at this stage and would have been hoping to use this to build pressure and then try and release their most dangerous runners….. neither Webster or Max Hobbs had received any ball to use in dangerous positions. Indeed, in Hobbs’ case I am not sure he had his hands on the ball in any position! 

I think it is fair to say that the second half was very much one for the purists, or at least for those supporting the men in red and white. The initial signs were positive for Wells when they were able to charge down Dorking’s first clearance kick to gain a foothold in the opposition 22. Isbell, Tauaika and Smith carried strongly but it was troublesome home flanker Dalton who again snaffled the ball at an attacking ruck. 

A good Croft box kick put pressure on the home side but when they were able to kick clear themselves this led to a game of “kick tennis”. Such interludes can be quite satisfying when you emerge with the ball or territorial advantage at the end of it. However, this was not to be one such occasion for Wells. Indeed, as play suddenly opened up, Dorking spotted that there was a mismatch on the left wing as Tauaika was exposed trying to defend against outside backs. As the left-wing made ground down the outside  it took a fine Nick Doherty and Webster combined cover, tackle to haul him to ground just three metres short. To be fair, home forward Jasper King had done exceptionally well to be in support but it looked to all in the near vicinity that he was held on his back over the line when trying to ground the ball. However, the referee blew his whistle to award a try just before he rolled on to his front to ground the ball. Did his support deserve a try?  Yes. Did he get the ball down? I am afraid to say that it was certainly not clear. Horne now made his First XV debut replacing Webster on the wing and the score stretched to 24–3 after 46 minutes.

The match now turned into something of an arm wrestle played between the two teams 22 metre lines. There were only a small number of  promising phases for both teams but for Wells Tauaika was driving hard and Straeche was much more prominent in the loose than in recent games. With 25 minutes to play, the home team could (and perhaps should) have been down to 14 men for at least 10 minutes when Tauaika was tackled high 5 metres out from the try line was in front of the referee. He adjudged (helpfully telling the crowd) that the tackle had started on the upper chest before rising to his head only to then surprise the nearby spectators by deeming a penalty sufficient justice. Wells still had a good attacking opportunity but the ensuing maul was turned over and Pimlow made a siege boot clearance away from danger.

The visitors were still able to secure a decent supply of ball but everything seemed a bit frantic behind the scrum. If anything, it seemed to be a case of players trying just a little too hard, perhaps born out of frustration that moves were not being carried through with the requisite precision.

Croft was making a nuisance of himself around the ruck and was able to steal a ball that set up another powerful Tauaika drive up the middle and he was supported well by a fierce Hawkins clear out. However, epitomising the afternoon that the Wells backs were now having, slow ball was knocked on and Dorking were again able to kick the ball deep into the visitor’s territory. With 13 minutes to go Wells now made the first of their final substitutions with Tom Follows replacing the industrious (but injured) Hawkins, and shortly after the bench emptied when Harvey Colangelo replaced Hobbs.

To be fair to the hosts they were looking increasingly comfortable in dealing with whatever Wells threw at them and although other another strong Nick Doherty run made good yardage, a lack of support saw the ball turned over again. Wells kept working hard and Follows, in particular, was unlucky when a perfectly good steal was adjudged to be a knock on. Sadly, for Wells, this was to be a precursor for a disappointing end to the game. 
Somewhat out of the blue, a determined Dorking drive earned a scrum penalty which was kicked for an attacking line-out 15 metres away from the Tunbridge Wells line. After a series of drives, a penalty was awarded and with the home crowd baying for a yellow card, the unfortunate Nicholls was sent to the sin bin. Another line-out was set but Wells did well to again take it to ground legally. Dorking continued to hammer away at the Wells line before prop Brenton Greaves was deemed to have grounded the ball over the line although witnesses were not so sure as to whether the ball have actually left his grasp or not……The conversion from Pimlow completed a 100% place kicking effort for him and although Wells did have one last attack stemming from an offside penalty nothing was to come from it.

Full time and it was Dorking who left the pitch to the raucous cheers of the home followers with a deserved win and the four-try bonus point; a bonus point that was the see them replace Wells in sixth position in the league, with Wells now 7th at Christmas.

Squad:  Ollie Allman; Richard Webster (Angus Horne), Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt),Mike Doherty, Max Hobbs (Harvey Colangelo); Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Carl Straeche, Agy Eukaliti, Charley Smith, Josh Hawkins (Tom Follows), Ben Isbell, Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League
Guernsey will go into Christmas on top of the table on 63 points after a comfortable 7-47 win at Brighton. Rochford Hundred remain second after toughing out a 10-22 win at 4th placed Herford. They did not pick up the try bonus point though, so are now just one ahead of Wimbledon (61 and 60 points) who did collect all 5 points in a 43-10 home win over CS Stags 1863, and have the game in hand at St Marks in February. Hertford are 20 points back in 4th, and with the Sidcup v Sevenoaks game waterlogged, our friends up the A21 stay in 5th on 35. Dorking’s late bonus-point try moves them to 6th on 34 points, ahead of us on points difference ((+42 v -31). Sidcup sit 8th on 30 points, now just one ahead of Tring who had an important 24-38 bonus point win at Bedford Athletic. The Bedfordshire team are 5 points back on 24 (after collecting a 4-try bonus), two ahead of CS Stags on 22. London Irish Wild Geese will have been very disappointed to go down 22-13 at bottom-placed Guildford and fill the first relegation spot in 12th on 20. Brighton (our next opponents) are 13th on 18 and Guildford should not be written off quite yet it seems on 12.

A well-earned festive break now ensues but there are some big games to look forward to on 4th January. After two heavy defeats on the road, our home game v Brighton is now a very significant one if we do not want to get dragged in to the bottom-half dogfight. First take on 4th as Guernsey host Hertford and 5th play 3rd as Sevenoaks entertain Wimbledon. At the bottom, Guildford will be in need of a positive return from CS Stags. 

Don’t forget the Boxing Day charity game as TWRFC All Stars take on Skinners Old Boys with an 11am kick off at St Marks. Further information from Fran Colangelo

I hope to see some of you at the club for a Pepsi Cola and, in the meantime, offer the very warmest of festive wishes from the Withers Family.

Graham Withers

Match report – Sidcup 38 Tunbridge Wells 19

Tunbridge Wells travelled to South London to face a Sidcup side who were pleased to welcome back some key players from injury. The visitors were able to make just one change from the side that had beaten Bedford Athletic two weeks ago with Josh Hawkins covering Ben Whale’s pre-arranged sabbatical in the back row, and Tom Follows coming onto the bench.

Sidcup are able to play their games under floodlights, which can add to a raucous home atmosphere, but with little breeze to speak of and good underfoot conditions the healthy travelling support were justifiably optimistic of an open game and a Wells win. Sadly, whilst it was indeed an “open” match, it was the Sydney Road faithful who were sinking the celebratory post-match beers.

The home side kicked off playing towards the clubhouse and the opening 10 minutes was characterised by a mixture of kicking for territory by Sidcup and Wells trying to counter by moving the ball wide. The in-form wing Max Hobbs was very much involved but sometime, perhaps, the desire to get the ball to him was at the expense pf creating space first. The Wells back line seemed a shade flat throughout – both in terms of positioning and energy – and this was to lead to both interceptions and spilt ball as the home side played on the edge of the offside line.

Having received a penalty at the first scrum of the game, Sidcup kicked to gain an attacking line-out and it needed strong defence form Agy Eukaliti and Josh Hawkins to hold them at bay after a good back-peel move. James Pancaldi was industrious throughout and he made a fine steal to relieve the pressure. However, the next scrum saw a further penalty and it was surprising that the home side’s excellent goal-kicking outside half Josh Twyford pushed his kick wide from 35 metres.

Sidcup’s indside-centre Colby McMahon was used effectively and another bustling run put Sidcup on the attack prior to Pancaldi and Eukaliti combining to steal the ball. Hobbs set off down the left-wing in a dangerous looking counter-attack but when his inside pass went astray on halfway it was Sidcup who reacted quickest. Switching the ball fluidly to the opposite wing it was centre Oli Vidgeon who dummied and went over from 30 metres for a try converted by Twyford on 13 minutes. 7-0.

The hosts were in the ascendancy and despite another important Pancaldi tackle, a clever grubber kick pushed Wells back. However, Tui Tauaika and Eukaliti connected at the line-out and Frank Reynolds cleared well. Sidcup had the ball again on half-way but when it was lost Eddie Croft fed Nick Doherty who found his brother Mike to kick-start a dangerous counter-attack. George Montgomery took it on and released Reynolds but he was hauled down agonisingly short. Tauaika, showing great mobility for a prop, was thwarted as he tried to drive over but Nick Doherty was typically opportunistic reaching over from the base of the ruck for an unconverted try. 7-5 after 24 minutes.

Sadly for Wells, every time they scored Sidcup came back strongly as the men from St Marks proved to be imprecise at the re-starts. A clever Sidcup kick put the visitors back deep in their own 22 and when the hosts were awarded a free-kick for a line-out offence the alarm bells started to ring. Opting for a scrum, Sidcup earned a penalty when the Wells pack collapsed. There was then a certain inevitability when the next scrum did likewise as it moved backwards and the referee correctly awarded a Penalty Try. This made it 14-5 after 28 minutes. 

A scrappy period of play now ensued during which the ever-willing Hobbs received a heavy blow to his leg and was replaced by Ollie Allman, who moved to full-back with Taylor-Dennehy going onto the wing. When Pancaldi earned a penalty at the breakdown Wells had the first of three attacking line-outs but it took good work form Carl Straeche to secure the ball when a maul went wrong, and keep the visitors on the front foot. Soon after Tauaika burst clear and earned a penalty 20 metres out and Reynolds will have been disappointed when his kick slipped wide.

Despite this it was Wells who ended the half looking the more dangerous of the two teams and were unlucky when a late Mike Doherty attack was thwarted when he was adjudged to have been in touch as he tried to find the supporting Stuart Nicholls. Half Time 14-5.

What Wells needed was a positive start and they most certainly got it. However, it also proved the catalyst for a rather ‘bonkers’ nine minutes that saws 4 tries culminating in a controversial (and perhaps crucial) second Penalty Try. Nick Doherty put Wells on the front foot linking with Allman and Harvey Colangelo. The ball was then spun to Taylor-Dennehy who made a superb arc-ing outside break from 35 metres out. He then found Reynolds on his inside shoulder who cleverly drew the defending full-back before giving it back to the skipper to score under the posts. With Reynolds adding the extra two it was now 14-12 after 43 minutes. 

Sidcup came thundering back though. Having gathered the ball from the re-start, lock Freddy Ruff then found a glaring hole in the Wells ruck defence and burst clear 30 metres out before powering through Allman’s despairing last-ditch tackle and scoring under the posts. With Twyford’s conversion the lead was stretched to two scores again after 45 minutes. 21-12.

And then back came Wells. Croft was able to gather a charged-down ball and made ground. Nick Doherty found Eukaliti and when he was tackled it looked like the chance might have gone begging. However, this was not to be the case as clever play down the blind-side saw centre Mike Doherty power his way over for a try that was superbly converted from the left touch-line by Reynolds. 47 minutes played and with 3 tries in 4 minutes it was now 21-19.

In what had now become attack v defence Sidcup were soon back in Wells territory but solid defence from the boys from St Marks held them out and they were then able to launch a counter-attack on halfway when Nick Doherty came away with the ball. Unfortunately, when a Wells pass went to ground it was McMahon who reacted first and kicked the ball ahead. He was some 5 metres clear as he put boot to ball again but Mike Doherty made flying strides to get back and, in a shoulder-to shoulder challenge, dived first on the ball a metre short of the line. However, to the incredulity of the visiting supporters, the referee awarded a Penalty Try and showed Doherty a yellow card too to further compound the anguish. 28-19 on 52 minutes.

Sidcup tried to turn the screw now and received two more scrum penalties to gain territory. However, a fine Montgomery clearance kick gave the boys in blue an attacking line-out on the host’s 22. The ball was overthrown and the home side cleared before a skirmish ensued on halfway. The game had been played in a competitive, but fair, spirit up to this point so it was a shade surprising when Josh Hawkins and Sidcup flanker Lennie Bush received yellow cards on 57 minutes. It was now 14 v 13…..

The game went into something of a lull which clearly better suited the team in front. A good Wells attack started by a strong Nick Doherty carry faltered when an Allman kick went straight into touch but the replacement almost immediately redeemed himself when he chased and gathered his own clearance kick. Tuauika made further in-roads before Colangelo took the ball on. However, as was too often the case a pass went astray and Sidcup were awarded the scrum. A penalty then enabled them to clear.

Mike Doherty returned from his unlucky sin-binning and although both teams were still showing some ambition the next phase of the game was characterised by rather wayward kicking. Eventually, Sidcup were awarded a scrum just inside the Wells half and when this moved inexorably backwards, and then sideways, the referee had little option but to award a penalty. Twyford stepped up a sent a mighty 45 metres kick between the sticks to stretch the lead to 31-19 with 12 minutes to play. Chris Brown now replaced the fiercely-competitive Hawkins.

The game was to be pretty much settled on 71 minutes and again it came from careless Wells play after an initially impressive attack. Montgomery and Mike Doherty combined to set the latter away down the right wing. The ball was recycled quickly but a wide, looping, pass to the left was picked off by home wing Andre Patterson who held off two defenders to run the ball in from 65 metres. With Twyford’s conversion the game was pretty much settled at 38-19.

This was a disappointing day at the office for Wells but they continued to battle – no one more so than Nick Doherty who made a 40 metre break from his own line. In all honesty they did not look like securing the try bonus point and also lost Eukaliti to a yellow card for a “no arms” tackle as time ebbed away. Sidcup fully deserved this victory and whilst they undoubtedly had the rub of the green on some important decisions, Wells really did not show enough to earn a win in a game that could have gone either way until the final quarter. Another reminder (if needed) of how you can be hurt by all the teams at this level if you drop your own standards by just a few notches.

The games do not get any easier for Wells as this week they host league leaders Wimbledon, who will no doubt be smarting from losing their unbeaten record at home to second-placed Guernsey. Kick off at St Marks is 2pm.

Squad:  Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Harvey Colangelo,Mike Doherty, George Montgomery, Max Hobbs (Ollie Allman); Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Carl Straeche, Agy Eukaliti, Charley Smith (Tom Follows), Josh Hawkins (Chris Brown), James Pancaldi, Nick Doherty.

Wells Second XV’s game at Sidcup was called off, so it was the Third XV who restored some pride with a convincing 45-17 win over Hastings & Bexhill II. Ciaran Lee scored a hat-trick of tries, Jack Beaman got a brace and Alex Mason and Jamie Piggins dotted down as well. Piggins also kicked 5 conversions.  

Elsewhere in the League

It was Guernsey who emerged with the honours in their top of the table clash at Wimbledon. Their 16-22 win ended the host’s unbeaten record and narrowed the gap to two points with Wimbledon on 55 and Guernsey on 53. Rochford Hundred join the channel islanders on 53 after a thoroughly convincing 38-3 victory over our friends at Sevenoaks. Hertford’s tight 15-22 victory at bottom-placed Guildford sees them leapfrog us into 4th on 36. We come next on 34, then Sevenoaks on 31 and Sidcup’s well-earned bonus point win moves them to 7th on 30 points. Dorking drop to 8th on 28 after a home 21-21 draw against a much-improved Brighton. There is a 5 point gap to Tring and Bedford Athletic on 23 points, after both had encouraging home bonus-point wins against CS Stags (42-31) and London Irish Wild Geese (26-17) respectively. Stags and Brighton are then jointly on 17 points, London Irish on 15 and Guildford remain at the bottom on 8 points.

The two main games to note next week are our clash with the league-leaders Wimbledon and it will be interesting to see how a resurgent Brighton get on when they host Rochford Hundred.

Graham Withers

Match report – Tunbridge Wells 35 Bedford Athletic 30

Having had to survive an early-morning pitch inspection, it would not have surprised the visitors from Bedfordshire that they were to be greeted by a rather soggy surface. With persistent drizzle and a strong south-easterly cross-field  breeze throughout it was a testament to both clubs that the game was as open and exciting as it proved to be. 

Last season was the first time Tunbridge Wells had played Bedford Athletic and the East Midlanders had the edge. Having won 35-22 in Bedford they then escaped in March with a remarkable 31-31 draw at St Marks having trailed 31-14 with just 7 minutes left. And it was very nearly a case of deja-vu for the home supporters as Wells were confronted with a fierce late fight-back. Thankfully, “nearly” is the key word here….. 

A minute’s silence was held before kick-off to mark the passing of John Exall, the club’s eldest Life Vice President, who died last week aged 90. It was the home team that then started the game playing down the St Marks slope in the first half. Simon Whatling made only one change to the side that had won at Tring with first-choice scrum half Eddie Croft returning for Alex Mason.

Wells started strongly with Agy Eukaliti and Ben Whale driving strongly. Whale (who also now coaches the clubs Under 14  squad) has been in superb form all season and was again prominent throughout. Mike Doherty and skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy made breaks and after the latter lost the ball during a period of penalty advantage it was outside half Frank Reynolds who opened the scoring with a penalty from 25 metres on 8 minutes. 3-0.

Bedford Athletic’s first period of possession now ensued after Wells were clumsy at the re-start. After a series of forward drives visiting outside half Leo Mortimer levelled the scores with a 40 metre penalty to make it 3-3 after 12 minutes. Despite the slippery conditions Bedford played their way back into Wells territory and were granted another penalty for not releasing at the breakdown. Mortimer slotted the closer-in kick to make it 3-6 just two minutes later.

The home team now had comfortably their best period of play in the opening 40 minutes. A deft Taylor-Dennehy kick earned Wells an attacking line-out 25 metres from the Athletic line. Tui Tauaika consistently hit jumpers Whale and Nick Doherty throughout and did so again here only for the ensuing maul to be adjudged to have formed an accidental offside, or “truck and trailer” as it is affectionately known. Fortunately for Wells referee Toby Rowe, who managed the game well, had been playing an advantage for Whale being impeded whilst in the air. This led to another line-out but this time just 5 metres out. Tauaika found Doherty at the back of the line and as the Wells maul moved forward it was given fresh momentum as all the backs (with the exception of Croft and Harvey Colangelo) joined in to power over the line. To the delight of the team it was popular hooker Stuart Nicholls who came up with the ball for his first try at this level. Reynolds conversion was pushed wide so after 18 minutes it was 8-6.

Whilst the visitors had some success in breaking through close to the ruck, the Wells’ defence in midfield was proving resolute. Charley Smith, Whale, the Doherty brothers and Eukaliti made big hits. An excellent Croft box kick gained good field position for the men from St Marks and when a James Pancaldi tackle forced a turnover, another clever Taylor-Dennehy kick gave Wells a dangerous attacking position with a line-out 30 metres out on the left wing. 

Doherty caught the ball and Wells made ground from the initial maul. When the ball was spun wide George Montgomery cleverly used a basketball-style pass to find Taylor-Dennehy who then put Colangelo into space. The flying winger looked destined to score but a superb cover tackle thwarted him 5 metres short. Wells were not to be denied though. Showing great patience Nicholls and Eukaliti took the ball forward before Mike Doherty added momentum. Quick recycling saw his younger brother pick up the ball and he is almost impossible to stop when he gets a sniff of the goal line. A try to Nick Doherty under the posts and with Reynolds popping over the conversion on 26 minutes it was now 15-6.

Could the home team now build on this period of authority ahead of the interval? The answer was sadly to be ‘no’ as some poor discipline and lack of precision combined to put themselves under pressure. Whilst the forwards were able to sack an attacking Bedford line-out the respite was to be temporary. Several phases of play set up a midfield position which was fully exploited by Mortimer whose clever grubber kick was gathered by visiting number eight James Wallace for a try near the posts. Mortimer added the extra two to make it 15-13 on the half hour.

Wells gained a penalty after an opponent kicked the ball through the ruck but summing up the lack of control characterising this passage of play before half-time, the line-out was lost and then a scrum penalty was conceded. The front row of Tuauika, Nicholls and Carl Straeche battled manfully at the set-piece but they did need the assistance of Nick Doherty at number eight who was superb in controlling the ball at the base when the scrum did move backwards. Eukaliti and Croft combined to steal Bedford’s ball but Wells could not get out of their own half and when Colangelo was adjudged to be in front of the kicker the visitors had another attacking toe-hold deep in the home side’s 22. A rolling maul was set and surged forward with lock Dan Sim being the try scorer. Mortimer added the conversion to bring it to 15-20 on 37 minutes.

There was still time for the dangerous Max Hobbs to initiate an attack and when a penalty was awarded Wells ended the half with a scrum just 5 metres out, However, the defending forwards got the upper hand and were able to clear the ball. Half time 15-20.

There is little doubt that the home side will have been disappointed to be behind at the break, especially as they had been playing down the slope. They needed to re-focus and, in particular, cut out the penalties that had littered the preceding 15 minutes. However, another home infringement allowed the visitors to take early advantage of the slope and pin Wells back. When Athletic’s Charlie Darlow and Steve Smith combined they had a promising attacking position. However, it was Bedford who were now imprecise and a thunderous Whale tackle saw the ball run loose 35 metres form the Wells line. Reacting quickest, Reynolds hacked the ball forward and two kicks later he was almost at the Bedford line. However, the bouncing ball was now dangerously near the left touch-line too but showing great dexterity (and no little skill) the outside half manged to gather the ball and flick it back just inside the field of play and the supporting Hobbs was on hand to cross. An “opportunist” try if ever there was one but Reynolds’ superb touchline conversion into the wind brought its value to seven points and put Wells back into the lead at 22-20 on 46 minutes.

Ollie Allman came on at full back, replacing Colangelo, which saw Taylor-Dennehy move to the right wing. When the re-start failed to travel 10 meters Wells were about to embark on another dominant period of play. Indeed, this one was to prove crucial and match-winning. Tauaika and Whale carried strongly resulting in a penalty. Reynolds pushed this one wide but when the visitors attempted a quick drop-out Straeche was able to block it and earn an attacking scrum. Josh Hawkins replaced Smith in the second row and immediately made a robust carry. When Bedford were penalised for illegally stopping Eukaliti Reynolds made no mistake with an easier kick. 25-20 after 55 minutes.

From the restart Nick Doherty took it powerfully back at Bedford and an excellent Reynolds kick gained significant territory when the return effort when straight into touch. Whale again rose high to catch the ball and when the ball was spun wide Taylor-Dennehy was subject to a high tackle. Reynolds sent the penalty deep into Athletic territory and Wells pinned them back to their line with a series of ‘hammer’ pick and go drives.A scrum was awarded and Wells attacked again from close range before referee Rowe awarded a penalty in front of the posts. He must have been considering a yellow card but Wells had to be content with the 3 points courtesy of Reynolds’ boot and a two-score leeway. 28-20 on 61 minutes.

This was very sensible game management and when Whale and Doherty (Nick) again combined to carry the ball back powerfully enabling a raking Reynolds kick into Bedford territory, the signs were now looking much more positive. Chris Brown now entered the fray for the industrious Pancaldi. Wells soon had a scrum 35 metres out but were put under pressure and it needed Hobbs to tidy up the play. However, his loose pass was picked up by Mike Doherty on half-way and the centre burst through two tackles to find open space on the right and support either side of him. He drew the full-back before passing inside to Montgomery who then immediately shifted the ball back out to Taylor-Dennehy who galloped over from 30 metres for a fine try that was again converted by Reynolds. 66 minutes played and the try bonus-point secured as the score moved to 35-20.

The home side needed to recall the tenacity that the visitors had displayed earlier in the year and it was no surprise that the men in red re-doubled their efforts now. It took excellent defence from Wells to keep them at a safe distance and their supporters were no doubt relieved when the home side were awarded a scrum on their own 22. However, under pressure they tried to run the ball out of harms way rather than put boot to ball and this only gave Athletic fresh impetus. After a series of drives Sims crossed for his second try out wide and although the conversion was missed nerves were beginning to jangle. 35-25 on 74 minutes. 

And those nervous butterflies soon became great big moths when loose defending succumbed to a Steve Smith dummy 40 metres out and the centre then proceeded to run in untouched for Bedford’s own bonus-point try. The simple conversion was surprisingly put wide but with 4 minutes plus injury time to play this game was up for grabs……again. 35-30.

Could Wells hold on this time? It looked ominous when a scrum penalty led to a Bedford line-out 40 metres out. With this maul being halted illegally another penalty was granted and Whale received a yellow card for his cynical intervention form the side. Another line-out and maul was formed but this time just 20 metres away from the home side’s line. However, solid defence held this at bay forcing the visitors to move the ball wider and a strong Nick Doherty tackle dislodged the ball and when Mike Doherty kicked the ball off the game was over.

If Messrs Whatling, Croall, Scully and their players needed reminding how tight and competitive a league London& South East Premier is then here was another example. Despite dominating large swathes of the match Wells could not quite put Bedford Athletic away. However, it is greatly to their credit that they took the bonus-point win that they deserved on the overall balance of play.

This week is a well earned rest and recuperation one before Wells (now up to 4th) travel up to Sidcup (8th) on Saturday 7th December for a 2pm kick off

Squad:  Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Harvey Colangelo (Ollie Allman),Mike Doherty, George Montgomery, Max Hobbs; Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Carl Straeche, Agy Eukaliti, Charley Smith (Josh Hawkins), Ben Whale, James Pancaldi (Chris Brown), Nick Doherty.

Wells Second XV went down 35-5 at Westcombe Park IIs with Matt Spicer scoring the try, whilst the Social 3s lost 65-15 at Sheppey II. Adam Wratten bagged a brace of tries with Dan Miller crossing for the other one.

Elsewhere in the League

Wimbledon maintained their six point lead (now on 54) with an impressive 7-25 win at Hertford. Their closest pursuers also gained bonus-point wins to move to 48 with Guernsey over-whelming the visiting Sidcup 74-13, and Rochford Hundred bouncing back from last week’s surprise home slip-up to win 16-25 at Dorking. We now sit fourth on 34 points with Sevenoaks (17-29 victors at  CS Stags) and Hertford next on 31. Dorking are 7th on 26 ahead of our next opponents Sidcup who have slipped to 8th on 25. There is then an 8 point gap to Tring (18-20 winners at London Irish Wild Geese) and Bedford Athletic on 18 points. CS Stags are 11th two points back, with the Wild Geese filling the first relegation spot on 15 points. They are joined by Brighton after their convincing 34-10 win over Guildford who are now adrift at the bottom on 7 points.

Next weekend is a rest one before games start again on 7th December and apart from our game (of course) the clear highlights are 1st v 2nd when Wimbledon host Guernsey and 3rd v 5th as Sevenoaks travel to Rochford.

Graham Withers

Match report – Tring 10 Tunbridge Wells 22

After last week’s drawn local derby against Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells were on the road to Hertfordshire to play a Tring side who have been one of the most consistent teams in this league in recent years. The Dorian Williams Sports Ground has not been a very happy hunting ground for the men from Kent but with the hosts languishing in 11th this season there were high hopes of a more positive return on this visit.

For the first time in what seems like a very long autumn this was a fine Saturday weather-wise and with no wind and dry ground there could be no excuses based on the conditions. The pitch is more or less flat apart from a very pronounced slope into one corner and Wells were defending the “sledging hill” (as our esteemed club photographer described it) in the first half.

Wells were forced into several changes due to injury and work commitments. A debut was given to ex-Brighton scrum half Alex Mason but the rest of the backs remained the same with Harvey Colangelo retaining his wing place after an impressive first cap. In the forwards Carl Straeche came back in at prop following Kamil Wiecaszek’s unfortunate injury and Charley Smith had earned his recall at lock which saw Ben Whale move to flanker. The ever-popular Josh Hawkins returned from his own injury absence as a replacement alongside Chris Brown and these two, together with the third substitute Ollie Allman, were to make a significant contribution from the bench.

It was the home team who were first out of the traps taking advantage of some poor defensive kicks. On 5 minutes Tring secured line-out ball and after a strong rolling maul they found themselves in the Wells 22, and then two more phases of play saw winger Sam Barns cross for a try that was converted by Tom Newton. 7-0.

This poor start did not seem to upset the visitors though.Centre George Montgomery was to have a highly influential game and after a strong carry the ball was moved to outside half Frank Reynolds who kicked to make a good territorial gain. Further pressure soon brought a penalty which Reynolds slotted on 9 minutes.7-3.

The Wells set-piece has been a cause for concern at times but against a much significantly bigger Tring pack this was to be a much improved performance. The front row of Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls and Straeche more than held its own in the scrums and with Tauaika assuming throwing duties the line-out was also a better source of good quality possession. Tring broke through some weak defence (a very rare occurrence to be fair) but Nick Doherty was extremely strong both in his covering tackle and an ensuing carry that brought about a clearing penalty. 

Agy Eukaliti had a powerful carry and flanker James Pancaldi showed unexpected kicking skills to gain territory and the pressure built by possession saw a home second row penalised for an illegal clear-out. He also received a yellow card to compound his misdemeanour. The attacking line-out saw clean middle ball secured but it was disappointing when the ball was lost in contact and cleared. However, it did not find touch and Wells were not to be denied. Montgomery took a great line in the counter-attack and was able to release in form winger Max Hobbs into space to score a try virtually under the posts. With Reynolds slotting the conversion Wells now had a lead that they were not to lose. 7-10 on 26 minutes.

A powerful Whale catch and run from the restart reinforced the momentum switch and earned a penalty. Another clean line-out saw good attacking ball and when Montgomery and Hobbs connected again it looked like the winger might bag a brace of tries, only to be denied by a great covering tackle. Skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy made a half-break to maintain pressure and when Hobbs was taken out off the ball the penalty was kicked to the corner. Eukaliti, Smith and Nick Doherty drove close to the line only to be denied. However, when the ball was moved wide Colangelo was put into space to dive in at the corner for his first try at this level. The tough conversion was missed but it was now 7-15 on 38 minutes. 

Both teams tried to play ambitious rugby throughout and Tring earned another penalty and an attacking line-out deep into injury time. Unlike last week, though, Wells were able to avoid a late score when Eukaliti stole the ball and half time was reached with the score 7-15.

The key questions now were would the Wells front five remain strong against their bigger opponents and would they have the tactical nous to use the slope advantage and see the game out. The answer to both was a resounding “yes” but it also took a herculean defensive effort at times to hold out a very determined home team.

An untidy knock on by Tring from the kick off handed Wells excellent field position, however, realising the importance of the next score the opening 10 minutes of the second period can best be described as frantic. Showing good ambition Tring counter-attacked from deep in their own half after a Wells knock-on, and with the ball going through numerous pairs of hands they went deep into the visitors 22 before scrambling defence earned the men from Kent a scrum just 10 metres from their own line. Although the ball was cleared the home team were still in the ascendancy and when a Reynolds kick was charged down under pressure they earned a penalty for a high tackle. This was directly in front of the posts and Newton slotted it from 30 metres. 10-15 on 51 minutes.

This hosts were on top at this stage as Wells made some errors with poor kicks and imprecise passing. Starved of possession Wells had to re-focus and defend for all their worth. A Tring line-out saw them build through 15 phases before Wells were able to force a knock-on via a big Josh Hawkins tackle, who had now replaced the hard-working Smith. The lock should be pleased with his defensive shift. The ball was cleared but Tring were still camped in Wells territory. Another series of Tring phases moved into double-figures but the Wells defensive line, well marshalled by Whale and Mike Doherty was holding firm. The centre had taken several heavy blows and he was now replaced by Allman on 67 minutes who went to 15 with Taylor-Dennehy moving to centre .

A good Montgomery kick finally released the pressure but sadly despite stealing the line-out ball it was knocked on to give Tring a scrum 30 metres from their own line. This was to prove a crucial moment in the match as the home full back made a scintillating 40 metre break and just as it looked like a try was inevitable it was Colangelo who had covered the ground best to intercept the pass. Superb defensive work. Brown now entered the fray for Pancaldi.

Wells were now playing the slope to their advantage and a raking Montgomery kick saw Tring pinned back and an attacking Wells line-out 7 metres away. The ball was stolen but when Tring were tackled behind their own line the visitors now had an attacking 5 metre scrum. The front row were turning in a great shift (playing the whole 80 minutes) and they produced solid ball. After a series of midfield phases the ball was fed out by Mason and quick hands transferred it to Allman who was lurking on the wing and dived in for the score. An excellent Reynolds conversion from out wide made it 10-22 on 76 minutes.

Tring are a spirited side and attacked again but with the Wells defence now in an even more determined mood they were not to get the losing bonus point. With Allman’s trusty boot added to the kicking armoury the visitors were able to play a sensible territorial game (with two excellent kicks from the replacement) and see time out for the win. 

Against a very physical side this was a result that could have gone the other way. However, significant progress is evident from this time last season when games such as this were all too often lost and Simon Whatling’s men should be very proud of this performance. Their ambition with ball in hand is invigorating and when it is coupled with such a herculean defensive effort then there is much to applaud in the work of the men from St Marks. 

This week Wells (5th) host 9th placed Bedford Athletic with a 2.30pm kick off at St Marks.

Squad:  Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Harvey Colangelo,Mike Doherty (Ollie Allman), George Montgomery, Max Hobbs; Frank Reynolds, Alex Mason; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Carl Straeche, Agy Eukaliti, Charley Smith (Josh Hawkins), Ben Whale, James Pancaldi (Chris Brown), Nick Doherty.

Wells Second XV also travelled to Tring and it was heartening to see popular centre Matt Spicer score a try on his return (converted by Lucas Scully) in a 35-7 defeat. The Third XV played at Gravesend and were unfortunate to lose 26-22 on the last play of the game despite tries from Simon Waymont, Rob Mitchell, skipper Andrew Cunningham and Nick Baldock. Jack Beaman slotted one conversion.

Elsewhere in the LeagueWimbledon stretched their lead to six points (sitting on 49) after a 41-24 home win over an apparently resurgent Brighton, who picked up the try bonus point. The gap back to the pursuers was increased by CS Stags’ stunning 26-27 win at Rochford Hundred. The Essex club are on 43 points but have slipped to third, on games won, after Guernsey joined them via a hard-fought 29-34 bonus-point win at Bedford Athletic (Wells’ next opponents). Hertford seem to have put their recent blip behind them with a convincing 7-31 win at Sidcup, which has taken them to 31 points. We remain fifth on 29, ahead of Dorking who moved to 26 points after an emphatic 21-55 “derby” win at Guildford. Sevenoaks took the honours at a muddy Knole Paddock with a 27-17 victory over London Irish Wild Geese to also move to 26. Sidcup slip to 8th on 25 and there is now a nine point gap to Bedford Athletic and CS Stags on 16. The Wild Geese and Tring come next on 14 ahead of Brighton on 10 and Guildford on 7.

The bottom two meet next week which is already looking like a “must win” game for both sides whilst 4th versus 1st (Hertford v Wimbledon) is another notable game. It will also be interesting to see how resilient Rochford will prove to be as they travel to Dorking’s Kiln Field, never an easy place to go to.

Graham Withers