Having assured themselves of a third season in the London & South East Premier League, the remainder of the Tunbridge Wells campaign is focused on securing as high a finishing place as possible and develop momentum into the fast-approaching off-season.
Wells travelled to Surrey to take on a Dorking side who whilst sitting in 6th (compared Wells’ 11th position) were just four points ahead of them illustrating how competitive this league is. Three players came into the squad with player-coaches Aston Croall and Dave Allen coming in at loose-head prop and flanker and highly promising Academy product Lucas Scully making his First XV debut on the wing. Other changes saw last week’s substitutes Stuart Nicholls, Matt Symonds and Max Hobbs starting at hooker, second row and wing respectively.
The warm sunny afternoon and dry ground conditions at Big Field were in stark contrast to the wet December day at St Marks when Wells had won the reverse encounter 18-3. In front of a large crowd the scene looked set for an exciting and open game and it was the visitors who kicked off playing down the slope.
Wells had a terrific start. Nicholls connected well with his jumpers most of the game and smooth line-out ball set up an attacking position which Dorking could only halt with a penalty. Scrum half Charlie Rigby took a quick tap to set his backs moving and after a typical strong run from the highly-impressive Mike Doherty it was Allen who was in support to power over for the opening try after just three minutes. the conversion from Frank Reynolds slipped wide but it was a heartening way to begin. 0-5.
From the re-start Dorking attacked with gusto and powerful wing Jospeh Mogaji made the first of several runs bursting tackles as he did. However, the Tunbridge Wells cover defence was a feature throughout and all the home team were able to get was a Killian Wilson penalty for offside on 8 minutes. 3-5.
The scrum was proving to be an early bone of contention with refereeing inconsistency sadly contributing much to this. A penalty to Dorking for wheeling put them back on the attack but when they chipped over the cover the ever-reliable skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy was there at full back to cover it. Shortly afterwards though the men from St Marks found themselves down to 14 men much to the delight of the home crowd when Wells talisman Nick Doherty was red-carded. The prospect of playing 65 minutes without such a key player produced an ominous feeling for the visiting supporters (especially when Wilson added a second penalty on 17 minutes) but instead they were to be rewarded with an outstanding performance combining committed defence with some periods of exciting attacking play. 6-5.
Wells seemed to be incurring the frequent displeasure of the referee but were holding firm with Mike Hathaway, Josh Hawkins and Brendan Crosilla very prominent in defence. In fact, it was the visitors who were next on the scoreboard on 23 minutes when a high tackle was penalised and Reynolds slotted a penalty to make it 6-8.
The next 15 minutes was to prove the pivotal period though as Dorking dominated possession and territory. Wave after wave of attacks saw the home side exerting immense pressure on Wells and despite some excellent clearing kicks from Rigby and Reynolds, it seemed just a matter of time before the lead changed hands. Dorking’s forwards hammered away at their opponents but Allen, Nicholls et al held firm despite being a man down. When the home team then looked to use their backs, clever defence from Mike Doherty and Hobbs, in which they flew up to smother both man and ball, thwarted the hosts. Hobbs also earned a ruck turnover penalty, before Taylor-Dennehy had to make a brave last-ditch tackle which left him with a dead leg but the line kept in tact.
As half-time approached Dorking were still camped on the Wells line and had an attacking scrum. Could the 7-man Wells pack hold firm? The answer was a resounding yes with the experienced Croall earning his side a crucial penalty. A fine kick from Reynolds saw the ensuing Wells line-out take place just 15 metres from halfway but it needed a determined Allen to secure scrappy ball. The ball was moved into the centre for what was to be a magnificent solo try. Mike Doherty first burst through his opposite number, then side-stepped the full back, before accelerating away to complete a 60 metre run and dive over. A simply superb score which deserved the additional two points when Reynolds kicked the conversion. 6-15. HALF TIME.
Wells had already exhibited immense character to rebound from the disappointment of the red card but it seemed inevitable that the mental and physical exertion would take its toll. Yet, amazingly, it was they who were to look the fresher and stronger team in the second half. Hathaway and Hobbs did a lot of important work carrying balls in different manners – one all power and the other with dancing feet. George Montgomery now also started to exert a more significant influence over proceedings.
On 45 minutes Wells stretched their lead further with a fine team try. Crosilla, Symonds and Hobbs carried before Mike Doherty again found space. He fed Taylor-Dennehy 30 metres out who evaded the first tackler before charging into the Dorking 22. He had Montgomery and Scully in support but then realising he also had the pace to beat the home full-back he dummied and went over himself for a cracking score. Reynolds conversion faded wide but it was now 6-20.
Before long Wells were back on the attack again when good hands from Scully gave Montgomery some space on the outside. His clever chip was gathered by a defender but unfortunately the late tackle on him was not seen and Dorking were able to clear their lines. The game was now opening up but was becoming imprecise in nature. When Dorking went forward Wells’ robust defence was thwarting them and unlike the first half the home side were not able to build momentum and possession. Despite being a man down, Wells were looking increasingly comfortable but their determination to win was going to be even more severely tested when Hawkins received a yellow card for a late tackle on 56 minutes.
It was now 15 against 13 and it must have been demoralising for Dorking that they could not take sufficient advantage of this. One shuddering Hathaway hit and Taylor-Dennehy clearance kick epitomised the visitors efforts although Dorking did cross for one try on 61 minutes when centre Ryan Jeffrey forced his way over. 11-20.
Indeed, Wells themselves came close to scoring when a powerful rolling maul that saw backs join their forward pals was only halted on the line. Ben Isbell joined the fray replacing Hawkins as they were restored to 14 men. Wells were now looking the more likely side to score and whilst an intelligent Rigby kick was collected by Dorking’s Wilson it resulted in an attacking line-out 5 metres out. Could the boys in blue turn the screw? Sadly, there was an accidental offside at the maul but Dorking were simply unable to relive the pressure. Scully (on his way to being awarded Man of the Match) linked well out wide with the industrious Nicholls and when the ball was passed to Reynolds he was tackled high by Rory Mitchell and the Dorking replacement received a yellow card. With Reynolds kicking the penalty it was now 11-23 on 73 minutes.
Wells soon put themselves back into Dorking territory as Allen and Mike Doherty made forward thrusts, ably supported by Symonds and Isbell. Carl Straeche replaced Crosilla. Time was now running out and Wells were on top. An excellent phase of play saw Taylor-Dennehy in space again. With an overlap out wide the bonus-point try looked on but an interception 15 metres from their own line set Dorking away and despite valiant covering efforts from Scully and Hobbs home flanker Josh Grant scored a try that was converted by Wilson. 18-23. There was no nerve-jangling ending though as the final whistle was blown.
Given the circumstance of playing 65 minutes with 14 men (and 10 with 13) this was a superb effort from Tunbridge Wells, and a performance from which Head Coach Simon Whatling and his players can derive an immense amount of pride. They now move up to 8th in the league ahead of the final home game of the campaign this Saturday when they host Kent rivals Sidcup. Like Wells their opponents have hit a rich vein of form, winning their last 4 matches to avoid relegation and move up to 9th. Having lost by a single point in a bruising game at Sidcup when they last met, the home team will be looking for a win in front of their home support and kick off at St Marks is 3pm.
Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Lucas Scully, Mike Doherty, George Montgomery, Max Hobbs; Frank Reynolds, Charlie Rigby; Aston Croall, Stuart Nicholls, Brendan Crosilla, Josh Hawkins, Matt Symonds, Mike Hathaway, Dave Allen, Nick Doherty. Subs: Carl Straeche, Ben Isbell, Rich Murray.
TUNBRIDGE WELLS RFC 1ST XV. 18. DORKING RFC 1ST XV. 3
Wells faced visitors Dorking- one place above them in L and SE Premier league- at a rain soaked and windswept St Marks. Pre match changes both planned and unplanned saw Chris Pentney, Ben Isbell, Richard Murray and Jake Caddy starting with Luke Hawkins joining the bench.
Wells kicked off up the hill with the wind advantage in the first half and immediately established a territorial dominance they would not relinquish all half. Within 5 minutes Frank Reynolds had missed a penalty goal which he made up for only 2 minutes later to give Wells the lead 3-0. Wells from the kick off were immediately back into the Dorking 22 and after a neat dribble by several Wells players kept the pressure on as they drove at the visitors line. Eventually patience was rewarded as No8 Nick Doherty went over between the posts on 14 minutes and Reynolds converting for a 10-0 lead.
With a number of changes already to the side Wells did not want further disruption but got it when key prop Ben Williams and back row Ben Isbell collided with each other and played no further part in the game being replaced by Carl Straeche and Luke Hawkins.
This made no difference, however, to Wells dominance as they continued to occupy a high field position which earnt them a further Reynolds penalty and a near miss from 45 metres from George Montgomery. The halftime whistle seeing Wells 13-0 up having had close to 80% of the possession in difficult conditions.
With the conditions the same in the second half Dorking supporters could have reasonably expected to gain an advantage particularly from the wind but this never happened as tenacious tackling and some sharp break outs kept Wells on top.
Dorking suffered their own injury as a back was carried off with a suspected ankle fracture soon after the restart. If Dorking were to come back they needed to do so early and at around the start of the last quarter it looked like they might as first they were held up over the Wells try line and then had two successive penalty awards in front of the posts but chose to scrum. Wells withstood this onslaught as the pack led by skipper for the day Mike Hathaway won the turnover and got the ball some 35 metres up the field.
With Richard Webster replacing Richard Murray Wells made 50 metres on the left through a pacy touch line run from Mike Doherty. Maintaining the position the Wells pack then put in a succession of pick and drives before Anthony Storkey spotted a mismatch in defence on the right. Quick hands to right wing Matt Spicer saw him in for the try at the corner to seal the game in the 73rd minute.
This was a very good performance from the Wells with special mention for Chris Pentney and for Carl Straeche who stuck to their roles well. Stuart Nicholls throwing in the line out is becoming an art form in wild conditions and backs and forwards can take credit for their aggressive and often offensive tackling. Skipper Hathaway took the Man of the Match award for a huge tackle count which exemplified the Wells performance.
This Saturday Wells visit Kent rivals Sidcup KO 2 00 pm as they look to get higher in the league positions before the Christmas Break.
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Tunbridge Wells hosted Dorking at St Marks in a game that saw 6th take on 7th in a match that was always likely to be highly competitive.
Wells were hoping to put on a show as they bid farewell to club captain Chas Spence who now travels to Australia to further his rugby education and there was also a sense of unfinished business from when the teams first met on “Bonfire Night”in Surrey. An under-strength Wells were heavily beaten 42-7 in arguably their most disappointing performance of the season. It was a win Dorking clearly enjoyed that day but the boys from St Marks were keen to ensure that the only fireworks this time around came wrapped in blue and white.
Head Coach Simon Whatling was forced to make changes after the previous week’s impressive win at Southend. Max Douch started this time to replace Spence at scrum half, with Richard Webster coming on to the bench. The powerful Shaydn Osgood returned at centre after injury whilst in the forwards the ever-popular Andy Burgess came back into the second row enabling Mike Hathaway to move to his preferred back row slot. Luke Hawkins also returned as forward substitute cover. Full back Ryan Taylor-Dennehy assumed the captaincy.
The home side played up the hill towards the club house on a bitterly cold day with the swirling wind predominantly in their faces going towards Wells’ defensive left hand corner. Indeed, the wind was to prove troublesome for both teams.
On 5 minutes Wells failed to deal with a box kick which led to to a successfully converted penalty for the visitors in front of the sticks. 0-3. In the early stages Dorking had the territorial advantage and after Wells knocked on during a line out maul in their own 22, they had an attacking scrum which earned a penalty and another scrum was chosen. Robust defence forced a knock on though and Wells were able to exit from the ensuing scrum. Strong defence of this nature was to be a feature of the afternoon for the home team.
Taylor-Dennehy and outside half Frank Reynolds kicked extremely well and intelligently into the wind, outplaying their counterparts. One such kick nearly led to a try as Academy product Toby Talbot charged down a clearing kick and the chasing wing Max Hobbs looked likely to score after good footballing skills only to knock on.
In these initial exchanges Dorking held the upper hand in the scrum with Wells incurring the wrath of the referee. However, the Wells line out was functioning very well with hooker Josh Pankhurst hitting Hathaway and Christian Earle and did so all afternoon.
Wells first got on the scoreboard on 18 minutes. After a series of phases in the middle of the pitch close to the ruck on the Dorking 22 metre line, with Nick Doherty and Burgess to the fore, centre Mike Doherty exploited a mismatch against a visiting prop to cross for an opening try on the left hand side 10 metres in from touch. With a fine Reynolds conversion it was 7-3.
Dorking came back strongly but fierce and intelligent defence from Talbot, Hobbs, Douch and Pankhurst led to a great turnover from prop Ben “Fridge” Williams. Soon after, Wells counter attacked well with Taylor-Dennehy, Hobbs and Osgood in tandem.
A break through the middle from a Dorking winger off the back of a line out led to a penalty. This was kicked to corner to set up a catch and drive on 28 minutes but phenomenal Wells defence again thwarted the visitors. This impressive defence was also leading to Dorking mistakes and with the home scrum now becoming increasingly competitive Wells entered their best phase of the first half.
A Taylor-Dennehy and Osgood counter saw excellent field position and when Dorking were penalised for a tackle offence Reynolds knocked over the penalty from 30 minutes. 10-3. Wells closed out a tough half up the slope after a break deep in his own half by Nick Doherty was taken on by Talbot who surged up field impressively. Wells had assumed control of the half dealing with the worst of the conditions through a superior kicking game and handling, coupled with great defence. Half Time 10-3.
As the second period started Earle broke through the middle and off loaded to Hathaway and a penalty was earned. Unfortunately, this went wide but the home side were not to be denied. Not only did Williams pre-empt a laboured box kick clearance and charge it down but it was the prop himself who hacked through from the 22 metre line and beat the Dorking cover for a very popular touch down on 46 minutes. 15-3.
Dorking are not in 7th by accident though and came back only to be held up by Brendan Crosilla, Earle, Williams and Hathaway but the men in red and white eventually earned a penalty on 50 minutes that they converted from 30 metres. 15-6.
What would have particularly pleased Skills Coach Mike Whatman (now promoted to Director of Rugby) was the fact that Wells were executing their skills much the better of the two teams in the conditions. With the scrum now gradually assuming dominance Reynolds was soon given another penalty opportunity after Williams and Hathaway carried strongly again and he extended the Wells lead on 57 minutes. 18-6. On the hour after another impressive outing an injured Hathaway was replaced by Hawkins.
Despite Wells seemingly being in charge the game was not yet won and the visitors best passage of play saw some big carries up field earning a penalty. Dorking kicked to the Wells 5 metre line and an impressive catch and drive saw them score a try on 63 minutes. 18-11.
Nerves were just starting to jangle for the home support but these were almost settled when Reynolds cleverly chipped and chased but the defending blindside winger covered well to prevent the try. Webster now replaced the injured Mike Doherty and soon after Wells stretched their lead. Douch fed his ball carriers well and Crosilla, Earle and Pankhurst made good yardage before Taylor-Dennehy showing great vision grubbered the ball behind the Dorking defence and in-form winger Matt Spicer was first to the ball for the try. With a cracking Reynolds touchline conversion it was now 25-11 on 74 minutes.
All that was needed now for the perfect afternoon at the office was the fourth bonus point try and on 80 minutes it came. A huge hit by Osgood created turnover ball for Nick Doherty to break through for a final try converted by Reynolds. 32-11.
Overall, this was a thoroughly deserved win. Wells managed the conditions superbly and always seemed in control with resolute defence and great execution in skills and game plan against a very useful team. Man of the match could have genuinely gone to several players but for a huge shift in defence, the scrum and a very well taken try the accolade went to Ben “Fridge” Williams.
Wells moved to within two points of 5th placed Westcliff and will be targetting this spot with this away fixture to be played . Next week they host Kent rivals Sidcup at St Marks with a 3pm kick off. As the visitors are one of four teams battling to avoid the final relegation spot then another fiercely-contested local derby is likely.
Squad: Ben Williams, Josh Pankhurst, Brendan Crosilla, Kyle McGarvie, Andy Burgess, Christian Earle, Toby Talbot, Mike Hathaway, Luke Hawkins, Nick Doherty, Max Douch, Frank Reynolds, Matt Spicer, Mike Doherty, Shadyn Osgood, Max Hobbs, Ryan Taylor- Dennehy (Capt) Richard Webster.
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