Wells Start Season with 5 Points
It’s a long time (if ever) since the competitive rugby season started on the first day of September for Tunbridge Wells. However, with 26 games to fit in during this second season in the level 5 London and South East Premier League it was a sunny St Marks that heralded the opening game of the campaign.
After a positive pre-season ended with a win at Westcombe Park, there are five new teams to encounter this time around in the shape of Bedford Athletic, Brentwood, Chingford, CS Stags 1863, and Wimbledon. However, it was familiar foes in the form of Hertford who were the visitors to the Wells. A fifth place finish exceeded most expectations last year but with Hertford having finished one place higher (and a whopping 28 points ahead) no one was anticipating anything but a tough opener.
Wells have strong continuity from last season with the coaching team remaining in tandem along with the vast majority of the side continuing and Ryan Taylor-Dennehy as captain. The squad has also been bolstered for the season with this week’s team containing big second row Chris Pentney, inside centre Tom Bailey and back reserve Henry Toomer. A few players missed this game due to holidays and last season Players’ Player Mike Doherty suffered an injury in training and will miss the early part of the season.
Wells played the first half up the slope towards the clubhouse and proceedings began very well for the home side. Hathaway secured an impressive lineout steal on the Hertford 10 metre line and the travelling side conceded a penalty, Reynolds sent the kick to the corner for a lineout 7 metres out. A well-executed catch and drive ensued which saw Pankhurst peel down the blindside to touch down unopposed, Reynolds converts from the left. 7-0 after 4 minutes.
Both sides threatened for the first quarter of the game without an end product as a little rustiness showed which was to be expected on the opening day of the season. Wells were getting some joy down the left hand side through Webster and Smith, who were both to have excellent games and Hertford broke through centre field on a few occasions through their 13’s direct running for the most part. Wells’ scrum was proving very solid and would hold a slight advantage throughout the game in what was a terrific battle, whilst the lineout provided some good ball, primarily through Earle and Hathaway, but proved sloppy at times.
It was Hertford who were next to score on 20 minutes, after a number of phases they found themselves in the Wells 22 where the scrum half darted down the narrow blindside to offload to the winger to score in the corner, conversion missed 7-5. Within 5 minutes Wells had responded effectively, they broke down the right hand side up to the 22 after good handling by Taylor-Dennehy and the ball was moved back to the left where Taylor-Dennehy’s superb delayed pass sent Webster powering through only to be pulled down just short of the line. Hertford cynically conceded a penalty for offside and their blindside flanker was sent to the bin. The ball was kicked to the corner and the home support were willing for a replay of the first score, it was not to be as Hertford’s maul defence saw them receive a scrum.
The game was proving very open with strong running from both sides with Hathaway, Doherty, Webster and Bailey getting through a lot of work. Whilst the breakdown was clean for the most part, Hathaway and the travelling four were proving to be nuisances for their opposition.
On the half hour mark Wells scored their try of the game. Hertford were launching what looked a dangerous attack up to the Wells half way line on the Wells left hand side. However, Pankhurst ripped the ball from the attacker and threw the ball deep to Taylor-Dennehy who surged across the pitch before straightening and offloading to Hathaway on the 10 metre line who in turn moved the ball to Doherty. He provided quick hands to Spicer and he expertly drew the final defender and sent Bailey free down the right hand touchline and under the post for an easy conversion for Reynolds 14-5.
Whilst the team’s second try was superb the third would best be described as opportunistic. With one minute to go until half time Hertford looked to play from deep, as they did for much of the game, but the ball was knocked on just outside the 22 metre line. Reynolds reacted quickest to hack through twice before falling on the ball over the line dusting himself off and converting, 21-5 halftime.
Both sides would have been looking for improvement in the second half and the home side were wary of a resurgent Hertford. The half began with strong breaks from both hookers, the run from the Hertford number 2 could easily have resulted in a try after only 5 minutes but the ball was knocked on and Wells had a scrum 5 where the front row of Crosilla, Pankhurst and Williams secured a penalty. The Tunbridge Wells scrum hasn’t always been the strongest in previous seasons but the side now appear to be very secure in the area and it offers an effective attacking platform.
Hertford were next to strike, from a scrum in the Wells 22 they moved the ball wide to touch down in the corner, good conversion 21-12. Wells’ defensive effort was being optimised by Reynolds who made numerous tackles including a crowd pleasing dump tackle on the opposition centre. From this tackle the supporting players were over-zealous and pinged for going off their feet in the centre of the pitch 30 metres from the Wells posts. Hertford opted for the corner, but the ball was sent dead which was to prove a big moment. From the resulting scrum the ball went blind as Bailey sent Smith on a surging run down the left hand side, the ball was kicked deep and Hertford recovered the ball under pressure in their 22. The ball popped out the ruck and Webster was there on this occasion to hack through to score and secure the try bonus point, converted again 28-12. From the following kick off Pankhurst’s comical left foot swipe should, but probably never will be forgotten.
As the game entered the final quarter Hertford saw their best period of the game. Firstly they scored as they broke through the centre and fantastic offloading saw their prop dot down against the post. Then with 10 minutes to go they received a penalty infront of the posts which was successfully kicked, 28-22.
The previously very confident home support were now wary that the next score was crucial, up steps Hathaway. The openside secures a brilliant turnover on the left hand side as Hertford attack inside their own half. The ball is moved inside for one phase and then back to the left where Hatherway powers through before offloading to Doherty who strolls over for the try, Reynolds does it again 35-22. There was still time for Hertford to score a length of the pitch bonus point try which proved to be the last play of the game, conversion missed which meant the away side didn’t secure the losing bonus point.
It was certainly a great game to watch and a fantastic 5 points awith impressive performances through the team. Wells scrum half Charlie Rigby was awarded the Man of the Match award due to his impressive controlling of proceedings.
Head Coach Simon Whatling said “it was a contest between two teams who clearly were rusty, but we had fantastic character and work rate. It was great to see a change of mind-set.”
Next week sees Wimbledon who were relegated from National 2 South last season visit St Marks for a 3pm kick off. This is sure to be a tough game against a side that many consider favourites for the league and won 28-15 against Tring (3rd last year) in their opening game.
Photos from the game can be found here:
Wells came to this last League game of the RFU London and SE season with an unbeaten run going back to a draw with Bedford Athletic at the beginning of March and which had seen them win their last 4 games to reach 7th place of the 14 sides.
The Town side saw the return of Aston Croall and Josh Pankhurst to the front row, Christian Earl to the second row, Dave Allen moved to No 8 and Jake Caddy starting on the right wing.
Wells were off to the better start pressurising their hosts and going ahead with a Frank Reynolds penalty despite his borrowed boots in the 4th minute and then scoring a Jake Caddy try after good work from Mike Doherty on the right and adding a Reynolds conversion for a 0-10 lead after 9 minutes. With Wells on top in most aspects of the game this lead was further stretched on 15 minutes as skipper Ryan Taylor – Dennehy made the break, Frank Reynolds taking the move on and releasing Mike Doherty with a great pass for him to score the unconverted try 0-15.
Hertford have an enviable home record – only lost 3 times there this season – and they were always going to come back into the game which they did on 18 minutes as Wells missed a kick ahead and Josh Corcoran got an unconverted Touch down 5-15. Hertford then applied home pressure camping in the Wells 22 where the back row led by Dave Allen – playing his last game before retirement- put in a brilliant defensive shift to keep Hertford at bay. With Croall and Cressila putting in some big hits along with the ever excellent Mike Hathaway.
Halftime beckoned as Wells conceded a kick to the corner after indiscipline and Hertford made no mistake as they rolled the maul over the line for Tim Matthews to score the try and Sam Walker converting 12-15.
Wells were not finished as with half time seconds away they were awarded a penalty and kicked to the corner. The forwards launched towards the try line and a deft little one two pop pass from Croall to Cressilla saw the latter celebrate his third try of the season under the posts with Reynolds converting for a halftime lead to the Wells of 12-22.
Wells came out for the second half unchanged despite Josh Hawkins being off for a period in the first half with a shoulder problem. Sadly he only lasted 4 minutes of the second before being replaced by Matt Symonds.
A number of handling errors characterised the first ten minutes of the second half for both sides before home fly half Rory Seymour unlocked the defence with a deft chip over the top to catch his own kick and go in under the posts for a converted try 19-22.
George Montgomery was the second visiting player to succumb to injury with Caddy moving inside and Rich Murray replacing him on the wing. As the game approached the last quarter Hertford started to enjoy the lions share of possession as Wells had to increase their tackle count. Despite the Wells players coping in general a loose kick which missed Touch was fielded by Hertford 12 Richard Streets who then completed a mazy run to score on 55 minutes with Walker converting to give Hertford a bonus point try and the lead 26-22.
If Wells were to win they would have to do it the hard way by winning more possession and by occupying a higher field position by using the stiff NE breeze and for a period of fifteen minute this they managed to do. Wells drove to within a meter of the home line on 65 minutes and showed great patience as they eventually went for the line with scrum half Charlie Rigby ensuring the touch down for a try bonus 10 metres wide of the posts. Reynolds could not convert but Wells were back in the lead at 26-27 and just to prove they were not done launched a brilliant attack from the restart with Mike Hathaway scything through the Hertford defence to launch the speedy Hobbs at the line to score halfway out to extend the lead to 26-32 on 67 minutes.
Wells now had to defend this lead against a side who were keen to preserve their home record and with numerous injuries had almost 20 minute to run as Stu Nicholls replaced Josh Pankhurst at hooker.
Wells in the main managed this well with Hathaway, Allen and Earl continuing to physically police Hertford in the tackle but home pressure saw most of the last 10 minutes play taking place in the away 22. A succession of penalty scrums saw Hertford suck in Wells defenders and in the 88 th minute the ball was moved wide to centre Streets who just got the ball down despite close attention from Taylor- Dennehy. Time was up and Walker had a kick 15 metres in from the touchline against the breeze and somehow managed it to seize a one point victory from the jaws of defeat.
This was a monumental game from Wells as both sides scored five tries. It was also farewell to Dave Allen who has graced Blackheath 1st XV, England Counties and the Barbarians before 2 years as a player coach with the Wells. It has been a privilege to have him as part of the town set up and everyone wishes him the best and maybe deep down hope he will change his mind as next season looms large on the calendar.
In the meantime Wells will look at first half of the season lack of consistency as a strong second half secures 7 th place with 2 points earns against Hertford.
Wells travelled to Hertford and for the first time in 5 weeks it was a dry sunny Saturday with the pitch reasonable under foot. Skipper Chas Spence, player coach Dave Allen , key centre Shaydn Osgood and hooker Luke Hawkins were all injured and replaced by Max Douch, Mac Popham and Blaise Salle with Ben Williams making his debut from the bench and Max Hobbs making his first start for some time.
Whilst Wells looked as if they were still shaking the journey off, promotion candidates Hertford in 4th place caught them napping as they produced a pace of game some 2 metres quicker than Wells and when they did need defence their line speed was superior. This pace and accuracy of pass saw them carve holes in Wells midfield, normally so dependable, and this gave them plenty of room on the edges as the Wells defence proved too narrow. The whole of the Hertford team produced some very impressive rugby but if there was to be a tormentor in chief during this period it was overall Man of the Match for Hertford scrum – half Ben Creasey who scored on 8 minutes with a burst through the middle, full back Sean Taylor converting and tries were then produced at regular intervals as Wells struggled to gain ball and to plug the gaps. Taylor was also having an outstanding game for the hosts and it was he who added the second try on 15 minutes 12-0. Flanker Jack Elston added the third on 28 minutes and a rolling maul try after a penalty to the corner saw Hertford add the try bonus point on 29 minutes 24-0. Try no 5 was added a minute later as James Keens one of the second row charged through. ( 31-0).
As the half entered the last 10 minutes Wells did come more into the game as even Hertford could not keep up the pace of the first half hour. Two pick and drive sequences saw Wells close to the home line but patience was lost on one occasion and Hertford line speed defeated the other as the visitors found it difficult to hold onto the ball.
When Wells did have success in gaining field position it was normally fly half Frank Reynolds or stand in skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy from the back who got them into the opposition half.
Halftime saw no addition to the score and Wells staring down the barrel of a 31-0 points deficit. As is usual. however, this was a game of two halves, and as the second began on came Ben Williams who immediately brought more aggression to the game which was contagious as Mike Hathaway – who had an outstanding game for Wells, Christian Earle, Nick Doherty and Gus O’Grady started to get into a game they had not been able to influence in the first half.
As a result Wells enjoyed more possession and Reynolds was able to play- make to get them farther up the field. This meant that Hertford didn’t get close to the line and Wells looked the more likely to score. The visitors went close on 45 minutes after a penalty and line out saw them roll a maul towards the home line. Christian Earle also making a 40 metre line break but not being able to find support to finish the move. However, it took until the 55th Minute for Mike Hathaway to show real physicality to get over the Hertford line with Frank Reynolds adding the conversion 31-7.
Hertford were not finished however and No 9 Creasey dummied his way over from a break down in front of the posts on 60 minutes and then repeated the dose out wide for his hat trick on 65 minutes 43-7.
Wells continued to work at their game getting themselves back into the Hertford half through further Reynolds tactical kicking and some brave counter attacks from the back. Ultimately these paid dividends as first left wing Matt Spicer went in after a great inter passing movement on the left 43-12 and then from a similar move on the right wing Max Hobbs picked up a third try with some injury time to play.
Wells worked hard to provide the opportunity for a try bonus but couldn’t quite find the right route as Hertford kicked out to end a testing game for the visitors who could at least take consolation from ‘winning’ the second half 17-12 and reducing the incessant chatter of the Hertford commentator!
Wells remain in 6th place but have a vital game at home against Dorking who are only two points behind them at St Marks on Saturday 3rd March KO 3 00pm. With only 6 games to go Wells have to target a sequence of wins to maintain this 6th position or if they are to catch Westcliff in 5th.
Squad: Kyle Mcgarvie, Josh Pankhurst, Brendan Crosilla, Ben Williams Carl Straeche, Gus O’ Grady, Christian Earle, Mac Popham, Nick Doherty, Mike Hathaway( Man of the Match), Max Douch, Frank Reynolds, Matt Spicer, Blaise Salle, Mike Doherty, Richard Webster, Max Hobbs, Ryan Taylor- Dennehy (capt).
After an excellent win last week against Westcombe Park- which was the town side’s third consecutive win taking them to 6th place in RFU London and SE Premier Division – Wells faced 4th placed Hertford at St Marks.
Frank Reynolds failed to pass a fitness test on his shoulder after a run of 46 consecutive games and Wells moved Ryan Taylor-Dennehy to fly half and brought in Ollie Allman at full back with Academy product Tom Brunger as a replacement prop on the bench. Jake Thompson also returning to the bench after injury against Barnes earlier in the season.
Both sides are known for their running style of play and none of the 200 plus crowd were to be disappointed on that score as the afternoon unfolded.
Wells started on the attack and reached the Hertford 22 playing up the hill only to lose the ball in the tackle and watch Hertford demonstrate the art of counter attack as they went the length of the field to the right for an ultimate score under the posts by centre Richard Streets. With prolific full back Sean Taylor converting 0-7 after 2 mins. Hertford continued to attack and Wells did well after 10 minutes to hold them up over the line but could do little about the penalty kicked by Taylor after 15 minutes for a home infringement on the floor 0-10.
Wells are a spirited and incisive side these days though and with the line out operating smoothly and enough control in the set scrum they set about occupying Hertford territory with player coach Dave Allen everywhere. On 18 minutes Wells countered and Mac Popham dived gleefully over the line for Taylor-Dennehy to convert 7-10.
With Wells continuing to occupy a high field position Taylor Dennehy brought the points tally to parity with a 35 meter penalty on 24 minutes 10-10 only for Taylor to restore Hertford’s lead with a penalty of his own on 26 minutes 10-13.
Both sides continued to play at pace but despite several 40 metre incursions neither side could add to their tally before halftime with Wells having to pull off some really effective tackles close to the line through Osgood, M Doherty and Taylor–Dennehy close to the line to keep Hertford at bay.
If the first half had been a pacy and relatively open game then the second half proved one of the best seen at St Marks for a long time. Taylor Dennehy hit a 38 metre penalty after 50 minutes to tie the score at 13-13 and the home side were hoping for more from referee Ben McNamara as their rolling maul was stopped close to the Hertford try line.
With 54 minutes gone Wells broke out of their 22 hacked on down the pitch and had Hertford at their mercy as Matt Spicer and Skipper Chas Spence bore down on the line only for the ball to bobble as Spicer reached down to pick up and the chance was gone.
Their followed two purple patches of play as between the 58th and 67th minutes Hertford opened up what appeared to be an unassailable lead as for the first time in many games the normally well organised home backs defensive line failed to materialise. On 58 minutes Hertford centre Aaron Lowe took advantage of a three man overlap on the left with Taylor kicking the goal points 13-20 only for the dose to be repeated as they got around the back of the Wells line this time on 62 minutes as fly half Ben Lloyd got an unconverted try 13-25. Taylor rounding off this three try assault on 67 minutes with a mazy run to the posts and a conversion of his own try to take the score to 13-32.
The crowd might have been forgiven for thinking that the game was effectively over but this Wells side never lies down and with the back row of N Doherty, Allen and Pengelly all over the pitch and the second row adding to the pace through a restored Christian Earle it was time for the St Mark’s boys to show what they could do as Nick Doherty surged through the middle to dive over for the try on 72 minutes. 18-32. At this point Hertford started to look a little disorganised themselves and Wells benefitted as well from indiscipline leading to a yellow card for the visitors. Spurred on by this on 74 minutes centre Shadyn Osgood who had been a thorn in Hertford’s side all game charged down the right touchline and put the perfect reverse pass to Ollie Allman who took the ball in his stride and dived over in the corner 23-32.
These two tries had come so quickly that everyone realised there was still time for a win and this looked even more possible when on 82 minute Nick Doherty rounded off a great team handling effort to dive over under the posts for his second try and for Taylor–Dennehy to add the conversion 30-32.
Deep into injury time Wells probed for the win as Max Douch – on for Blaise Salle – went 30 meters down the right touchline but was eventually stopped. It was a very relieved Hertford who gratefully booted the ball to touch after a great fight back from Wells who are growing into this league. The five points were possible but the late points scoring flurry had earnt Simon Whatling’s side a try bonus for the sixth time this season and a losing bonus point for being within seven points and this allowed them to retain sixth place at this point in the season.
Next Saturday sees the Wells on the road to close neighbours Dorking where they will hope to have Vice Skipper Mike Hathaway in the squad and a repaired Frank Reynolds back in action. KO 2 30pm.
Squad: Kyle McGarvie, Luke Hawkins, Carl Straeche, Tom Brunger, Mac Popham, Christian Earle, Hayden Pengelly, Dave Allen, Nick Doherty, Jake Thompson, Chas Spence, Ryan Taylor-Dennehy, Blaise Salle, Shadyn Osgood, Mike Doherty, Matt Spicer, Max Douch, Ollie Allman.