Tunbridge Wells travelled up to Northamptonshire to visit Towcestrians for the first time. Having beaten their hosts 41-7 earlier in the season at St Marks the final score was to be an almost mirror image of that game.
Conditions were difficult for the players with constant rain and the occasional snow flurries making the wet pitch even heavier as the game progressed. Despite this both teams showed good skill sets throughout but it was the power of the Wells pack of forwards that was to prove decisive. From the first scrum the front row of Kyle McGarvie, new-signing Josh Pankhurst and Brendan Crosilla, dominated their opponents. The first scrum saw the home pack shunted back 5 metres and this was to continue throughout the game. With Pankhurst also combining well at the line-out with Christian Earle and Mike Hathaway, this set piece platform enabled number 8 Nick Doherty to have masterful game.
It took 8 minutes for the visitors to open the scoring. A strong rolling maul that covered 20 metres pushed Towcestrians back and when Frank Reynolds popped the ball to inside centre Shadyn Osgood he powered his way through an unavailing tackle to score under the posts. With Reynolds’ conversion it was 0-7.
Wells stretched their lead 5 minutes later. A huge Osgood tackle dislodged the ball and Blaise Salle then made a fine break. Skipper Chaz Spence was quickly in support and kicked the ball through for the chasing Matt Spicer to dot down out wide. The conversion went wide but it was now 0-12. Sadly, this was to be Spence’s last positive involvement as at the restart he received a heavy late tackle as he made a relieving kick and left the field not to return. Mike Doherty came on at centre, Salle moved to the wing and the versatile Max Douch went to 9.
The home team now had their first spell of territory and used their maul to great effect. However, the determination of the Wells defence was a feature all afternoon and they resisted the midlanders efforts. Dave Allen and Osgood made important tackles but all players contributed to a fine defensive effort. A good clearance kick by Reynolds eventually released the pressure. Towcestrians had a defensive scrum 30 metres out but a huge Wells push stole the ball for Nick Doherty to pick up and challenge the home defence. Expertly drawing the final man he passed to Douch to score the third try on 23 minutes. Again the conversion kick was difficult given the underfoot conditions and fell short. 0-17.
Towcestrians came back at the kick off but an excellent Gus O’Grady turnover took away their momentum. At this stage the boys from St Marks were incurring the wrath of the referee at the breakdown but with a solid blue defensive wall they could not break through. Indeed, it was Wells who were to score next when Nick Doherty stole a home line-out before setting off on a 40 metre run beating three defenders for a spectacular individual try. With Reynolds converting it was now 0-24 on 36 minutes and the try bonus point was in the bag too.
Wells were not satisfied though and on 40 minutes another powerful scrum saw a pushover try for Doherty. Half time 0-29.
The half time team talk will have seen satisfied coaches and players with the hope of a large second half score and the opportunity to rest players was taken with Carl Straeche and Mac Popham replacing McGarvie and Allen. The expectation of a comfortable second half was further enforced on 49 minutes by a second pushover try to secure Nick Doherty’s hat-trick, converted by Reynolds. 0-36.
From the kick-off Reynolds was subjected to a late tackle which infuriated the visiting team and a scuffle ensued. The referee took decisive action yellow carding both the Towcestrians number 8 for the offending tackle and Wells’ Osgood for his perceived involvement in the hand bags.
This seemed to unsettle Wells and as they conceded a procession of penalties the home side dominated territory and possession for the next 20 minutes. However, tenacious defence thwarted all Towcestrians efforts with Earle, Hathaway and Pankhurst to the fore. On 70 minutes Spicer was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on but the home side still could not cross the line. This was real character building stuff from Wells.
Having spent very little time in the opposition half Wells finally got back into the Towcestrians 22. Firstly, Ryan Taylor-Dennehy and Salle almost created a try but then from a scrum the Doherty brothers combined with Nick putting in older brother Mike for Wells’ seventh try on 77 minutes. 0-41.
The 9 minutes of injury time was to prove frustrating for Wells as the home side finally scored a try from a forward drive and then Osgood received a second yellow card for a tackle offence.
This should not over shadow a superb team performance though, both in attack and defence that sees Wells remain in 6th position in the league on 47 points. Next week (27th) they host Sutton & Epsom who are 9th on 42 at St Marks with a 2pm kick off. All support will be gratefully received.
Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy; Max Douch, Blaise Salle, Shaydyn Osgood, Matt Spicer; Frank Reynolds, Chaz Spence (Capt) (Mike Doherty); Kyle McGarvie (Carl Straeche), Josh Pankhurst, Brendan Crosilla, Christian Earle, Gus O’Grady, Mike Hathaway, Dave Allen (Mac Popham), Nick Doherty.