Westcombe Park v Tunbridge Wells

Wells faced Combe in this second pre- season practice game knowing that the S London side had been unlucky to be relegated from London and SE Premier last season and in the knowledge that they had lost the league fixture in very wet conditions by a point at Goddington Dene last campaign.
Wells fielded a number of new faces from last week with Stuart Nicholls at hooker, Josh Hawkins in the second row, James Farris at 6, Dave Allen at 7, Charlie Rigby at 9, James Potter on the wing, Ryan Taylor Dennehy at full back and Ollie Allman and James Lautch on the bench.The game started in good weather with the home side dominating possession but Wells showing sharpness and ambition  in the counter attack. This brought them the first points on 7 minutes. Dave Allen put in a big hit to thwart Combe on the right and Wells recycled the ball to Mike Doherty on the Wells 22. Doherty got the ball away to Richard Webster with some 50 metres to go and he made no mistake with a difficult finish with Frank Taylor adding the points 0-7.
In general Wells were demonstrating a tight defence but on 15 minutes after they had failed to secure their own line out ball the scores were even as after a long pass the Combe right wing went in for a converted score 7-7.The game continued in the same vein with Jake Smith putting in a 40metre gain on the left before Combe taking advantage of the possession they were retaining rolled a maul close to the line for their No 6 to score the try which was significantly unconverted 12-7.
The rest of the half saw Wells gaining ascendancy in the scrums, with both sides defending well with the turbo charged Allen everywhere and Webster, Doherty and particularly Smith putting in some big tackles in the backs. This gave Wells a higher percentage of the ball but it was still the art of the counter attack which saw them draw ahead on 29 minutes as the ball was moved left by Nick Doherty to the returning Ryan Taylor – Dennehy who made 40metres before switching the ball inside to the supporting Mike Doherty who scored near the posts for Frank Taylor to convert. 12-14.

This remained the score until halftime when both sides found themselves a man down due to yellow cards.

Halftime saw a total change as heavy  rain swept the field and made conditions difficult. Combe started the half better but Wells put on pressure on the home line between the 55 th and 65 th minutes earning a number of penalties as they dominated in the scrum. At anytime they could have opted for the three points and in a league game they would have taken them. However, despite getting within a metre on several occasions the only winner was the heavy rain as the surface and the ball became very slippery. Eventually Combe broke out aided by a number of their own penalties and despite both sides launching further attacks and Wells dominating the set pieces the score remained the same until the end of a game where the weather had played an unpredictable part.

Wells head coach Simon Whatling and his coaching team were pleased with a hard work out and the introduction of a range of new players and Academy products as they work towards the first league game at home to Hertford this Saturday KO 3 00 pm. A new look back line worked well at times with Charlie Rigby setting them in motion at scrum half and with fellow Academy products Webster, Smith and Potter blending in well. The scrummage was also a big plus point and the only area to work on in the set pieces will be some of the line out organisation. The defensive game was solid from forwards and backs with Allen and Smith outstanding.

Squad: Ben Williams, Stuart Nicholls, Luke Hawkins, Brendan Crosilla, Carl Straeche, Chris Pentney,Josh Hawkins, James Farris, James Lautch, Dave Allen, Nick Doherty, Charlie Rigby, Frank Reynolds, Ollie Allman, Jake Smith, Mike Doherty, Richard Webster, James Potter, Ryan Taylor- Dennehy.

Westcombe Park (Away)

Wells visited Goddington Dene on Saturday and for the third successive week found themselves in the rain on an increasingly heavy pitch. Shaydn Osgood returned after suspension and Richard Webster came onto the bench but otherwise the side was unchanged from that which secured a good win against Sutton and Epsom the week before. Skipper Chas Spence remained on the injured list with Max Douch continuing to deputise at scrum half.

Combe have recruited in recent weeks and a large pack took to the field equipped to give Wells a hard afternoon and that is what happened.
Points were hard to come by and after a flurry  in the first 20 minutes there was little on offer. Combe were first on the scoresheet as their pack took advantage of early pressure with Jordan Saunders ultimately driving over the line for an unconverted try on 4 minutes.

Wells though soon got into the Combe half and stayed there. A dump tackle saw a Combe centre head to the sin bin on 8 minutes and Frank Reynolds made no mistake with the penalty 5-3. However, the visitors could not make advantage of the extra man as Mike Doherty limped off to be replaced by Webster.
Both sides were ironically back to 15 when after consistent pressure Shaydn Osgood broke surprisingly easily through the Combe cover to score a try halfway out which Reynolds converted on 20 minutes 5-10.

For the rest of the half both sides enjoyed equal possession with parity in the scrums but with Wells having difficulty in securing ball in the line out for a range of technical reasons. Both sides defences were in good working order and the only further score of the half came from a 33rd minute penalty from Combe full back Will Robinson on 33 with halftime seeing the score remain at 8-10 to Wells.

If the first half had been  even the second was dominated in general by the home side who had more of the ball and in general occupied a higher field position. Both defences were parsimonious and the Combe half backs  James Cameron and new signing Ed Durki put in some very precise and tactically astute kicks many fielded well by Wells full back Ryan Taylor – Dennehy.

The possession eventually told when Robinson kicked his second penalty for offside on 65 minutes to put Combe in the lead for the first time 11-10.
Combe continued to push up but could find no way through an uncompromising Wells defence

With injury time looming there came the key moment of the game as Cameron made a rare mistake kicking low with the ball ricocheting back behind the Combe defence. Reynolds latched onto it like a greyhound and kicked on to beat the cover and dive for what all thought was a score. Sadly for Wells the referee didn’t and the chance of a win went with this judgement as Combe saw out time and gleefully kicked out.

Disallowed try or not the home side had dominated the second half in favourable conditions for their big pack as they make a late bid to get out of the relegation zone. Wells performance was spirited and competitive and they can now enjoy a rare week off to work on remaining in sixth place in London and SE Premier as they pocketed a losing bonus point.

Squad: Kyle McGarvie, Josh Pankhurst, Brendan Crosilla, Carl Straeche, Gus O’Grady, Christian Earle, Mike Hathaway, Dave Allen, Nick Doherty, Mac Popham, Max Douch, Frank Reynolds, Blaise Salle, Shaydn Osgood, Mike Doherty, Matt Spicer, Richard Webster, Ryan Taylor – Dennehy.
Wells next play Hertford away on Saturday 17th February KO 2 30 PM.

Westcombe Park (Home)

Storm Brian did his best to upset the first competitive meeting in 15 years between these two old Kent rivals in this London and South East Premier League match. The very blustery conditions failed to dissuade a healthy crowd of around 200 at St Marks and whilst the wind made it hard for the players no one could fault them for their effort.
Wells restored Matt Spicer to the starting line-up whilst Christian Earle and Mac Popham made up a new second row partnership.
The home side kicked off playing up the hill but with the advantage of the strong south-easterly wind. They immediately went on the attack with Blaise Salle and Nick Doherty carrying well. With Luke Hawkins and Popham linking well in the line-out, despite the wind, Wells had an attacking maul held up over the line but with the visitors having the stronger scrum throughout Wells were unable to capitalise. 
The side from St Marks were soon in the Combe 22 again and now had a man advantage after the excellent referee Matt Astle had yellow-carded Charlie O’Sullivan for holding a player back. After two attacking line-outs were countered illegally, the referee had seen enough when visiting prop Jimi Stanford pulled down a maul and awarded both a penalty try and a second yellow card on 12 minutes. 7-0
Wells had dominated the first 20 minutes but the second quarter saw the visitors gain the ascendancy. A combination of some poor kicking and indiscipline enabled Combe to gain a sustained foothold in the Wells half and back to fifteen men they started to turn the screw in the tight. However, one thing this Wells squad has in abundance is resilience and with Dave Allen and man of the match Hayden Pengelly to the fore they resisted several strong attacks. However, on 32 minutes a clever line-out saw Ryan Hackett cross in the corner but the conversion into the teeth of the wind was impossible (or so we thought until later in the game….). 7-5.
Home supporters held their breath soon after when Combe scrum half Miki Zanirato had a 30 metre penalty to take the lead but it was pushed wide. The visitors will still have been content with their efforts at this stage as they were to have the wind at their backs in the second period. However, as half -time approached a raking Frank Reynolds kick took Wells deep into the visitors half and from the ensuing line-out the robust Pengelly crashed over for a try which saw half-time. 12-5
The game was very much up for grabs now with the story likely to be the large Combe pack against the fitness and ambitious game-style of Wells. 
A fine piece of inter-play between skipper Chaz Spence and Spicer produced an early penalty but unfortunately the wind thwarted Reynolds shot at goal. On 48 minutes it was the visitors who opened the second half scoring with a fine 45 metre penalty by Zanirato. 12-8. However, this only served to herald the home side’s best period of the game. A cracking Pengelly turnover brought a penalty that Reynolds sent into the corner after the visitors were marched back 10 metres for dissent. From the line Doherty and Pengelly went close and when Spence switched the ball back to the blindside it was Doherty who was there to cleverly twist and stretch over the line on 53 minutes. 17-8. 
From the restart Pengelly embarked on another surging run. Soon after it was Earle and Popham who carried strongly into the Combe 22. A series of forward drives ensued and Carl Straeche was held up inches short but Wells were not to be denied and it was Popham who stretched through the ruck to dot down for the bonus point try. A well deserved score for the second row. With an excellent Reynolds conversion the home side had stretched into a 24-8 lead on 57 minutes.
Hawkins was injured at the restart to be replaced by Kyle McGarvie but his initial stay was to be a short one. After a long range Zanirato penalty kick went wide Combe soon found themselves in the Wells 22 again and after a number of penalty offences it was McGarvie who saw a team yellow. With veteran prop Tim Collins now leaving the field through injury and Hawkins unable to return Wells had to go down to 13 players as the game moved to uncontested scrums and on 69 minutes it was no surprise when Combe were able to use their numerical superiority to score a second try through lock Tom Clarke, well converted by Zanirato. 24-15.
The visitors now sniffed a chance to comeback but a Pengelly turnover and some surging runs took away their momentum. Subsititute Sam Catling arrived and made an instant impact. He broke through the defence and stormed clear before linking with Spence who fed Spicer to cross on the left wing for a cracking try. With Reynolds leaving the field through injury to be replaced by Max Douch, it was full back Ryan Taylor-Dennehy who took the touchline conversion into the teeth of the wind. Showing the golfing skills of his skipper’s father he hit a perfect draw using the wind to float the ball between the posts. 31-15.
Combe still had time to mount several attacks but Wells’ game management was proving superior with centres Shaydn Osgood and Mike Doherty showing steely resolution in defence. Indeed, it was the home side who went closest to scoring again with Salle and Spicer breaking clear but the chance was not taken. 
This was an impressive Wells performance by a team who are finding their feet at the highest level they have played at. The second half was as good a half of rugby as they have played in some time given the conditions and spending some of it down to 13 players. The players’ fitness and determination shone through. They now find themselves sitting in sixth place in the league on 22 points with four wins from seven and next Saturday they will face an in-form Hertford squad who are in 4th having only lost to Guernsey and Barnes. The kick off at St Marks is 3pm.
Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy; Blaise Salle, Shaydn Osgood, Mike Doherty, Matt Spicer; Frank Reynolds (Max Douch), Chaz Spence (Capt); Tim Collins (Sam Catling), Luke Hawkins (Kyle McGarvie), Carl Straeche, Christian Earle, Mac Popham, Hayden Pengelly, Dave Allen, Nick Doherty.

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