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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.