Westcombe Park RFC 32 Tunbridge Wells RFC 27

On Saturday Wells 1st XV travelled the relatively short distance up the A21 to play Westcombe Park. Allegedly 13c but feeling much colder, with a strong South Westerly breeze, this was another overcast but dry afternoon.
Westcombe Park started brightly, playing away from their distant clubhouse with the wind at their backs. After just 4 minutes they had the opportunity of an early lead with a relatively central penalty kick just outside the Wells 22 but the opportunity was missed. It was to be another 15 minutes or so of relative parity between the sides and no significant attacks from either team before Wells worked their way up to the Westcombe Park 22 culminating in a penalty which Luke Giles sent over giving Wells the first score of the match on 20 minutes. 0-3
From the restart Westcombe Park attacked with energy going through phases testing the Wells defence and ultimately scoring in the top right hand corner. 5-3
The next 15 minutes or so saw prolonged pressure from Wells, often playing in and around the Westcombe Park 22. The work rate was upped and as Wells went through the phases eventually the pressure told and a penalty drawn.
The kick was to the corner and the following lineout, thrown by Nick Doherty, was good. The ball was moved quickly out to Nick’s brother Mike who twisted and turned his way through the defence to ground the ball for Wells’ first try of the match. 5-10
Again Westcombe Park responded with energy going through a number of phases. Wells stoutly defended for a few minutes while Westcombe Park explored, looking for gaps, finally making their way over just outside the posts. 42 minutes from the initial kick off. 12-10
The restart saw a beautiful tip back from Toby Talbot to Charley Smith who set off, spinning the ball out to the backs and across to Angus Horne who dinked the ball through into the Westcombe Park 22. The clearance kick didn’t travel far.
Shortly afterwards Luke Giles kicked through, with the ball hanging in the air at an awkward height, giving Max Hobbs a difficult take but he made no mistake and was only brought down just short of the Westcombe Park line. Unfortunately penalised. Double movement? Westcombe Park cleared and from the following lineout launched another solid attack working through the phases, sucking the defence in and then going out wide and all the way in. 50 minutes from the initial kick off. 17-10 and Half Time.
Overall the first half had been gritty and a bit niggly at times, with Wells defending fairly well overall, but with Westcombe Park showing more energy in attack.
Both sides would be looking to control the narrative with the first try of the second half. It was Westcombe Park who scored first, and early. After a knock on from the kick off Westcombe Park used quick hands to dot down inside two minutes. 24-10
A few minutes later from a Westcombe Park lineout around their 40m mark the ball was moved quickly to their centre who found a gap and took the ball all the way to our 22. A scrambling defence soon got organised and held out phase after phase on Wells try line. Wells eventually won a penalty and with an impressive kick from Luke Giles found themselves back in the Westcombe Park  half. Westcombe Park gave away another penalty which saw the kick go to the corner for a Wells lineout. The throw was deemed not straight leading to a Westcombe Park scrum. The ball went out to the centre again with a gap found and the following attack saw Westcombe Park move all the way up to Wells 22 again, with the ball spilled forward. Lucky escape.
A few minutes later saw a decent kick through from Wells. Toby Wallace showed his impressive top speed on the chase through and forced the Westcombe Park defence to scoop the ball and carry over his own line before grounding.  Scrum 5m to Wells.
The scrum saw some beautiful interplay between brothers Nick and Mike Doherty as Wells 8, Nick, collected the ball from the back of the scrum launching himself round the scrum towards the defence and cleverly offloading to centre, Mike, who came through from deep, at pace, and took it in for an easy try beside the posts. 25 minutes. 24-17
8 minutes later and Wells were back on their 22. With offside given Westcombe Park take the 3. 27-17.
The next few minutes saw play in both 22s. A penalty around Wells 22 saw a tremendous kick from Luke Giles almost taking the ball from 22 to 22.
A few minutes later saw a Westcombe Park scrum on their 22. Penalised for wheeling, Luke Giles takes the 3. 30 minutes. 27-20.
The next 10 minutes saw strong attack from Westcombe Park, and solid defence from Wells. Desperate defence from Wells eventually saw the ref giving Matt Spicer a yellow card. Westcombe Park made the most of the extra man and scored their final try of the game. 40 minutes from the initial kick off. 32-20.
For the remainder of the match Wells played with urgency, applying pressure and working through the phases, drawing penalties – pick and go. Nick Doherty got to within a couple of metres. Chris Shorter stopped slightly closer.  Eventually the ball was spun out through fast hands to Toby Wallace who stretched his legs and went into the corner for the final score of the match. 32-27.
As has been the case so often this season this was, at times, a frustrating and bemusing performance. It was good to see no points conceded in the first 15 minutes of the first half. The scrum was solid as we’ve come to expect each week. The lineout was improved. Luke Giles kicking was as good as I’ve seen from him this season. There were flashes of quality in the backs attacking lines, but as a team Wells were far too often playing response rather than setting the tone, which ultimately makes every job tougher. This is a team of good players, but we’ve yet to see them put together an 80 minute performance deserving of their overall talent.
Next week sees us welcome North Walsham to St Mark’s – Saturday 13th November – 2.30pm k.o.
Bruce Elliott

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