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Dorking Vs. 1st XV
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Tunbridge Wells travelled to Dorking’s “Big Field” for a league match for the first time in 7 years. After the narrow home defeat to high-flying Hertford the previous week, hopes were high that Wells could get back on a winning track but with a much-changed team this was to be a tough day at the office against a robust and determined Dorking side.
Both teams had won half of their 8 games going into this match so were aiming for a win that would keep them looking up the table rather than looking down. With a number of experienced players unavailable Wells had to re-shuffle their squad. Tom Brunger made his first start at prop after a fine debut from the bench last week and Charlie Dagwell returned at flanker. In the backs Blaise Salle moved to centre which handed a First XV debut to wing Max Hobbs. The bench saw two further promotions from the Second XV with the elevation of skipper Adam Webb and a deserved first cap for talented Academy wing Jake Smith.
Dorking kicked off with the advantage of both the slope and the breeze. The initial phases saw a lot of kicking for territory but it was also clear that both sides were keen to play some expansive rugby once the opportunity arose. Whilst hooker Luke Hawkins largely combined well with locks Mac Popham and Christian Earle in the line-out, the visitors scrum was under pressure from the outset. Indeed, it was a collapsed scrum that led to the opening score for Dorking on 4 minutes with home skipper Matt Noble kicking a penalty from 45 metres. 3-0.
Wells came back with outside half Ryan Taylor-Dennehy feeding his forward runners with the irrepressible Hayden Pengelly and Brunger to the fore. However, a second kickable scrum penalty saw Noble double the Dorking lead on 9 minutes. 6-0.
With the scrum struggling Dorking looked to exploit their advantage here and from an attacking scrum the home side stretched their lead through a fine try. Full back Ed Carne made the initial incision on the left and when the ball was recycled right Noble and Fred Evans linked with impressive number 8 Harry Watts to send him crashing under the posts for the first of his team’s 5 tries. With Noble’s conversion it was 13-0 at a rate of a point per minute.
The travelling support were encouraged by the next passage of the game though as skipper Chaz Spence, Taylor-Dennehy, Pengelly and Hobbs made ground with both kicks and ball in hand. The catalyst for this was a thumping Shaydn Osgood tackle and the centre’s physicality was a feature all game. Dorking’s defence was very well-organised and effective throughout though and Wells could not turn their pressure into points.
On 27 minutes Wells were reduced to 14 men when prop Carl Straeche received a yellow card for persistent scrum offences and the boys from St Marks were certainly on the wrong side of the penalty count at this stage. Dorking looked likely to score soon after but the ball was lost forward as a result of a strong Hobbs cover tackle. Prop Kyle McGarvie now came on with wing Max Douch making way temporarily. Spence was kicking well in defence and it looked like Wells might see out the yellow card period without conceding more points. However, it was not to be. Watts scored a quality individual try when he took the ball down the blindside and chipped ahead before beating the Wells cover to the ball for the touchdown where the 15th man might well have been. An excellent Noble conversion made it 20-0 on 37 minutes.
With the experienced Olly Allman having had to leave the pitch due to a serious cut, Smith now made his debut. To their credit it was Wells who finished the half the stronger. A powerful Osgood break took them deep into the Dorking 22 but support was not to hand quick enough. A period of sustained pressure ensued but despite an apparently late tackle on Taylor-Dennehy and valid appeals for offside, Dorking were able to steal the ball and clear to herald the half time whistle. Half time 20-0.
The visitors now had the hill and were back to 15 with Straeche having returned and McGarvie remained on for Brunger. They were very much in control in possession terms now but despite huge amounts of work from Mike Hathaway and Pengelly there was not a great deal of incision against a well-marshalled defence. This was to change on 48 minutes though. Salle put Earle into a gap and the athletic forward made 35 metres through the heart of the Dorking cover before a delightful popped pass to the supporting Hobbs who dived over between the posts. With Taylor-Dennehy slotting the conversion it was 20-7.
Hathaway and Earle now made further powerful runs but another Dorking turnover saw Smith pressed into defensive action and he covered well. Wells suffered a major blow on 57 minutes when the influential Pengelly had to be replaced by Webb after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Two minutes later Dorking extended their lead when Wells were ruled to have not released in a tackle and Noble slotted the penalty kick. 23-7.
Wells were keeping loyal to their attacking instincts and both Douch and Smith were eager for work. However, the game was to be effectively settled on 64 minutes. As Dorking attacked via a maul, Straeche seemed to be subjected to some careless footwork whilst on the ground. With the referee playing on to the surprise of nearby supporters, a disappointed Straeche received a second yellow card for dissent and Wells were now down to 14 players. The game got very tetchy for a period as tempers boiled over but resolute defence kept Dorking out. Brunger now had to return for Smith who should be proud of his debut efforts.
On 73 minutes Dorking extended their lead when a flowing counter-attack following Wells pressure saw Jasper King break clear and, despite another fine Hobbs tackle, the home side crossed for the try through wing Olly Rathbone. With Noble’s conversion the score was now 30-7.
Wells were still showing great ambition but they were now down to 13 when Brunger limped off and with the game going to uncontested scrums they were unable to replace him. Dorking attacks were thwarted with Webb and Osgood making important tackles but exploiting the extra men, the home team were to cross for the bonus point try on 78 minutes via Finn Osborne. To make matters worse Osgood received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle in the build-up. He walked off to make it 15 v 12 as Carne slotted the conversion. 37-7.
What happened for the next 10 minutes as the referee played a significant period of injury time should make all Wells supporters very proud. Dorking crossed again through Rathbone to make it 42-7 but thereafter it was all Tunbridge Wells. To quote club photographer Bruce Elliott…. “we camped in their 22 going phase after phase. Some absolutely fierce rugby from the lads, playing for nothing but pride by that point. Immense and impressive”. There were four successive penalties but no yellow card, and a good shout for a penalty try for a deliberate knock on, but the visitors were to get nothing but plaudits for these final efforts.
We knew there would be tough games this season where the score-line would not fully reflect the players’ efforts and this was one of those days. Real positives can be taken from the debuts of Hobbs and Smith and the leadership by example from the likes of Spence, Taylor-Dennehy and Hathaway at difficult times. Discipline remains key but now it is time to simply re-group, set the physio team to work and build ahead of another big game this week as Wells host Southend Saxons at St Marks. With the visitors having picked up their first win of the season their confidence will be up so another fiercely contested game is in store. Kick off at home is at 2.30pm and all support will be gratefully recived.
Squad: Olly Allman (Jake Smith); Max Hobbs, Blaise Salle, Shaydn Osgood, Max Douch; Ryan Taylor-Dennehy, Chaz Spence (Capt); Carl Straeche, Luke Hawkins, Tom Brunger (Kyle McGarvie), Christian Earle, Mac Popham, Hayden Pengelly (Adam Webb), Charlie Dagwell, Mike Hathaway.