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Sidcup Vs. 1st XV
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After three successive defeats, Head Coach Simon Whatling will have been seeking a response from his players when his Tunbridge Wells team travelled “up the road” to Sidcup and, simply put, he could not have asked more. This was comfortably Wells’ strongest all-round performance of their first campaign at this level.
A warm welcome off the pitch before-hand was always likely to be replicated by a “warm” welcome on the field of play despite a bitterly cold cross-field northerly wind. This was the second of Wells’ four Kent derby games this season and the team from St Marks were looking for revenge over Sidcup having lost both games last year when the teams clashed in London One South before gaining promotion together. Sidcup sat 7th in the league two points ahead of Wells with the visitors in 10th but by the time they left south London these positions had been reversed.
Wells were delighted to welcome back prop Brendan Crosilla and influential outside-half Frank Reynolds after injury, and on paper at least the squad looked as strong as any that had taken to the field this season.
Wells kicked off and the tempo of the game was set instantly with it being nearly 2 minutes before the first break in play. Crosilla and flanker Dave Allen (who was to be hugely influential all game) carried strongly and Reynolds was back orchestrating play. Max Douch looked for work off his wing position and a half-break by him led to a 40 metre territorial kick by Reynolds pinning the home team back in to their own 22. Wells soon forced an attacking line-out which was taken by lock Owain Withers and a maul was set. The carrying work of Crosilla was evident throughout and he and hooker Luke Hawkins were prominent again before a deft Blaise Salle pass popped Christian Earle into space and the athletic forward galloped 15 metres to the posts for a try converted by Reynolds on 6 minutes. An good start. 0-7.
Before long a searching 45 metre kick from impressive full-back Ryan Taylor-Dennehy had Wells on the front foot again and on 11 minutes Reynolds extended the lead with a penalty kick. 0-10.
Wells felt aggrieved when Allen was penalised from the re-start for not releasing in the tackle when he did not appear to be held but this only served to fire up the experienced campaigner even more. The visitors defended the ensuing line-out well but on 14 minutes Josh Twyford converted a penalty goal from 35 metres to make it 3-10.
A Reynolds kick and massive Shaydn Osgood follow-up tackle (and his powerful defence and carrying was another key feature of the game) gave Wells a scrum just inside the Sidcup half. Tyalor-Dennehy and Crosilla took the ball forward before Reynolds cleverly put Osgood into space. He beat two men making 20 metres before feeding Nick Doherty who easily brushed aside a tackle to score a try under the posts. With the Reynolds conversion Wells were 17-3 up after 22 minutes and this was a fair reflection of their excellent first quarter.
Wells continued to show a desire to be pro-active in attack with tip passes and strong counter-attacks making space and yardage. The line-out functioned impressively all day with Hawkins hitting Earle, Withers and Mike Hathaway with aplomb. The scrum was also more robust and with the pressure Osgood and Mike Doherty were exerting in midfield, Sidcup were hanging on at this stage. However, Wells could not quite turn their pressure into points and on 34 minutes it was Sidcup who scored next via a second Twyford penalty. 6-17. Wells now had one of their sadly customary discipline “lapses” as the referee awarded a series of penalties for breakdown infringements. Eventually, Twyford was back in kicking range again and on 38 minutes he made it 9-17.
The visitors needed another score to more fully reflect their first half superiority and it was to come as the game moved into stoppage time. A penalty was sent 40 metres into touch to set up an attacking line-out. Hathaway soared to catch the ball and after Crosilla and Allen were denied at close range it was Earle who powered over for his second try. With a fine Reynolds conversion Wells were able to take an impressive 24-9 lead into half-time.
What was needed now was more of the same to prevent a tenacious Sidcup team from getting back into the game. To the delight of the travelling support this is exactly what happened. When Sidcup fumbled the ball 35 metres out Withers was on hand to show excellent footballing skills and kick through. Douch flew forward to gather the ball but was thwarted just short of the line. However, quick recycling saw the ball in Allen’s hands and he crashed over for a well-deserved try on 42 minutes. It was converted by Reynolds and it also secured the try bonus point. 9-31.
With strong tackles from Salle and Douch, Sidcup could not get out of their own half and when they did try a speculative kick it was fielded by Taylor-Dennehy on his own 10 metre line. He broke the first two tackles before beating the next defender on the outside and then another on the inside to sprint clear for an outstanding individual try on 47 minutes. 9-36.
With a vocal home support Sidcup were determined to get back in the match and on 50 minutes a strong rolling maul eventually saw James Poland dot down for an unconverted try. 14-36. Shortly afterwards a fine combined tackle by Allen and Douch thwarted a Sidcup counter-attack but it sadly saw the latter dislocate his knee and leave the field. It was an unfortunate end to what had been an impressive display from the young wing. Matt Spicer entered the fray.
Sidcup were experiencing by far their best phase of the game now as Wells started to concede penalties. Messrs Allen, Earle, and Osgood engaged in some fine rear-guard defence but the pressure eventually told when home forward Luke Coughlan looped around a line-out to break two uncharacteristically weak tackles to cross under the posts on the hour. With Twyford’s conversion it was now 21-36.
However, the momentum that Sidcup had built came to an end just three minutes later. Allen intercepted a stray Sidcup pass and as he looked to stride clear he was adjudged to have been tackled high by Jack Dutton, preventing him from making a material advantage of his fine work, and the home lock was sent to the sin bin. Wells were to turn the screw in a very professional manner. Reynolds sent a long kick into the Sicdup 22 and whilst Wells were unable to take advantage of the line-out a powerful scrummage soon turned the ball over. Hawkins and Allen went close but were thwarted before a penalty was awarded. Taking advantage of the yellow card, the visitors opted for a scrum sensing that Crosilla, Hawkins and Carl Straeche now had the edge over the de-powered home pack and this was to prove the case as they marched back their opponents for Nick Doherty to secure his brace of tries at number eight on 67 minutes. 21-41.
Withers gathered the re-start and Wells were back on the attack. Skipper Chaz Spence must have been delighted at the way his team were playing and he had no small part in it himself with his mix of box-kicking, knowing when to bring his big forward runners into play and then when to attack wider with the final Wells try being a perfect example of this. Hawkins hit Hathaway at the tail of the line-out and Spence unleashed his forward runners with Allen and Crosilla again making good yardage. Sensing the opportunity, the scrum half fed the powerful Osgood who burst down the blind-side before feeding Taylor-Dennehy to coast home from 20 metres. A superb team try which deserved the excellent Reynolds conversion it got to make it 21-48 on 73 minutes.
Kyle McGarvie and Mac Popham now replaced Crosilla and Allen, who left to rapturous applause from the Wells faithful. Soon after another huge Osgood tackle dislodged the ball and Spicer kicked through. Just as he looked likely to gather and score, the ball evaded him and fine work by the covering Sidcup defender saw them set off on a counter-attack that brought an attacking penalty. Another series of penalties followed as the boys in navy and white tried to hold out but eventually home hooker Charlie Hopkins scored a third Sidcup try in the final play of the game. Full time. 26-48.
After narrowly succumbing to the new league leaders Hertford three games ago, Wells would have been bitterly disappointed at the way they lost to Dorking and Southend Saxons thereafter. What this game showed is that when they have their First XV available and play like this, they will be a challenge for all the sides in this league. This was a powerful team display epitomised by the efforts of Taylor-Dennehy, Osgood, Reynolds, Crosilla and Allen but everyone contributed to a cracking win. The key will be to keep up this level of intensity and skill, and to maintain this kind of performance throughout the season, especially when given the attritional nature of this league there will no doubt be injuries and absences to deal with along the way. However, the players have now set themselves a high benchmark and that is no bad thing.
This win moves Wells back to 7th on 30 points – exactly 17 points behind table-topping Hertford and 17 points above Westcombe Park who occupy the final relegation spot. Mid-table but hopefully now casting an eye upwards rather than looking down at the relegation battle. The tough games keep coming though and next-week Wells host Essex side Westcliff, who have won 4 of their last 6 matches and sit 5th. Kick-off is 2pm and all support will be gratefully received.
Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy; Blaise Salle, Mike Doherty, Shaydn Osgood, Max Douch (Matt Spicer); Frank Reynolds, Chaz Spence (Capt); Brendan Crosilla (Kyle McGarvie), Luke Hawkins, Carl Straeche, Christian Earle, Owain Withers, Mike Hathaway, Dave Allen (Mac Popham), Nick Doherty.