Westcombe Park (Home)
31 - 15
Tunbridge Wells Vs. Westcombe Park
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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