Category: Match Report

Match Report – Sevenoaks 36 Tunbridge Wells 0

It was warm and dry ahead of the second A21 Derby match of the season…… At least it was in the clubhouse where a large contingent of Tunbridge Wells supporters joined the merry throng of 90 that sat down to a scrumptious chicken curry lunch with our rugby-friends at Sevenoaks.

Early success was registered here with three of the four raffle prizes being bagged by Wells-dominated tables, and I will be very surprised if the blue riband prize of a bottle of Glenmorangie left the club intact having been won by the table containing Messrs Fleming and Whiting……

However, the weather outside were as far from “warm and dry” as could be imagined, with torrential rain and a fierce gale force (if not quite Storm Eunice) wind howling down the pitch. Clearly not conducive to good, open error-free rugby, and certainly not helpful for your correspondent who remains steadfastly “old skool” in using pen and paper when taking match report notes.

Wells arrived at the Paddock with confidence boosted after a shock 23-20 win over league-leaders Hertford the week before, but that this meant they still sat 13th in the league, 11 places behind their hosts, simply served to underline their under-dog status – especially after a humbling 0-45 defeat at home to Sevenoaks earlier in the season. Despite the atrocious conditions it is testament to the quality of the players on the pitch that a competitive game was to unfold and, and whilst Sevenoaks was certainly deserving winners, one could argue that the score line was perhaps a shade flattering in the end.

It is to the credit of both clubs that the core of each squad consists of locally raised and nurtured rugby players. Sevenoaks have added some outstanding overseas quality to the local foundation, and although Wells have recruited several young players as part of this season’s rebuilding process, it was striking at 11 of the 18 match-day squad have come through the ranks at St Marks.

Oaks kicked off with the wind directly behind them and were to spend the next 40 minutes pretty much camped in the Tunbridge Wells half. The visitors were dealt a significant early blow when exciting new hooker Ben Mutch (fresh from a man of the match debut performance last week having joined from TJs) seemingly broke his nose after just three minutes. This meant an early introduction for Cameron Follows and saw the multi-talented Nick Doherty takeover lineout throwing duties.

An ominous early 30-metre rolling maul saw the home team deep in the Wells 22, although to be fair the visitors by and large defended this highly effective and efficient part of the Oaks game well. A strong scrum gave impetus to the home side’s attack and scrum-half Henry Galligan was able to dummy and cross the line for the opening try on 9 minutes. Ben Adams was unable to convert from out wide. 5-0.

Wells were fiercely competitive at the breakdown throughout and shortly after the restart Follows secured an excellent jackal to earn his side a penalty. With the wind testing even the most experienced of hookers, the visitors’ lineout was under pressure, and this made it difficult to build sustained territory or keep possession, as was needed in the face of the gale. Scrum-half Tom West executed a series of good and productive box kicks but whenever Sevenoaks had the ball they were able to gain significant yardage using the boot with the wind and, despite the conditions, to their credit by often looking to play wide with the ball in hand too.

On 19 minutes Oaks skipper Nigel Gumbleton made a strong charge through the midfield and despite being hauled down short, quick ball saw Adams release to the overlapping Awa Morris to touchdown for a second home score. Again, the wide-out conversion proved virtually impossible, but it was now 10-0.

Wells had now been forced into a further re-jigging of their resources when a rib injury saw flanker Jake Smith depart, to be replaced by ‘birthday-boy’ Richard Webster. Mutch now returned to bolster the pack, but his valiant efforts were to prove short-lived when an inability to stem the blood flow from his nose saw him substituted again, and this time permanently.

The Tunbridge wells front five of Charley Smith, Mutch/Follows, Gabriel O’Brien, Jack Lord and Tom Pithouse worked tenaciously throughout, and the scrum was now gaining parity. As the pitch turned into the proverbial mud-bath, Oaks continued to pound away at the Wells line but one or two misplaced kicks, coupled with some fierce defensive hits held off the hosts until the 38th minute.

A robust Fred Richardson run gave the home team good field position and eventually lead to an attacking five-metre lineout. Despite terrific defensive work from both Pithouse and Number 8 Doherty, flanker Matt McRae was able to burrow his way to the line from close-range, and this time Adams was able to convert. 17-0.

Shortly afterwards Wells had their first attacking line out in the Oaks 22 but when the ball fell lose it was former Wells product Scott Sedgwick who seized on it before making 20 metres up field. Oaks looked to go wide to force home their advantage but were thwarted by good defensive work from a combination of wing Max Hobbs and centre Rich Murray.


It was typical of Wells luck this season that when the players returned for the second half there has been a noticeable drop in both wind and rain. However, the underfoot conditions were almost unplayable by now and one can only tip one’s cap to all 36 players for their endeavour.

What the visitors needed was to start the second 40 minutes on the front foot, if only to give them some breathing space. Sadly, with the ball exhibiting Imperial Leather like qualities (and other soap brands are available), a mistake behind the Wells scrum saw Sevenoaks recover the ball. After a driving run by Drew Narbey-Nimeti, Gumbleton was on hand to power over between the posts. Adams converted and after 42 minutes it was now 24-0 with the try bonus point secured.

West, his outside half Fin White, and skipper Mike Doherty at inside centre tried their best to engineer better field position for the boys from St Marks, but both kicking and running the ball was now proving troublesome for both teams. Doherty also made one particularly huge hit on ex-Wells centre Shaydn Osgood to “welcome” his former team mate to the field when he made an appearance as a replacement. The phrase a “war of attrition” can hardly have been better utilised in a game of rugby.

An injury to Hobbs saw Webster revert to his more accustomed wing position and a first cap from the bench for Max McCabe who slotted into the back row. He announced his arrival with a superb chop tackle (with several more to follow) and hopefully he enjoyed his first taste of rugby at this level – even if all he could probably taste at this stage was Knole Paddock mud!

Oaks remained dominant in terms of possession and on 52 minutes it took a superb Toby Wallace tackle followed by a 40-metre West clearance kick to alleviate the pressure.  Murray and wing Max Douch also made important tackles to keep the home side at bay.

Those of you have followed “my work” over the years will, will know that I have a particular passion for a well delivered rolling maul. Indeed, in my many years of involvement with local rugby, it is Sevenoaks who have often provided the “thing of beauty” that such a set piece can provide – whether at Junior or Senior level. However, it only earns a team 5 points from a try (or perhaps 7 if a penalty try ensues) whether performed in an aesthetically pleasing way, or as was the case on 60 minutes, in a more functional and, dare I say it “ugly” manner. On this occasion it was Oaks prop James Simmons who benefited in scoring a try, which capped off a fine all-round performance by the loose-head. 29-0.

Having failed to register a point in the season’s first encounter in October, Wells were determined to try and breach the Oaks line. This effort was never more exemplified than in a rumbustious 20-metre pick up and drive from the base of the scrum by Wells’ man of the match Nick Doherty.  Sadly, the ensuing possession was lost and Oaks were able to launch a counter-attack engineered by their man of the match outside-half Patrick Pellegrini. Great covering work by the industrious Lord and hard-working flanker Toby Talbot was needed to bring this attack to a halt.

However, when an off the ball skirmish saw the referee halt play with Wells in possession, it was to the incredulity of the travelling support that the match was re-started with an attacking Oaks scrum. This was a tough day for the “merry whistle-blower”, Matt Rozier, who did his best despite playing shirts becoming increasingly caked in mud, thereby making offsides difficult to differentiate, and also several “little” wet weather knock-ons taking place on his blindside. This was a day when he could certainly have used the assistance of qualified Assistant Referees, but we do not have that luxury at Level Five. Instead, he only had the urgings of the vocal touchline support, and I am not quite sure how unbiased this advice was………

From this scrum, the outstanding Pellegrini scythed through the visiting defence before drawing full-back Wallace and passing to his open-side flanker McRae, who galloped in for his second try of the day. That the final pass was more NFL then RFU should take nothing away from the outside half’s overall performance, nor should it from McRae’s fine supporting line. Adams added the conversion to make it 36-0 on 73 minutes.

Four minutes later the game was over – inside the full 80 minutes but perhaps a sensible call when one of the Wells players managed to tackle his own man, so indistinguishable were the playing shirts by this time!

Squad: Toby Wallace; Max Douch, Rich Murray, Mike Doherty (Captain), Max Hobbs (Max McCabe); Fin White, Tom West; Charley Smith, Ben Mutch (Cameron Follows), Gabriel O’Brien, Jack Lord, Tom Pithouse, Jake Smith (Richard Webster), Toby Talbot, Nick Doherty.

This result sees Sevenoaks maintain second spot in the league, just one point behind leaders Dorking and Wells’ players now have a week off to regroup and try and rest some battered bodies ahead of their next game which is another Kent Derby at home to a much-improved Westcombe Park on Saturday 5th March. Kick-off will be 2.30 at St Marks and all support would be gratefully received.


TWRFC 14 – Maidenhead RFC 45 22nd January 2022

Match report TWRFC vs. Maidenhead RFC KO 2pm – 22nd January 2022 


With fine, brisk conditions, Wells decided to play on the 2nd XV pitch. It was in good shape and gave the throng of 300 plus crowd a hill top vista in which to survey the grassy battle pitch.

Wells were hoping to repeat some winning ways from the previous weeks’ tight match away win at Brighton.

Both sides slightly unrecognisable from their earlier season close encounter. Wells suffering from a ’25 player’ injury list and the opposition looking like they have benefited from some in-season recruitment.

In addition, Wells capped a new Hooker, Cameron Follows, who played a full 80 minutes and should be commended for his excellent debut.

Maidenhead with a spring in their step pinned Wells down early on, in their 22 and from the get go put some swift points on the board. A touch down from the opposition no.10, with the conversion, Maidenhead quickly went seven nil up.

From the restart, play pings back and forth, however a high kick from Wells into the Maidenhead 22 gets knocked on, with the player under no real pressure.

This gave Wells a chance to get back and the resulting scrum creates a penalty for Wells. After some injury treatment, the silky Scot, Jack Anderson, slots the 3 points to make it 3-7.

With tails up and sustained pressure from Wells, back in the opponents 22, the opposition came off their feet and rightly get penalised. Another chance for a shot and Anderson picks up his penalty brace. Score now 6-7.

The next passage of play sees both teams trying to establish a foothold. Maidenhead collapse a scrum and the Wells get on the front foot.

With mounting dominance after 20 minutes gone, a kick for the touch turns up the heat. Sadly the pressure didn’t turn into points and Maidenhead get to clear their lines.

The play transfers into the home sides half and with Wells not rolling away after a tackle the ensuing penalty is neatly slotted and Maidenhead creep ahead. 6-10.

The next passage of play is quite stop start, Maidenhead’s line out is functioning well, however possessions seems to be swapping backwards and forwards.

But with 35 minutes gone, the visitors decide to kick for the line and again with heavy pressure on the Wells 22 they look like they will score. The line is caught, the maul is made and the Maidenhead hooker dots down. The 5 points get converted with an excellent kick form their full back, Conner Grainey. Score now 6-17.

Wells now retaliate, a ‘not straight’ from the usually reliable opposition hooker gives Wells a good scrum time chance. Wells attack, butcher their move as the ball goes wide, but receive a penalty back for a high shot on Anderson’s throat. He hits between the sticks. Score is now 9-17.

And the 1st half closes.

Last week, it was rumoured that Simon Jervis’  (the new evergreen Director of Rugby at TWRFC) Churchillian half time chat helped the Wells turn the tables with positive prose. Would his sage words this week provide another repeat of a Wells tide turning? We all hoped so.

Clearly he would have tried to address challenges around Wells being unable to create their own chances and help guide the team against high-pressure tactics from the magically lightning quick opposition in their defensive line.

With a shrill blast, the game kicked off. Maidenhead start the second half with applied pressure and score under the posts with a smart, quick, right to left passage of play. Score now 9-24. Not the start Wells wanted.

So Wells return with enlightened pressure. So much so, the opposition 4 gets his 10-minute marching orders for repeated infringement. The pen is kicked out for a lineout, which Wells fail to catch. And Maidenhead select a scrum.

Again Wells attack with a now dominant Scrum, and from an ensuing penalty, tap and go. But still lack the penetration to cross into the try zone.

Well’s receive another penalty in front of the posts but too far back to slot. Line out is selected, then scrum followed by more repeated infringements. The crowed pleading for more cards from the consistent referee. This is when Wells need to capitalise. Unfortunately they don’t. Maidenhead are off the hook, as they clear their lines.

Maidenhead then trundle down to the Wells half. Then to rub salt into already open wounds, the opposition break with a bullocking run, by the meaty loose head. Ball is spun out, after he eventually gets taken down, but the damage is done. Score now 9-31, still with 20 minutes left to play.

Arguably now a difficult score line to come back from with the lack of penetration from Wells and the dominance from the Maidenhead side, now very much with their heads up. And to further beleaguer the home side, Chris Shorter comes off with a shoulder injury.

Maidenhead now in their stride, give the ball to their talented 14 Scott Prince, the king of the wing, with light feet and swivel hips, he menaces the defense and flicks a pass to the Maidenhead Captain, Ben Mitchell. Score now 9-38.

With 5 minutes left to play, Maidenhead now bully their way down the field from kick off and with strong running from one of their big lads, Alex ‘Frenchie’ French, ploughs through three tackles and again seals the fate of the startled Tunbridge Wells side. Score line 9-45

The last moment sees the Maidenhead Prop see yellow, So Wells quick tap penalty allows Richard Webster, finally to cross over, for a consolation try.

14 – 45 is the final score.


Maidenhead fully deserved the win, however with more possession and some penetration, Wells really aren’t too far behind. But when they return the pressure, they have to convert it into points.


Tim McCabe

Havant RFC 41 – 17 Tunbridge Wells RFC

Tunbridge Wells RFC Match Report 11 December 2021

Wells travelled to Havant with high hopes after their excellent performance against second place Wimbledon the week before. The weather was still and dry with the game played on an artificial pitch under lights: perfect conditions for a running game.  Havant kicked off and a poor clearance from Wells put them under immediate pressure from the resulting line out.  Wells were judged offside in front of the posts allowing the Havant captain Joel Knight, one of three brothers playing in the Havant backs, an easy three points after two minutes.  Wells came back strongly and after a good solid scrum at which Havant were penalised Jack Anderson, the Wells stand off, converted to make the score level at three all after six minutes.  Havant now upped their game and scored a try in the corner after Wells had lost a line out on the opposition 10-metre line and Havant passed slickly down the line to put their winger in.  Knight was successful with the difficult conversion leaving Wells trailing 10 – 3 on 11 minutes. Wells came back again into the opposition 22 with the resulting pressure leading to a penalty kicked by Jack Anderson to bring the score to 10 – 6. Havant then altered their game tactics relying much more on their bigger, more powerful and aggressive forwards.   A driving maul following a line out close to the Wells line resulted in the ball being moved to the right and a Havant try.  The conversion was successful making the score 17 – 6 on 26 minutes.  Despite some good Wells play Havant were soon back putting pressure on the Wells line with a series of line outs and driving mauls which Wells defended well.  This defence came at a cost when the Wells second row, Tom Pithouse, was yellow carded on 35 minutes.  Another line out won by Havant resulted in more pressure on the Wells line with the Havant No 8, Gavin Hughan, going over from short range.  The try was converted, to make the score 24-6.  Havant scored their fourth try securing a winning bonus point before half time.  The conversion was missed leaving the score at   29 – 6.  Wells produced some good play to work the ball out of their 22 and when Havant were penalised at a subsequent scrum on the Havant 10-metre line Anderson produced another fine kick to bring the score to 29-9 at half time.  Wells, back to a full complement, started the second half brightly, nearly scoring from the kick off when Havant failed to deal with the ball. Further good Wells play including a fine break by Max Hobbs resulting in a penalty converted by Anderson on 54 minutes, 29 – 12.  But there was no dealing with the powerful Havant pack whose driving maul led to a further try two minutes later.  The conversion was missed leaving the score at 34 – 12.  Soon afterwards Wells were penalised at a scrum and a quick kick through allowed Hughan to touch down over the Wells line.  The conversion was successful, 41 – 12.  Wells again came back, and two excellent Wells scrums and smart handling produced an overlap to allow Jack Smith the Wells winger to score a try to produce the final score, 41 -17.


Alan Skinner

Match report – Tunbridge Wells 0 Sevenoaks 45

RIVALRY – a Noun meaning “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.”

If you substitute the word “in” to make it “on the same field” then this, perhaps, encapsulates perfectly the rugby relationship between the rugby clubs of Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks. That this has been an amiable rivalry, with strong friendships within and between both clubs, has not made it any less competitive over the past few years. We have, by and large, plied our trade at the same level with Wells often reaching promotion a season ahead of Oaks, only for our peers “up the A21” to join us in at the end of the following campaign. Cue a series of local derbies.

In recent times it is fair to say that the team from St Marks have held sway with the last Sevenoaks win being a nerve-wracking 26-27 victory in December 2015 in a match hosted by the Skinners School. Since then, Wells have won 5 and drawn 2 of the ensuing matches, although the teams could not be split when last facing each other in the 2019-20 pre-Covid season. Wells were undoubtedly fortunate to cling on to a 15-15 draw in the pitch-black of a dark St Marks, in a game featuring 4 attacking line-outs stemming from penalties to the visitors in the 9 minutes of added-time. The re-match was again tight with the Knole Paddock crowd breathing the sighs of relief this time as Wells missed a last grasp opportunity in an 18-18 draw. It is fair to say that Sevenoaks were “due one”…..

That was then, and this is now. Sevenoaks travelled down the A21 to Wells in confident mood. Sitting third in the league, they had won their last 6 games after an opening day loss at Hertford, scoring 211 points and conceding just 52 in the process. The hosts, on the other hand, had lost 6 of their 7 games and sat 13th of 14th in the London & Southeast Premier League. Athough they could take some heart from the fact that several of these defeats were close, it was ominous that two of the sides that had recently bested them (Sidcup and Brighton) had been thumped by over 50 points by Sevenoaks since then. Tunbridge Wells Chairman Mike Rigby said in his very engaging post-lunch speech, “the form book can go out of the window in derby matches” and of course he is correct, but current form also must have a bearing and, sadly for the St Marks’ faithful, this was to be a game that “went to form”…..

A very healthy crowd in the region of 400 saw the visitors kick off down the hill under a bright blue sky with a relatively modest (by St Marks standards) cross-field wind coming off the Frant Road. Oaks clearly showed their attacking intent in the opening exchanges, looking to achieve quick ball from the forwards and play an expansive game. That this is the same approach Wells seek to take too, bode well for an entertaining afternoon’s rugby but it was the visitors who were to gain the upper-hand and never let their grip loosen.

Ben Adams pushed a first long-range penalty shot wide for Oaks on 4 minutes but they were soon back on the attack after former Wells player Shaydn Osgood (who had moved to Wells from Oaks in the 2017/18 season following our promotion to this league) received an over-exuberant welcome back from home skipper Mike Doherty who was penalised for a high tackle. Oaks have historically had a very strong and effective line-out “catch and drive” and this brought the first trigger call of “processes”, only for them to be penalised for blocking-off. Luke Giles found an excellent relieving kick, but it was to be a temporary line-out respite though as the game progressed.

On 7 minutes, the visitors had a line-out on their left wing 40 metres out. Having moved play in-field they then cleverly switched the attack back to the blind side and created a try for a player who must be a leading contender to having one of the best names ever of a try-scorer at St Marks!? Full back Patrick Pellegrini (fresh from an invite to train with the touring Tonga national side mid-week), made an excellent outside break before beating the rushing defenders with a well-timed inside pass to winger Te Awa Hou Rare Morris (Awa to his friends) who dotted down. A fine left-footed touchline conversion by Adams made it 0-7.

Wells responded well and as Oaks started to incur the wrath of excellent young official Conor Boyle, a clever short line-out between home hooker Stuart Nicholls and prop Gabriel O’Brien kept Wells on the front foot. Flanker Toby Talbot made a strong carry and outside backs Angus Horne and Toby Wallace linked well to release the ever-dangerous left-winger Max Hobbs. A neat Giles chip under the posts, whilst penalty advantage was being played, very nearly created a try but Wells now had the chance of an attacking 5 metre line-out instead. Sadly, this time the Nicholls-O’Brien combination was thwarted as the ball failed to travel the requisite 5 metres and Oaks were able to clear their lines. 
Soon after Nicholls connected with lock Jack Lord and a strong maul produced a Wells penalty Sadly, it also heralded a phase that was to last the remainder of the match, where the Wells line-out was to start misfiring, and the visitors were able to clear. 

A robust James Fotheringham run put Oaks back on the attack and it took a brave sliding effort by home full back Wallace to thwart the visiting centre’s chip and chase. This came at the expense of an Oaks attacking scrum 25 metres out. The scrum set-piece was fiercely contested throughout with home ‘Man of the Match’ Charley Smith exerting a lot of pressure at loose-head when he was on the pitch. This was the case here with Oaks being marched backwards up the hill before number 8 Sean Derrick was as industrious as ever in tidying up the retreating ball. A clever Ollie Shirtcliff chip to 5 metres out put the pressure back on the home side, and although a strong Horne/Jack Smith dual tackle thwarted an initial attack, Oaks swiftly moved the ball across the pitch from the left wing to the right one. As the Wells defence scrambled to react, another change of direction and a superb running line from Sam Nicholls saw the Oaks’ second-row score unopposed between the sticks. Adams’ conversion made it 0-14 on 22 minutes.

The hosts reacted positively to this score, but with the inability to secure their own line-out ball now starting to hurt them, a raking 60-yard clearing kick by Morris soon had Wells under pressure again. As Oaks attacked, Wells Number 8 Nick Doherty’s attempted interception was adjudged a deliberate knock on, and the visitors turned down the easy three points sensing this was the moment to turn the screw by opting for an attacking line-out.

When the first rolling maul was pulled down illegally, a general warning was issued to Wells and the scene was set for take two. When the much-loved Wells Colts-product Scotty Sedgwick found Stuart Coleman, a maul was set and there was a certain inevitability about the outcome as it rolled forward over the try-line, with Sedgwick dotting down. I have said it before, and do not apologise for saying it again, that to this old-school Welsh former-lock and referee, a rolling maul done well is quite simply “a thing of beauty” and this was not to be the last time the St Marks crowd (well your correspondent anyway) would have the chance to “enjoy” the sight of one performed perfectly. Adams’ conversion drifted just short of the left-hand post, so it was now 0-19 on 29 minutes.

This try was to herald a remarkable period when the visitors went 20 minutes without earning a penalty of their own, but sadly for the home support, Wells were unable to capitalise on this, even when Oaks were temporarily down to 14 and then 13 players. On 33 minutes Osgood was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on opposite number Horne but with an inability to secure their own line-out Wells were having to work incredibly hard to build pressure. Scrum-half Tom West and Giles tried to up the tempo and both Talbot and Josh Hawkins carried well but over-elaboration in midfield saw the initial opportunity wasted. 

Another penalty to Wells on the Oaks 22 metre line this time saw a scrum quite rightly chosen as the attacking option, and as the ball was moved wide the second Oaks centre Fotheringham was also given a yellow card for an adjudged high shot. Was this was Wells’ time to strike before half-time and with the advantage of the hill in the second half? Another attacking scrum saw Oaks collapse as they were a player light having moved Derrick into the backs, and surely now in front of the posts another scrum was the best option to either bring him in to the set-piece or to push Oaks back again? However, ours is a much easier game from the touchline and a quick tap penalty was taken instead – and a knock-on later the chance was gone.

Half-Time 0-19

The second half saw forwards Tommy Justice and Josh Brockman replace Nicholls and Lord and both were very industrious (sadly before injury in the latter’s case) in what was, ultimately, to prove a losing effort. With their two-player advantage, Wells started the second period on the front foot but minutes 40-45 were about as good as it was to get for the home side. A three on two overlap was created only for a midfield pass to go to ground. Another dominant Wells scrum maintained field position, but the Oaks defence was as good as their attack all game and they eventually earned a breakdown turnover penalty which not only enabled them to exit their half, but also after another penalty was needed to thwart the ensuing line-out, they were now back within 10 metres of the Wells try-line on the right-wing in front of the clubhouse.

“Clinical” as is a good a word as any to describe what happened next. “Processes” was the call, Sedgwick again found Coleman and ten metres later it was a case of deja-vu as the hooker bagged a brace of tries, and with it the try bonus point for his side. With the conversion missed it was now 0-24 after 47 minutes.

Rich Murray came into the Wells back-line and the home team were awarded a penalty from the kick-off. However, it was to be 18 minutes before they could take this. First half try-scorer Sam Nicholls took a heavy blow but both clubs’ medical teams were on the pitch within moments to assist the stricken player. This is a tough game we play, especially at this level, and first-class medical support is essential to facilitating our players feeling confident to take the field. This was borne out by all involved here and from speaking to the Sevenoaks Director of Rugby today, he wants to send “a big thanks to your medical team who worked with ours to make sure he was ok”….and the important thing is that Sam is, indeed, “ok” suffering the after-effects of a concussion and, thankfully, nothing worse.

Such a long mid-game break is inevitably disruptive, but I think it is fair to say that it was Oaks who picked up the tempo best from hereon in for the last half-hour of play. It took strong Tom Pithouse and Hawkins tackles to keep Oaks at bay, but it was quickly a case of “deja-vu” (again!) as an attacking line-out was set in the same right-hand corner as before the injury break. Again, Sedgwick found Coleman and it looked inevitable that the hooker would gain what would have been (for him) a very special hat-trick of tries as the maul surged forward. However, with the home pack putting up a sterner defensive effort this time, Mr Boyle was clearly in on a case of “jug avoidance” as he blew for a penalty try instead of allowing Sedgwick to dot down. 72 minutes (on the running clock) and it was now 0-31.

From the re-start marauding Oaks flanker Fred Richardson carried strongly but Wells were still in there battling. Hawkins (prior to a head injury ending another huge shift early),scrum-half West, both Doherty brothers and Talbot continued to play with great pride, but this was now turning into the proverbial “tough day at the office”. Hobbs gathered a cross-field kick and almost eluded the Oaks cover but a fine Fotheringham tackle brought him down.
Oaks attacked from a scrum and the elusive Pellegrini beat two players before finding the supporting Fotheringham, who in turn drew full-back Wallace and fed inside to scrum-half Henry Galligan, taking the “number 9 line” to cross for the try. Adams converted and it was 0-38 on 82 minutes.

Hobbs almost got on the end of another chip through, only for Morris to gather the ball in the face of three chasing Wells players. Oaks forwards Matt McCrae and Coleman drove through the Wells defence, but brave last-ditch cover held them out, only for Charley Smith to be sent to the sin-bin. Oaks went to the tried and tested line-out, but this time it launched flanker Richardson on a rumbustious run that saw him break through 4 tackles to get the try. Adams converted and although there was still 6 minutes of injury time to play that was to be the end of the scoring.

Tunbridge Wells 0 Sevenoaks 45

Squad: Toby Wallace; Jack Smith (Rich Murray), Angus Horne, Mike Doherty (captain), Max Hobbs; Luke Giles, Tom West; Charley Smith, Stuart Nicholls (Tommy Justice), Gabriel O’Brien, Tom Pithouse, Jack Lord (Josh Brockman) Josh Hawkins, Toby Talbot, Nick Doherty.

I’ll end where I started. Based on league results thus far this game went very much to form, despite no lack of spirit or effort from the Wells’ lads, and it will be no surprise if this Sevenoaks squad that has been building and strengthening over the past 3-4 seasons go on to challenge for the league title. For Wells, the immediate task at hand is clear – to patch up some of the walking wounded and re-group ahead of another “Kent” derby next week against 11th placed Westcombe Park. 

As Interim Director of Rugby Chaz Spence recently pointed out, with a brand new squad and coaching team, the club is having to take this as a “long-term plan and it’s going to take some time to bring it all together…and it’s taking time for it all to come together on the pitch in an extremely competitive league”. Ahead of the league re-structuring at the end of this season, if a transition year was needed, he correctly points out that “then this is probably a good year to do it”. However, whilst the top teams in this division are now clearly self-evident, Wells should, as a minimum, be looking to garner wins against those sides in the bottom half of the league, and the game at Orpington next Saturday would be a good place to kick-start this. All travelling support will be gratefully received.

In other results, Sevenoaks’ squad strength was evident in their II XV’s 9-74 win against a weakened Wells equivalent, but on a brighter note the Wells’ Under 14s A&B beat their Sevenoaks opponents by an aggregate of 22 tries to 3. 

Graham Withers

Match Report: Tunbridge Wells vs. Wimbledon

TUNBRIDGE WELLS RFC 1st XV.        10.
WIMBLEDON RFC 1st XV.    40.

This was a rearranged game from earlier in the season which was switched from St Marks to Bennett Memorial School’s AGP after a pitch inspection by the referee and the two captains at 1 00 pm.
Wells found themselves without successful right wing Max Hobbs after three minutes with Eddie Croft replacing him on the wing and Charlie Rigby coming off the bench to play at scrum half.
These changes can be added to changes in the front row and back row from the team who last week played so well against CS 1863.

The first few minutes of the half set the pattern for the next 40 minutes with the visitors in 3rd place in the league demonstrating almost complete scrum dominance and the Wells- currently 7th showing that they had some dangerous backs. With Wimbledon not finding their touches adding to the ball available for Wells to counter attack from deep.
The Don’s were first on the scoresheet after 13 minutes when an electric break from scrum half Ben Newman saw centre Jack Reville in under the posts for James Moffat to convert. 0-7.
The Don’s were a man down on 15 mins as No 8 Chris York was yellow carded for an offence on the floor. Wells enjoyed plentiful possession and were unlucky not to score after a brilliant handling move initiated by the Doherty brothers carried on by Ryan Taylor Dennehy and involving 10 players in all. The home side did not have to wait long though as on 24 minutes the improbable figure of the Wells hooker Stuart Nicholls popped up on the right wing to score an unconverted try 5-7.
As the half approached it’s end Mike Hathaway made a great break up the middle only for the ball to be spilled, Ben Whales was yellow carded and then a Don’s player followed him for a head high tackle on Taylor Dennehy which could have been more.
Wells continued to attack and Matt Spicer was adjudged held up in the tackle over the Don’s line on 43 minutes before Wells got the ball wide again on the right to Eddie Croft who got the ball down for an unconverted try and a Wells halftime lead of 10-7.

If Wimbledon were to win and keep pressure on the top two sides their game needed to be tightened and they needed to be more accurate with their kicking in the second half.
Sadly for Wells their second half form was much better with more aggressive defence and if possible even more scrum dominance. Nick Doherty was off to be replaced by Josh Hawkins within a minute of the restart and Don’s regained the lead on 44 minutes as Reville scored his second after a switch in midfield to score under the posts with Moffatt adding the extras 10-14.
During the first 20 minutes of the half Wells could retain little possession as they conceded a number of scrum penalties. On 50 minutes impressive Don’s 6 Kane Albani broke up the middle  and fed No 4 Jack Cooke for try 3 which was unconverted 10-19.

In the last 20 minutes Wells struggled in both the scrum and in accuracy at the line out as the Don’s squeezed the life out of the home side with further tries from a high possession rate from 15 Blane Wilson again through the middle and under the posts on 62 minutes 10-26, by effective hooker Ugo Ogodulunwa on 78 mins 10-33 and by probably Man of the Match Kane Alboni on 83 minutes and Moffatt adding his 5th conversion. To make the final score 10-40.

Wells had a good first half but could not live with the aggressive defence and set piece mastery of the visitors in the second half. They will have to bring a full 80 minutes of precision and a rethink on scrum technique before the replay in South London in a few weeks time depending on whether the London and SE Premier season is still running.

Roger Clarke.

Match report – London Irish Wild Geese 17 Tunbridge Wells 29

Tunbridge Wells travelled to Hazelwood, Sunbury on Thames on Saturday hoping to repeat their win over London Irish Wildgeese at St Mark’s earlier in the season. Played under lights on a perfect pitch the game was to be heavily influenced by a strong cross field wind which affected both sides’ ability to put together consistent periods of play. 

In a stop start first half, Wells were awarded a penalty on 17 minutes which Reynolds converted from 20 metres out, to go 3 nil up.  Three minutes later this advantage was cancelled out when the home side were given a penalty on Wells’ 22 for offside. Three all.  With the Wells scrum under pressure LIWG managed a sustained period of possession in midfield.  Poor Wells tackling allowed Willie Lafolafo, the impressive LIWG flanker, to burst through for a converted try close to the posts on 30 minutes to give the home side a 10 – 3 advantage.  

In the build-up to the try Wells’ hooker, Stuart Nicholls, suffered a cut to the head and had to leave the field being replaced by Josh Hawkins, with Nick Doherty moving to hooker. Wells came back in the remainder of the half with strong forward play keeping them in the LIWG 22 but they were unable to convert this territory into points.

Wells emerged for the second half with a more determined air and when LIWG were penalised at a lineout on the Wells 10 metre line the penalty was taken quickly and a 50 metre surge downfield resulted in Mike Doherty scoring a try which Reynolds converted.  Ten all.  On 53 minutes, quick thinking and precise handling resulted in the Wells running the ball from their own 22.  They outpaced the opposition and captain, Ryan Taylor-Dennehy, scored in the corner.  The wide out conversion was missed by Reynolds. Three minutes later Wells scored again when Mike Hathaway touched down under the posts following strong running from No 8, Nick Doherty, and Taylor-Dennehy.  With the conversion Wells had turned the game around in a quarter of an hour and led 10 – 22.

However, LIWG did not crumble, and on 65 minutes following sustained pressure on the Wells’ line, the hardworking Lafolafo forced himself over close to the posts.  A successful conversion closed the gap to 17-22 with 15 minutes to play.  

However, the best was yet to come.  Following a Wells scrum on half way the ball was moved quickly to left winger Max Hobbs who with great pace and scintillating footwork beat three defenders in running infield and successfully scoring under the posts, securing the try bonus point.  Reynolds converted to make the score 17-29, and, despite energetic play from both sides in the final ten minutes, this was how the game ended.  This leaves Tunbridge Wells seventh in the table on 47 points and LIWG fighting against relegation. 

Wells next game will be on 15 February at St Mark’s against CS Stags 1863, 2.30 kick off.

By Alan Skinner

Elsewhere in the league…..

Rochford Hundred’s advantage at the top of the table over Guernsey is now just one point but they are more likely to delight in their 12-3 win over third placed Wimbledon than focus on this. They now have 84 points with the Channel Islanders on 83 after their resounding 10-52 win at CS Stags. Wimbledon stay on 75. Dorking’s equally comfortable 12-46 victory at a struggling Bedford Athletic means that they are now 4 clear (on 54 points)  of Hertford and 6 ahead of Sevenoaks in 6th after these two fought out a 10-10 stalemate at Knole Paddock. We are now on 47 points in 7th just three ahead of Sidcup, who also banked a bonus point in a 32-17 win over bottom-placed Guildford. 

There is then a 9 point gap to Brighton who’s fine 4 match winning run now sees them up to ninth on 35 points replacing Tring, after a 13-16 win on the road in Hertfordshire. None of the bottom four teams picked up any points so it’s then CS Stags (31), London Irish Wild Geese (27), Bedford Athletic (24) and Guildford (20).

Next Saturday heralds a “rest week”, but not for the players of Sidcup and Sevenoaks who play their rearranged fixture in South London. On the 15th when we host CS Stags, there is the always keenly contested Hertford v Tring “derby” and Sevenoaks go to Guernsey. Guildford will be wary of the Wimbledon backlash too….

Match Report – Tunbridge Wells 11 Rochford Hundred 22

Wells started this home game back on grass at St Marks facing the league leaders after a tough three weeks against top sides, and having been forced to change their front row with Carl Straeche injured and Stuart Nicholls and Aston Croall unavailable. Charley Smith moved from second row to prop, Kyle McGarvie started as hooker, Mike Hathaway and Rich Murray returned and Duncan Hales, Jake Smith and Richard Webster formed a new bench.

Both sides completed the first quarter of this game without being able to dent their respective defences with possession fairly even and most of the play in midfield. The Wells set scrummage stood up well and the back row of Doherty, Hathaway and Pancaldi did enough to secure ball in the turnover. It took until the 27th minute for Wells to get on the scoreboard with a simple penalty which a number of touch line pundits thought could have been a penalty try.  3-0.

After this period of play Wells had some bright spots in the game with Horne, Murray and Hobbs looking sharp but the large and physical pack from Rochford were enjoying a larger share of the ball. It said much for Wells’ team defence that despite pressure it took until the 36th minute for this to be translated into points as Wells dropped the ball behind their line and Rochford 8 Hudson got the touch down 3-5.

Rochford continued to apply pressure and Wells were punished for this indiscipline as first Smith and then Hawkins were sent to the sin bin and Wells were down to 13 as halftime approached. Surprisingly this didn’t seem to hinder their game in attack at all because as injury time beckoned skipper Ryan Taylor- Dennehy pick the ball off his toes from a loose kick and initiated a great run and spinning break to find Mike Doherty on his shoulder to finish off a 45 metre move for the try and to finish the half down in numbers but 8-5 in the lead. A lead they just deserved as Rochford finished a half in which they never seemed to get going.

Wells started the second half back to 14 but faced a different Rochford side who had received an audible roasting from their coach during the interval. They had a simple  and limited game plan which was to use their physicality and maul and drive to the line.

Wells could gain little ball at this juncture and Rochford camped in their half. Further valiant defence could not prevent a succession of mauls from penalties to the corner seeing an early score as the maul rolled over the home line for a try to Rochford hooker Ferrier on 48 minutes 8-12 with a Greenhall conversion.

Wells now back to full numbers had brighter moments with Eukaliti, Hathaway, Doherty and Hawkins punching some midfield holes. This got the home side closer to the Rochford try line and on 50 minutes Reynolds got the scores within a point with a penalty 11-12. This was followed by a Horne break with Reynolds in support but Hathaway couldn’t hold the final pass.

Pressure then began to tell again as Wells lost all line out precision and with it the opportunity to keep possession which was then added to by the loss of scrum half Eddie Croft to a third yellow card of the game on 57 minutes. Despite these handicaps Wells kept Rochford out until the 63rd minute when a succession of bravely defended pick and drives finally brought success to Rochford as Wells were sucked in and the ball was moved swiftly to left wing Meads for a try in the corner 11-17.

The last 10 minutes of the game approached with Wells still having a say in the game and with a chance of at least a losing bonus point but Rochford pack pressure continued and with some inaccurate attempts at touch kicks from the Wells their task was aided. Rochford yet again camped on the Wells line and patiently picked and drove which despite further valiant defence ultimately saw Rochford’s very well built 6 Duaibe score the try 11-22.

Wells with their usual spirit roared back and had a good go at getting something out of the game. In injury time Rochford’s 5 Shields was sent to the bin but this was too late to help the cause and the final whistle blew with the home side on the Rochford 22.

This was a spirited performance from a Wells side that is still capable – once the squad is returned to full strength – of a top 6 place in this their third season in this league.

Discipline and line out technique cost them in this game but the work of a makeshift front row, the return of Mike Hathaway and a promising performance off the bench from Duncan Hales are all cause for optimism as the side look forward to their game against London Irish Wild Geese at Sudbury this Saturday KO 2 30pm.

By Roger Clarke

Elsewhere in the League

It’s a case of “as you were” at the top with the three leading sides all gaining bonus point wins. Rochford Hundred’s victory at St Marks moved them on to 80 points ahead of Guernsey on 78, after the Channel Islanders laboured to a 29-19 win over our next opponents, London Irish Wild Geese, having been behind twice. Wimbledon stayed hot on their respective heels on 75 points (with their game in hand against us in March) after a comfortable 42-19 win over Sidcup.

Dorking’s strong form since beating us in December (they have now won four in a row after seeing off Tring 38-22) sees them climb to 4th but they are a whopping 26 points off Wimbledon. They leapfrog  Hertford and Sevenoaks who will have both been disappointed at their losses – 25-27 to CS Stags and 12-8 at Brighton respectively. 7th, 8th and 9th remain exactly the same as none of us, Sidcup nor Tring picked up any points so stay on 42, 39 and 34 points respectively. However, it is certainly getting much tighter down below. Brighton’s resurgence continues and sees them up to 10th on 31 points after winning their arm wrestle against the Oaks, where they are joined by CS Stags. The Chiswick-based team earn pride of place for their bonus point victory at Hertford. Having pulled off a shock win at Rochford earlier in the campaign, this is another notable scalp for the Stags and shows that no one apart from the top three sides can rest on their laurels if they do not want to be pulled back towards the relegation battle. The Wild Geese sit 12th on 27th, ahead of Bedford Athletic on 24 and Guildford on 20 after the Surrey team beat Bedford 29-8. 

The “big game” next week is clearly in Essex where 1st play 3rd as Rochford Hundred host Wimbledon. Both Sevenoaks and Hertford will be hoping to get swiftly back on track when they meet at Knole Paddock. Guildford, Brighton and the Wild Geese will also go into their games with more optimism now as they take on sides above them at Sidcup, Tring and hosting us respectively. 

Match report – Tunbridge Wells 30 Guernsey Raiders 33

With St Marks suffering the effects of the week’s heavy rainfall, the superb 4G facility at Bennett School became the venue for what was always likely to be a tough challenge for Tunbridge Wells against a powerful Guernsey side. When the teams met in September the Channel Islanders registered a 31-7 win and there was a certain amount of trepidation amongst the Wells faithful given that the visitors had lost 13-19 last week to their nearest rivals Rochford Hundred which dropped them to second spot. Would Wells be the recipients of a reaction and backlash? Ultimately, the answer was yes but only really for the last 25 minutes as Guernsey turned the screw, with Wells having managed to pour more fuel on their fire themselves too by then……

Wells made four changes to the squad that had battled hard at Hertford last week. Carl Straeche started at prop and Agy Eukaliti moved to his favoured flanker position due to the injury to the highly influential Mike Hathaway. Charley Smith, therefore, started at lock whilst fellow forwards Tom Follows and Jake Smith came onto the bench. The latter is a highly promising flanker and an Academy product who was to make his First XV debut. In the backs, Mike Doherty played despite still feeling the after affects of last week’s injury and, with Rich Murray absent through illness, he was paired at centre with Angus Horne. Another Academy product, Horne had impressed in the role temporarily last week and was to stake his claim for a more permanent role with a man of the match display. Richard Webster returned on the wing after missing the last two games and it was great to see firm fan favourite Matt Spicer back on the bench after some time away from the club.

A beautiful, still, clear blue-sky day made for a great backdrop and was to bear witness to a thrilling “try-fest” of a match. Guernsey kicked off and in what was to be a feature throughout the athletic Eukaliti soared high to gather the ball. Wells cleared their lines but the visitors had a clear desire to put width on the ball all the day and this started from the opening minutes. However, when they were halted on halfway Nick Doherty created the turnover before Josh Hawkins made a powerful 15 metre run up the right touch line. The forwards created rapid ruck ball which scrum half Eddie Croft used to free his back line. Horne then made a searing break 35 metres out before finding the instigator of the attack Doherty on his left. He powered on before being hauled to the ground just a few metres short. Again the ball was recycled quickly and two long passes later it found the unlikely figure of tight-head prop Straeche standing alone on the right wing. He gathered the ball before carrying the last defender over with him for his first try at this level. The crowd were delighted as there are few more popular players than Carl in the squad. The connection of boot to ball for Frank Reynolds’ conversion attempt brought a strange sound from the ball and it drifted wide (and it was noticeable that place kickers struggled all day with the balls). Three minutes played and 5-0.

On more than one occasion this season I think it is fair to say that Wells have been slow starters but it was the Channel Islanders who seemed to suffering from this malady this time. A strong Webster carry put the home team back In Guernsey territory and when Croft’s box kick was knocked on it was Hawkins who was on hand to re-gather. Although Reynolds’ clever kick through came to nothing, Guernsey were penalised for offside so the outside half fired a fine touch finder and Wells had an attacking line-out 15 metres out. Hooker Stuart Nicholls found his jumpers well throughout and he connected with Eukaliti on this occasion. A rolling maul was set and started to make headway as several backs joined in. However, just as it splintered and momentum seemed to be lost it was the centre-playing Doherty brother Mike who, supported by Nicholls, was to force his way over wide on the left. The tough conversion was missed but it was now 10-0 on 10 minutes.

And soon two tries were to become three. Nick Doherty, skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy and Horne made good ground before Guernsey managed a turnover. However, a thumping James Pancaldi tackle created pressure on the visiting backs who knocked on. Nick Doherty again carried powerfully before recycled ball found its way to Taylor-Dennehy. The full back seems to have rediscovered some of his customary “zip” since the turn of the year and his pace took him clear and deep into Guernsey territory. The cover got to him but not before he slipped the ball to Horne on his left shoulder and centre dived over for the score. Another strange sounding connection saw the conversion missed but it was now 15-0 after just 17 minutes. Spicer replaced Colangelo who had taken a heavy blow to his back.

With all the crowd confined to one side of the pitch there was a cracking atmosphere at the game. A large number of post-lunch attendees who had battled their way through Saturday afternoon traffic from the club stood shoulder to shoulder with a healthy travelling support and it was they that were to cheer next. Tui Tauaika and Eukaliti combined to create a turnover which Spicer fly hacked forward but the bounce took it away from his grasp and the visitors were awarded a penalty. A long touch kick saw a line-out and maul which was halted illegally. The large Guernsey pack chose a second bite at this particular cherry and the Wells forwards could not halt the ensuing maul in time. With the usually reliable Owen Thomas missing the conversion it was now 15-5 after 23 minutes. Worryingly for Wells it was clear that Reynolds was now inconvenienced by a leg injury. It’s testament to the Kent County player that he soldiered on for the rest of the game despite clearly being in significant discomfort.

Guernsey now also seemed to have blown away the cobwebs but it only takes a second for momentum to be lost or gained. Tauaika managed to steal the ball and it was fed to Spicer. He tore down the left wing covering 25 metres in a blink of an eye before he was superbly tackled. However, as he fell to ground he was able to engineer an exquisite pop up pass to the supporting Croft and the scrum half crossed out wide on the left. With Reynolds’ injury clearly incapacitating him it was the try scorer who now assumed place kicking duties but this his effort fell well short. However, remarkable as it might have seemed before kick off, Wells had the 4-try bonus point in the bag after just 27 minutes. 20-5.

A Wells error at the kick-off handed possession back to the visitors via a scrum and the much larger Guernsey pack were starting to demonstrate a clear edge at this set-piece. A hefty drive saw a penalty awarded. A line out followed and although the attacking grey and green maul was halted just short, a powerful pick and go saw a try scored which Thomas converted, to some ironic cheers from the sidelines at the sight of the first successful place kick of the day. 30 minutes played and it was 20-12.

To be fair to the team from St Marks they were playing some lovely, ambitious rugby but it was as much poor discipline and imprecision from the visitors which was proving key, and this was epitomised by an incident on 34 minutes. After Pancaldi had made another fine tackle, Mike Doherty was cleared out illegally some distance away from the ball by visiting prop Jacob Pinkney and he received a yellow card. Crucially, though, Wells missed touch with the penalty and when Guernsey kicked clear, chasing flanker Lewis Hillier earned them a penalty for Wells not releasing.

Before the Guernsey line-out 35 metres from the Wells line, and sensing that frustration and ‘tetchiness’ was setting in, the excellent referee Dominic Bunning called both skippers together to ask them to remind their players of the importance of discipline. The warning was to go unheeded though. After the line-out was overthrown Straeche and Charley Smith combined well to bring the ball clear before a penalty was awarded to Wells. However, the whistle brought a bout of “handbags” that led to two more players heading to the sin bin – Nicholls for the home team and flanker Dom Rice for the visitors.

An attacking line-out saw Tauaika assume throwing in duties and he found Eukaliti (who was having an impressive game). Taylor-Dennehy again made good yards and when he was awarded a penalty 35 metres out he had no hesitation in asking Reynolds to kick for the corner. This he did with such aplomb that when Tauaika connected with Hawkins the maul was formed just 5 metres out. What started as 7 v 6 rapidly became 10 and then 14 as the Wells backs joined and lifted Tauaika over the line for a very much deserved try. Sadly, the conversion again went wide but it was now 25-12 three minutes into added time.

There was still time for one more Guernsey attack during which Straeche received a bang to the head. Perhaps surprisingly when awarded a free-kick 15 metres out the visitors decided to tap and go rather than opt for a scrum and excellent Wells defence held them at bay. Half Time: 25-12.

There was little doubt that Guernsey had yet to play their best rugby. They had shown signs of petulance but this was amidst frustration stemming from a combative and aggressive Wells performance. It is an old rugby truism that “you can only play as well as you are allowed to”. Sadly, for the home team this was to be absolutely the case in the second period…..but unfortunately it was the Channel Islanders who were to dominate and illustrate exactly why they are very much in the hunt for promotion.

And yet the second half started very brightly. Jake Smith temporarily replaced Straeche as Wells kicked off. Guernsey then went through almost 20 phases only for Wells to turn the ball over and clear. Poor discipline (for virtually the last time in the game) saw a penalty to Guernsey reversed in favour of the men in blue and Reynolds found a fine touch inside the opposition 22. Both teams were now back to 15 and Straeche also returned.

Spicer, Eukaliti and Taylor-Dennehy made good initial carries to take Wells to 15 metres out. Patience was key as Wells looked to find space and when the ball was switched back to the left, Horne set off on a pacy run on an outside arc before crossing in the corner to make it a brace of tries for him. Croft’s conversion attempt dropped just short but it was now 30-12 after 48 minutes.

However, this was as good as it was to get for Tunbridge Wells as the “real” Guernsey now stood up to be counted! To be fair the last 30 minutes were completely dominated by the visitors without Wells doing an awful lot wrong. Time and again they attacked the hosts out wide and through the middle and with clear scrum dominance now, the home support quite understandably had an ominous feeling.

On 54 minutes Guernsey had an attacking line out 20 metres from the Wells line. Brave defence kept them at bay but at the expense of an injury to Hawkins who was replaced permanently now by Jake Smith, and the young debutant should be proud of his efforts in what were now very tough circumstances. An attacking Guernsey scrum was halted illegally and when another scrum was set they might have anticipated a penalty try. However, Wells front five were to do better this time and held them at bay. The was only temporary, though, as after a series of drives number eight Doug Horrocks burrowed over under the posts. Thomas converted to make it 30-19 on 59 minutes.

There was little respite now for Wells as the visitors were straight back into the home side’s half. Wells were feeling the brunt of Mr Bunning’s whistle as the penalty count rose inexorably as the pressure began to tell. Another attacking line-out saw a maul drive 20 metres before the ball was lost forward just as the try line beckoned. Home supporters relief was short-lived though as the referee had been playing a penalty advantage and to make matters worse Nick Doherty was sent to the sin bin for the original offence. There are no prizes for guessing what happened next…..a line-out was set 5 metres out and a driving maul surged over the line for the try. With Thomas adding the extra two it had become 30-26 after 64 minutes.

There was one glimmer of hope for Wells on 70 minutes. Mike Doherty did superbly well to rip the ball clear in he tackle before feeding Spicer on half-way. The gap seemed to be there with an open field in front of him but just as he looked like evading the cover a desperate last gasp ankle tap brought him to ground and then he was penalised for holding on. A case of what might have been…..

Despite fierce resistance from the likes of Tauaika and Pancaldi the momentum was all with the visitors now. Just when a ball looked to have been stolen a high tackle penalty was awarded. Yet another attacking line-out was won on the left wing and although the maul was brought down effectively and legally, Guernsey were not to be denied. They picked and drove at the posts sucking in the desperate defenders before cleverly switching the play back to the blind side for left wing Mike Agyei-King to cross. Thomas’ fine touch line conversion made it 30-33 on 72 minutes.

Doherty returned to play at prop replacing Straeche and was accompanied by Follows. Eukaliti was impeded in the air which led to a Wells line out on halfway where Nicholls linked well with Follows. Tauaika took the ball up again but suffered a heavy knock and although Wells tried hard they couldn’t break through. Follows was unlucky when he made a cracking turnover only to see that Guernsey had earned a penalty earlier in the play.

As the game moved into injury time Tauaika eventually had to depart which saw uncontested scrums and Wells down to 14 players. Could Wells hold on to a richly deserved bonus point? The answer was yes and Guernsey showed their professionalism (and a healthy respect for their opponents) by simply maintaining possession and running down the clock.

An exhilarating contest that saw 11 tries and the proverbial “game of two halves”. The Wells players will no doubt be disappointed to have let an 18 point lead slip. However, when they reflect on the game they should bear in mind the quality of the opposition and the adversity they faced in both carrying injuries into the game and then incurring several more on the pitch. They played exciting rugby at times and really should look at this as two points gained more than anything else. They faced up to the challenge with both bravery and skill.

Now it’s over to Russell Shingles and his physio team to do what they can to patch the lads up ahead of the visit of league leaders Rochford Hundred next week. Kick off is 2pm at St Marks.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Richard Webster, Angus Horne, Mike Doherty, Harvey Colangelo (Matt Spicer); Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Carl Straeche (Tom Follows), Charley Smith, Josh Hawkins (Jake Smith), Agy Eukaliti, James Pancaldi, Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League

Rochford Hundred maintained their two point lead over Guernsey at the top of the table with a 29-13 win over Sidcup. They have 75 points, Guernsey are on 73 and Wimbledon remain right on their tails on 70 with a game in hand after a hard-fought 31-40 victory at lowly Bedford Athletic.  Hertford remain 4th on 46 points but will be very disappointed to have only taken a losing bonus point at London Irish Wild Geese who earned a 17-14 win in south-west London. Sevenoaks and Dorking remain in 5th and 6th on 45 on 44 after their game up the road at Knole Paddock was postponed. On 42 points we are now three clear of eight-placed Sidcup on 39. 
Tring will be relieved to have edged a nail-biter at home against Guildford with the bottom team taking a losing bonus point as the game finished 16-14. The winners move on to 34 points in 9th but it is all change in the bottom five.

Wild Geese’s win over Hertford moved them from 12th to 10th on 27 points and they are joined on that mark by Brighton who have moved out of the bottom three for the first time since September after what could prove to be a hugely significant 26-29 win at CS Stags. The Chiswick-based side now fill the first relegation spot with 26 points and Bedford Athletic have dropped from 11th to 13th on 24 points. Guildford are 9 points adrift at the bottom of the ladder on 15. For your reference, the team in 12th in both of the last two campaigns went down with 49 points….#justsaying.

There are lots of top half v bottom half games next week. The three promotion-hunting teams all be expecting to win but it’s down to us (home to Rochford), London Irish Wild Geese (at Guernsey) and Sidcup (away to Wimbledon) to try and upset the apple cart. Brighton v Sevenoaks is an intriguing clash, whilst the bottom sides square off in Surrey when Guildford host Bedford Athletic. 

Graham Withers

Match report – Hertford 21 Tunbridge Wells 19

Tunbridge Wells were on their travels to face a Hertford team who, by their own account, had produced their best performance of the campaign the week before in a narrow 14-8 defeat at table-topping Guernsey. They sat in 4th but just two points ahead of Wells in 7th and although the Hertfordshire side comfortably defeated a depleted Wells team 15-34 at St Marks in September, the pre-match chat was much more about a final kick 33-32 win to them in this fixture at the end of last season. As it was, this game was to be almost as close.

The visitors were able to take the field with just two changes to the side that had got 2020 off to such a good start with a dominant performance against Brighton. Harvey Colangelo stepped up to start on the wing in place of Max Hobbs and this enabled talented Academy product Lucas Scully to return to First XV action from the bench. In the pack it was heartening to see the same starting 8 plus popular prop Carl Straeche amongst the replacements, with Ben Isbell having returned to University.

The gravel-bed nature of the land at the club meant a soft but excellent playing surface on a wide-pitch. There was a very strong wind blowing down the pitch and it was Wells who kicked off playing into this. It was evident from the early exchanges that Hertford are a team who like to play running rugby ball-in-hand and they were to stay loyal to this pattern of play, even with the breeze at their backs.

Wells looked to have made a perfect start when the Hertford clearing kick was charged down but the ball fell kindly for the home side and they were able to clear downfield. Strong carries from the industrious Nick Doherty and ever-willing Josh Hawkins took the visitors back into Hertford territory only for the men from St Marks to be penalised for not releasing in the tackle.

This gave Hertford a fine attacking platform with a line out 35 metres from the try line. Although the intended maul was well sacked, Hertford showed great patience as the ensuing phases moved into double-figures. Outside half Liam Batty made use of a penalty advantage to make a lovely grubber kick that wing Charlie Parkhouse gathered. A quickly recycled ball then saw powerful centre Kyle Lemon crash over for the first of a brace of tries. With a good wide conversion from Batty it was 7-0 after 5 minutes.

The Wells scrum had been much improved last week by the availability of player-coach Aston Croall and it was the same again in Hertfordshire. The first set piece provided good ball off which Mike Doherty (twice) and flanker James Pancaldi made surging drives. When a penalty was awarded outside half Frank Reynolds found a good touch to set up an attacking line out, and when hooker Stuart Nicholls connected with Josh Hawkins a maul was set. Backs poured in to try and help the ball over the line but it splintered and the ball was knocked on. Poor discipline then conceded a penalty and Hertford could clear their lines.

It was the home team’s turn to use a powerful maul now but despite making 25 metres they could not secure the ball and the referee awarded the turnover to the men in white (we were in our away kit!). However, it was Croall who was penalised at the next scrum and Hertford were inside the Wells half again. Good defence kept them at bay though and soon after strong Mike Hathaway, Agy Eukaliti and Colangelo carries saw Wells back on the attack before busy scrum half Eddie Croft was played without the ball 35 metres out in front of the posts.

The wind meant a shot at goal was out of the question so it looked like a kick to the left-hand corner was likely….at least so thought the 250 or so in the crowd and, more importantly, the home players! Instead, Reynolds and skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy spotted their chance and tapped and came swiftly to the right. They linked with Hathaway who found Mike Doherty who breezed around the outside defender and crossed from 20 metres. Reynolds expertly manufactured a low, driven, conversion and it was 7-7 after 18 minutes.

From the re-start Nick Doherty again made good yardage before the ball was spun wider. Clever inter-play by Angus Horne released centre Rich Murray but he was bundled into touch. On 22 minutes the younger Doherty did superbly to tidy up ball at the base of a retreating scrum before Eukaliti made a thrusting run. Props Croall and Tui Tuauika were involved in a phase showing good continuity before a knock on saw the ball lost. Sadly, though, a lower-leg injury saw talismanic centre Mike Doherty leave the pitch to be replaced by Scully. Horne moved into outside centre and Murray to the ‘12’ channel.

Whilst it would be fair to say Wells had not taken some chances they had created, it was the home side who were very much in the ascendancy at this stage. It was surprising to see them not use a kicking game to gain territory but they seemed very confident in their passing and running game and it needed important tackles from Taylor-Dennehy, Hathaway and Eukaliti, coupled with some key passes going astray to keep Hertford at bay. They even took a leaf out of the Wells play book with quick ‘tap and go’ options. The attacking momentum was only ended on 33 minutes when a huge Wells scrum earned a penalty.

Just as the visiting supporters thought their team would get to the half time whistle level despite playing into the wind, a momentary loss of concentration in the re-jigged back line saw Hertford score again, much to the frustration of the coaching team. The home team had an attacking scrum 35 metres out and when Batty threw a long-miss pass towards the left it was Parkhouse from the right wing who took the ball in space and the lively winger showed good pace to score under the posts. Batty’s simple conversion made it 14-7 on 39 minutes and there was still time for one more attack that was thwarted by sound defensive work from Colangelo before the half time whistle blew.

Half Time 14-7.

As the players re-emerged for the second period it was immediately evident that influential flanker Hathaway had not been able to shake off the calf injury he had incurred and Charley Smith replaced him. This saw Hawkins move to flanker. The loss of two key men to injury seemed likely to put a major dent in Wells’ aspirations of getting back into the game and when a vibrant Hertford opening spell saw them cross again one could have feared the worst. However, this Wells squad has spirit by the bucket load and it is testament to them that they so very nearly came away with the win.

Nick Doherty gathered and returned the kick off but that was the last time the visitors were to see the ball for three minutes. Excellent controlled play saw drive after drive at the heart of the Wells defence and, despite a crucial last-ditch Croft tackle, Hertford could not be resisted and centre Lemon scored again, with Batty adding the extra two. 21-7 after 43 minutes.

Wells’ response was superb. A scrum penalty on halfway, followed by a long Reynolds touch-find put the visitors just 15 metres out. Nicholls again hit his jumper and although the maul was halted Murray and Taylor-Dennehy made good in-roads. As the ball was switched from the right Reynolds threw a deft pass only to be tackled late. Not only was it late but it was high and there were little in the way of arms involved. Thankfully, there was no lasting damage to the Kent County 10 but a penalty and a yellow card to home flanker Dave Archer were awarded.

Wells were to channel their anger well. Taking the attacking line-out option from the penalty, Nicholls hit Hawkins and a powerful maul saw Nick Doherty gain a thoroughly deserved try to join his now injury-departed brother on the score sheet. The touch line conversion proved too difficult but it was now 21-12 after 50 minutes.

The men from Kent had their tails up now and a raking 60 metre kick from Reynolds saw them back in Hertford territory. Murray and Pancaldi made good carries before Tuauika was hauled down agonisingly short. As the phases reached 15, deliberate interference on Croft as he tried to play the ball saw another penalty and a second yellow card to the men in blue. It did not take a Ph.D in rugby to realise what was to happen next. A scrum option was taken and as Wells moved inexorably forward it was halted illegally bringing the award of a Penalty Try. 56 minutes played and it was now 21-19.

Such was the expansive desire of both sides that I would have wanted very long odds to bet that this would end up being the final score. However, the fact that despite the attacking intent on show, this was, indeed, to be the case, pays testament to the fierce defensive efforts by both teams in the second 40 minutes.

Marauding Hertford flanker Redmond Newberry was correctly made Man of the Match for his influence in this final part of the game. It started when he forced a Wells knock on as they looked to clear a ruck. He then made two powerful runs but he was well  held at bay, before another booming 60 metre Reynolds kick cleared the pressure.

With Hertford restored to 14 and then 15 men they now spent a long period encamped in Wells territory. Several penalties led to several attacking line-outs as a combination of the head-wind making goal kicks difficult, plus the desire to gain a 4 try bonus point, made this the primary option for the hosts. One maul was held up over the line, another was collapsed illegally and then when a powerful counter-ruck seemed to have created a turnover in favour of the visitors the ensuing penalty saw a team warning handed out. It had taken brave covering work earlier by Horne to stop a likely try but surely now it was just a matter of time?

Understandably, another line-out was formed and when it went to ground it was Tuauika who received the ‘team’ yellow on 68 minutes. Straeche now entered the fray at prop with Hawkins sacrificed. Again, though, the next maul was defended well leading up to a Hertford scrum.

A player down they might have been but the Wells pack resisted manfully. As a result, the home side spun the ball wide and after a Lemon charge, they created a three on one overlap. Full back Harry Barker could well have scored himself but he unselfishly shipped the ball on to Parkhouse just 2 metres out. The winger had been one of the stand out players on show but he will want to forget the fumble that saw the ball lost forward. Wells could breathe again….at least they could after yet another 20 metre Nick Doherty carry from a retreating scrum. Simply magnificent and topped off by a 40 metre Reynolds clearance kick.

However, if Wells were hoping for one last chance to score it was not to be. Newberry again carried deep into the visitors territory. A series of attacking scrums were held at bay until Wells created a turnover as the clock edged into injury time. One last shot perhaps? Well no….after just 12 seconds of added time the game was over.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable game, if a bit scrappy at times, and in all fairness Hertford were deserved winners. Wells will regret the 5 minute spell either side of half time that saw 14 points conceded but given the loss of highly influential personnel during the match and the, therefore, relatively callow and inexperienced back line that finished the game this can just as much be seen as a point gained away from home against one of the “benchmark” teams in this division, rather than points dropped. That the only sustained period of Wells dominance (apart from a 5 minute spell early on) was when their opponents had players in the sin bin says a lot. However, what it also illustrates is the tenacity and work ethic of the squad as they held a team dominating territory and possession at bay.

The tough matches come thick and fast for Wells in January and next week they host a Guernsey side who will be smarting after losing the league leadership following a home defeat to Rochford Hundred. Indeed, Rochford who are the new leaders, then come to St Marks the week after next…..

Kick off v Guernsey is 2pm.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Angus Horne, Rich Murray, Mike Doherty (Lucas Scully), Harvey Colangelo; Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika (Carl Straeche), Stuart Nicholls, Aston Croall, Agy Eukaliti, Josh Hawkins, James Pancaldi, Mike Hathaway (Charley Smith), Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League

Rochford Hundred’s highly impressive 13-19 win at Guernsey takes them top after the two leaders clashed in the Channel Islands. Coming from 3-0 down the Essex team went clear in the second half and Guernsey only secured what might prove an important losing bonus point with the last play of the game. The winners now have 70 points, with Guernsey next on 68 and Wimbledon third on 65 after beating Tring 36-12. They have a game in hand still, which is the one at St Marks (this has now been re-scheduled for 14th March). The gap is 20 points to Sevenoaks on 45 who move ahead of Hertford on points difference after a hard-fought 15-26 bonus point win over bottom team Guildford. Dorking beat CS Stags 1863 28-14 to stay 6th on 44 ahead of us on 40 points. Sidcup are one point back after they beat Bedford Athletic 20-7. 

The gap is then 9 points back to Tring who sit 9th on 30, ahead of CS Stags, Bedford Athletic (both on 24) and London Irish Wild Geese  on 23 points, who only picked up a losing bonus point in their crunch clash at Brighton. The Seasiders’ 22-20 win enables them to stay in touch with the teams above them on 22. Guildford are 8 points adrift in 14th.
Next week’s stand out games see Rochford looking to cement top spot at home to Sidcup whilst we have the unenviable task of dealing with Guernsey’s quest for a positive reaction! 4th take on 6th as Sevenoaks host Dorking, whilst Brighton continue to have their relegation “fate” in their own hands as they travel to CS Stags. 

Graham Withers

Match Report – Tunbridge Wells 38 Brighton 5

Tunbridge Wells started this season’s London South East Premier League with a flourish but 2019 ended as something of a damp squib with two disappointing (and heavy) defeats in December. Brighton might well have arrived at St Marks in a relegation spot at 13th but they were just 16 points behind the hosts in 7th and had showed much-improved form in the past few games. With Wells’ next three games being against teams in the top four this was a game that they could ill-afford to lose.

The match day squad featured four changes from the last game at Dorking and, in particular, featured the very welcome return from long-term injury of Rich Murray and the hugely influential Mike Hathaway. Player-Coach Aston Croall came in at prop for his first game since impressing against Sevenoaks and flanker James Pancaldi was also back after his man of the match effort in defeat at Sidcup. This saw something of a reshuffle in the starting XV. Josh Hawkins moved into the second row as Charley Smith went to the bench, to be joined by Ben Isbell as Pancaldi and Hathaway edged ahead of them in the back row; in the backs skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy returned to his customary full-back spot as Murray replaced him at centre and Angus Horne had his first start on the right wing.

Bright sunshine and a blue sky greeted the teams and the playing surface had recovered well. Tunbridge Wells kicked off playing down the slope with an unusual north-westerly breeze behind them. A switch of direction that was dealt with by Brighton via a boxed clearance kick However, Taylor-Dennehy seemed back to something approaching his best form throughout and he returned the ball into the visitors half before connecting with Horne who made ground.

It needed a fine break by Brighton skipper David McIlwaine to relieve early pressure as the outside half took the ball back towards the halfway line before his pass to his supporting runners went into touch. When the Wells line-out was over thrown Brighton had a scrum put in. Wells were, though, to have a significant edge at the set scrum all game with Tui Tauaika strong and Croall exerting huge pressure from the tight-head position. Agy Eukaliti and Hathaway took the ball on before Reynolds made an excellent break, only for his final pass to go astray.

Wells was soon back on the attack with a superb Nick Doherty charge making 25 metres before the supporting Hathaway was hauled to ground with the ball. A try scoring opportunity was still on offer but when the ball went wide to the right the Brighton defence was up quickly exerting pressure and forcing a knock on. The visitors clearing kick was well dealt with by scrum half Eddie Croft who linked with Taylor-Dennehy and Mike Doherty before Reynolds made further in-roads with ball in hand. However, McIlwaine was able to steal the ball at the ruck and was awarded a penalty, enabling his team to clear their lines.

Isbell was now on as temporary blood replacement for Nicholls. Wells were very much in charge at the stage and after another series of phase play they were awarded a penalty which Reynolds converted from 30 metres in front of the posts. 3–0 after 16 minutes.

The tide was starting to turn in Brighton’s favour (despite one outrageous Croall pass between his legs!) as Wells started to fall foul of the referee. Discipline issues saw a rapid series of penalties in favour of the visitors so that after 25 minutes the count was 5-1 in favour of the men from Sussex. Imprecision was hurting them, though, and one misdirected penalty kick to touch simply gave Reynolds the opportunity to fire a wind-assisted drop out deep into Brighton territory. Nick Doherty was clearly enjoying have his long-standing back row colleague Hathaway back, and they combined again before a fine Taylor-Dennehy touch kick took Wells into the visitors 22. Hawkins seemed to have stolen the ball legitimately at the next breakdown but was (perhaps) harshly penalised and Brighton received another penalty to add to their collection……. 

This led to another period of Brighton being encamped in the home half. An attacking line-out produced a dangerous maul that appeared to be moving inexorably towards the Wells line before it splintered and went to ground. Unfortunately, Mr Lamb (who was to have a very good game) deemed it to have been halted illegally and another penalty awarded. The line-out was knocked on to Wells’ relief, and the home front row then once again put their opponents under pressure and were awarded a clearing penalty.

Neither side’s line-out worked particularly efficiently in the first half but it was Brighton who had the lion’s share of possession in the second quarter and they looked to use an expansive game to exploit this. The Wells defence was proving robust though, with the likes of Eukaliti and Croall making influential tackles in wide channels. After several minutes of attacking play it was Hathaway who secured a key turnover and Taylor-Dennehy’s kick took Wells back into their opponents half.

The game was very open at this stage and this suits the way Wells want to play. An excellent Pancaldi offload put Hathaway surging into space and he burst through a tackle as he made 25 metres. Brighton’s scrambling defence prevented him from finding the supporting players he had on either side, but when he was eventually dragged to ground he was just 10 metres short. Croft was able to get quick ball to his backs and Mike Doherty’s eye for a miss-pass saw him find winger Horne who crossed for his first try at this level. With Reynolds’ straight-forward conversion it was now 10-0 on 35 minutes.

The try-scorer was soon back in the thick of the action when he chased up his own kick and delivered a thumping tackle that belied his physical stature. It was certainly well received by the 150 or so predominantly home supporters! The last few minutes of the half saw Max Hobbs and Tauaika link well in attack and some further impressive Eukaliti, Pancaldi and Hawkins defensive work as Wells secured a hard-earned but deserved half-time lead. 10-0.

On returning to the field for the second period Brighton would have been justifiably optimistic of turning matters around with the advantage of the slope and breeze. However, it is something of a truism that in recent years Wells seem to have played their best rugby playing up the hill towards the clubhouse and this was to be the case once again. In fact, the second half was to witness as good a 40 minutes of rugby as the boys from St Marks have produced all season.

Wells had a lot of good field position in the first half but, thwarted by robust Brighton defence and poor discipline, they had struggled to convert this into points. There was no doubt that their supporters would have liked to see an early score in the second half to settle any anxieties and they were to get their wish.

Reynolds was having a huge influence on the game and when another of his long territory-gaining kicks was only partially cleared, the home side had an early attacking line-out 35 metres out. Tauaika hit Hawkins before the prop (come ‘thrower-in’) peeled around the tail and into the heart of the Brighton midfield defence. Reynolds then put centre Mike Doherty into the sort of midfield gap the ‘try machine’ thrives on. Bursting clear from 30 metres he showed too much power and pace for the defenders before diving over for a try that Reynolds converted with aplomb. 43 minutes played and it was now 17-0.

From the re-start number eight Doherty took responsibility for the clearance kick. McIlwaine tried to launch another attack for the visitors but after his initial break the follow up pass went forward and Wells had a scrum 10 metres inside their own half. The scrum set-piece was much improved by the presence of Croall and Brighton were penalised again for collapsing.

This gave Wells a fine attacking platform that they were to exploit to its full potential. Hawkins again soared high to secure the line-out before a powerful maul was set. This made 20 metres before the ball found Horne coming off his wing for an incisive run that ended with him slipping a lovely pass to the supporting Murray, for the ever-popular centre to mark his first game back with a try. That it was virtually under the posts made the score even better as Reynolds popped over the extra two. 24-0 on 48 minutes.

Although there was still over half an hour to play this felt like the decisive moment in the game. From the kick-off Eukaliti was able to secure the ball with ease and Wells were soon back in the Brighton half. Tauaika and Hathaway again drove powerfully forward before Nicholls received more running repairs. The hooker has become an integral part of the starting line-up this season and all were relieved to see him continue.

It was, therefore, somewhat against the run of play when Brighton eventually troubled the scorers. A penalty saw an attacking line- out and after McIlwhinie’s initial break, full-back Maxx Morris showed exquisite footwork and good pace to cross for an unconverted try. 24-5 after 55 minutes.

To be fair, though, this was the only time the visitors were to threaten the Wells line until deep into injury time. It was the home team who resumed control and then further extended their lead. After a Brighton forward pass, Wells again secured their own solid scrum ball and this enabled a typical Nick Doherty power-packed run. He linked with Reynolds who found the ever-eager Croft. When the ball was released from the ruck to Reynolds again, the Kent County 10 made a thrusting run breaking two tackles before a sublime offload to Hathaway who became the second returning player to cross the whitewash. It was fitting that it was these two players who combined for the bonus point try as on a day of excellent individual performances these were arguably the stand-out pair. Reynolds added the extra two to complete a satisfying 100% kicking day too. After 61 minutes this made it 31-5.

Harvey Colangelo replaced Murray (which saw the versatile Horne move to outside centre) and Charley Smith came on for Hawkins in the second row. Another Nick Doherty run took play away from the Wells line before a raking Reynolds clearance kick made 40 metres. Hathaway should have been mightily pleased with his comeback game and now made way for Isbell. 

Brighton, to their credit, were still trying to create opportunities but Wells now had their measure and even a seemingly clever kick through was comfortably dealt with by Isbell. Indeed, this put Wells back on the front foot as Taylor-Dennehy burst forward before finding Tauaika. As Wells tried to go wide a Brighton defender knocked the ball forward and as this was correctly deemed deliberate, the visitors were now temporarily down to 14 men as a yellow card was shown.

Wells opted for the attacking scrum and a slick backs move almost saw Horne get outside his opposite man to put Hobbs into space on the left. Fine continuity saw the ball make its way to Nicholls on the right-wing and he beat two men before finding Colangelo with an inside pass. Just as the replacement looked like he might get over desperate defence thwarted him. However, it was at the expense of a penalty 5 metres out and with such scrum dominance there was no surprise when Taylor-Dennehy opted for the set piece. There was a certain inevitability about the outcome as the men in blue moved towards the Brighton line and a deliberate collapse gave the referee little option but to award a Penalty Try. 38-5 after 76 minutes.

As the game moved into injury time Brighton looked likely to cross in the right corner but a superb Mike Doherty and Colangelo combined tackle thwarted them in front of the eagle-eyed linesman. Hawkins returned for Nicholls and Murray replaced a limping Taylor-Dennehy but even though replacement Smith received a yellow card for illegally halting a rolling maul, Wells were determined to prevent any further breaches and they managed this until a Reynolds kick to touch brought the final whistle. 

With such a tough run of games ahead of them this month, this could prove to be a crucial bonus-point win. It will, however, be the manner of this win, as much as anything else, that will undoubtedly please Head Coach Simon Whatling. The return from injury of important players and a much stronger set-piece will be other encouraging elements to take into this week’s preparation for the task away next week at 4th placed Hertford. Kick off is 2pm.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Angus Horne, Rich Murray (Harvey Colangelo), Mike Doherty, Max Hobbs; Frank Reynolds, Eddie Croft; Tui Tauaika, Stuart Nicholls, Aston Croall, Agy Eukaliti, Josh Hawkins (Charley Smith), James Pancaldi, Mike Hathaway (Ben Isbell), Nick Doherty.

Elsewhere in the League
Guernsey continue at the top of the table, but only just, after leaving it late to win a hard-fought game 14-8 against Wells’ opponents next week Hertford. Rochford Hundred’s 59-7 bonus point win over Bedford Athletic means they are now just one point (67 v 66) behind the Channel Islanders. Despite having a game in hand. Wimbledon are now 6 points back in third after Sevenoaks’ superb 24-16 bonus point win over them at Knole Paddock. This keeps Sevenoaks in fifth place on 40 points, one behind 4th placed Hertford, and one ahead of Dorking (who came from 26-8 behind to win 26-30 at London Irish Wild Geese) and us on 39 points. Sidcup won 22-34 at Tring to stay 8th on 35 points ahead of the team they beat on 30.

It is getting very tight in the relegation places with the 5 remaining teams covered by 10 points, and with bottom side Guildford showing some real fight as epitomised by a 10-10 draw at CS Stags 1863. Stags are 10th on 24, ahead of Bedford Athletic (on points difference), Wild Geese on 22, Brighton on 18 and Guildford on 14. 

Next week’s stand out games are at the top and the bottom. It doesn’t get much bigger than when first play second as Guernsey host Rochford Hundred, whilst at the bottom Brighton v London Irish Wild Geese could also prove highly significant. Wimbledon will be looking to bounce back at home to Tring.

Graham Withers