Match Report: Guildford 26 – 39 TWRFC

Following on from two impressive wins, Tunbridge Wells were delighted to be able to pick an unchanged squad for the trip to Surrey. It is several years since Wells have met Guildford and in that time the hosts have established themselves within the higher levels of South-Eastern rugby.

With a large crowd having made their way out to pitch-side after a fine festive lunch, Guildford will have been keen to put on a show for their own support and they started extremely well. They kicked off on a cold but still day and after a good attacking maul, a clever inside pass saw skipper Joe Garner burst through from 20 metres out and score under the Wells posts on three minutes. With a Gareth Davies conversion the home side led 7-0.

Both teams were using their kicking games to gain territorial advantage but the Wells half-back pairing of Chaz Spence and Frank Reynolds had the edge in this dual throughout. The Wells soet-piece was also having one of its best afternoons. The front row of Brendan Crosilla, Luke Hawkins and Carl Straeche had the better of their Guildford counterparts and with Hawkins also hitting his line-out jumpers accurately, the visitors started to control possession.

It felt like just a matter of time before the boys from St Marks got on the scoreboard and after a couple of penalty scrums the ball was taken forward by Mike Hathaway, Hawkins and Nick Doherty before a lovely inside pop pass to Christian Earle saw the lock twist through two tackles for the try on 19 minutes. Reynolds conversion slipped wide. 7-5.

Player-coach Dave Allen was turning in a man of the match performance with a massive tackling stint combined with strong carries and it was one of his turnovers that saw Wells back on the attack again. Wells eschewed a penalty shot at goal and Shayden Osgood and Hathaway carried before Reynolds delicately fed an inside pass to the flying Ryan Taylor-Dennehy. The full back offered a constant cutting edge in attack and here he cut a super angled line to cross in the corner on 27 minutes. 7-10.

A crunching combination tackle from Allen and Owain Withers forced a knock-on which led to an good attacking scrum just inside the Guildford half four minutes later. Spence brought the industrious Blaise Salle off his wing and he linked well with centre Mike Doherty who in turn fed Taylor-Dennehy. Again, he made great yardage and after a 30 metre run he found Hathaway in support on his inside shoulder and fed the flanker for the score. With Reynolds converting an easier kick the score was now 7-17 on 31 minutes.

At this stage it looked like Wells might run away with the game but a lapse in concentration saw a kicked charged down and a tenacious Guildford suddenly found themselves in the Wells 22 after a strong Freddie Hopper run. When they were awarded a penalty they kicked to the corner and an effective rolling maul saw prop Ash Williams burrow over for an unconverted try on 38 minutes. 12-17. Half time.

Wells will have been confident at the interval, if a shade disappointed that the home side were still so close from a scoring perspective. What acting coach Mike Whatman will have wanted was a strong start to the second half and that is exactly what his side gave him. Guildford did not exit effectively from the kick-off and after strong Hathaway, Crosilla and Hawkins carries, Allen hit an unstoppable line to crash over under the posts. Reynolds converted the ‘bonus point’ try and a penalty two minutes later after an Allen turnover so after 45 minutes it was now 12-27.

The home side tried to get back into the game but Wells were now very much on top. Withers, Allen and Hathaway were turning in mighty tackling stints and Spence was controlling the tempo of play. On 55 minutes, the visitors crossed for their fifth try and it was a fine individual effort. Mike Doherty cleverly released powerful wing Matt Spicer who broke through several tackles before being hauled down and Salle was then denied close to the line. The ball was spun across the pitch but a lack of precision made it look like the chance might have gone begging. However, that was discounting the determination of Reynolds who hit the ball at pace through the heart of the Guildford defence to dot down and with his conversion it was 12-34.

Kyle McGarvie now replaced the hard-working Straeche and perhaps sensing that the game was won Wells had a disappointing spell. One thing that is already apparent at this level is that all teams are more than capable of exploiting opportunities if they given to them and this is what happened now. A series of missed tackles combined with some good attacking play saw Guildford flanker Tom Devereaux cross for a try that Davies converted on the hour. 19-34. Hayden Pengelly now came on for Nick Doherty,but sadly it was to be a brief appearance by the popular flanker as a recurrence of a shoulder injury was to curtail his pitch time.

Guildford’s confidence started to build as the re-shaped front row came under pressure and the high defensive levels that had been set began to lapse.However, the nerves of travelling supporters were settled by a cracking try on 67 minutes. A crisp backs move put Salle into space which he exploited running 25 metres before perfectly drawing the last defender and passing to Spicer who cruised over in the left corner for a fine score. The conversion went wide but surely now the game was put to bed. 19-39. Richard Webster came on for the irrepressible Taylor-Dennehy who left the field for treatment.

The home team were to have the final say, though, when with four minutes on the clock a smart side-stepping run by Dan Paton saw him cross for a bonus point try of their own, which again converted by Davies brought a final score of 26-39.

This was another robust performance by Tunbridge Wells and with some stronger game-management and concentration levels in the final quarter, when Guildford were allowed to re-build their earlier momentum, then the win could have been by an even greater margin. However, this was a notable win away, again illustrating the importance of continuity in selection.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Richard Webster); Blaise Salle, Mike Doherty, Shayden Osgood, Matt Spicer; Frank Reynolds, Chaz Spence (Capt); Brendan Crosilla, Luke Hawkins, Carl Straeche (Kyle McGarvie), Christian Earle, Owain Withers, Dave Allen, Mike Hathaway, Nick Doherty (Hayden Pengelly).

With a few bumps and bruises after playing a virtually unchanged squad for the past three games, Russell Shingles’ physio team will be hard at work this week to ensure availability for selection for what will be another tough test at home to Barnes ‪this Saturday (December 16th)‬. The visitors sit 4th in the league on 48 points whilst Wells are now up to an impressive 5th on 40. This win marked the halfway point in the season and with seven wins from thirteen games Wells will be mightily heartened by their progress, especially as they reach this stage of the season playing their best rugby and with their strongest squad availability.

The game is ‪a 2pm‬ kick off at St Marks.

Graham Withers

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