Match Report: TWRFC 26 – 5 Chingford

Tunbridge Wells hosted Chingford at St Marks in their penultimate home game of this season’s London & South East Premier League campaign. There has been close recent history between the two clubs with Wells winning a promotion play-off at Chingford in extra time two years ago by 2 points and then losing by the same margin when travelling to Essex before Christmas.

Added spice was provided by the fact that Wells knew that a victory, coupled with results elsewhere, would guarantee their place in the league for next season and subject their visitors to the disappointment of relegation. Whilst Chingford had lost 7 of their last 8 games, five of these had been by just one score and they had also drawn against Wimbledon who sit second in the league so this was unlikely to be an easy game. However, this is a resurgent Wells team who bounced back from conceding three late tries in a home draw against Bedford Athletic to record a crucial win at CS Stags two weeks ago. The home starting XV was unchanged form that which had won in Chiswick with the only change being Matt Symonds coming onto the bench.

The home team kicked off playing down the hill with the strong cross-breeze behind them and were immediately on the attack. Initial thrusts were thwarted but when Chingford were penalised (which was a recurring theme of the day) Wells gained a new foothold and opened the scoring on 8 minutes. Good carries from prop Brendan Crosilla and wing Jake Caddy took Wells into the visitors 22 before outside half Frank Reynolds scythed through the defence and passed to the ever-excellent Mike Hathaway. The flanker touched down under the posts making Reynolds’ conversion a simple one. 7-0.

The nerves stemming from the importance of the match were evident throughout and were typified by a Wells knock-on and penalty from the restart. To the relief of home supporters Scott Meakin’s penalty attempt went wide. The strong running Number 8 David Ogufere broke tackles for the visitors but a knock-on halted progress. However, Chingford’s pressure was to be rewarded on 16 minutes. A powerful run from centre Sam Kendall put the Essex side on the front foot and when the ball was spun wide prop David Banfield stepped a defender and showed great pace to score the try. However, the conversion was missed. 7-5.

Wells bounced back immediately. Caddy, Nick Doherty and George Montgomery combined well but an excellent last-ditch tackle thwarted the men from St Marks. The ensuing defensive scrum proved to be something of a turning point though. The Wells front-row of Carl Straeche, Josh Pankhurst and Crosilla had the edge in the scrums throughout and when Ogufere tried to drive from the base of his scrum he was upended by Charlie Rigby and Hathaway and not only was a scrum awarded to Wells but he suffered an injury that was to hinder him thereon in. From the attcking scrum Nick Doherty and Hathaway drove onwards before the impressive Crosilla plunged over between the posts. Reynolds’ conversion made it 14-5 on 24 minutes.

Chingford missed another penalty before a clever kick by scrum-half Rigby put Wells into the Chingford red zone again. The match was becoming something of a clash of styles with Wells looking to put the ball through the hands and use width whilst Chingford’s game was much more direct in its approach. Ill discipline was costing the visitors and at one stage three successive penalties saw Wells make 65 metres. Despite a fine Christian Earle catch and drive Wells could not stretch their lead and frustration was evident. It needed a thrusting run from skipper Ryan Taylor-Dennehy to settle his team down. The injured Caddy was replaced by Max Hobbs, who was to have an exhilarating second half.

As the game moved into stoppage time the home support were desperate for another score down the hill and they were to be rewarded by an excellent team try. A Montgomery kick pushed Wells forward and patient play, highlighted by runs from Straeche and Hathaway, saw the ball spun out and good hands from Rigby and Montgomery put second row Josh Hawkins into space. The athletic forward galloped over for the try. Unfortunately, Reynolds’ conversion attempt hit the post but it did result in a more comfortable 19-5 half time lead.

With the visitors now playing down the St Marks hill and with the wind at their backs, the game was still very much up for grabs. The first half has been staccato in nature and Wells had benefited from some imprecise play by their opponents. What Wells needed was a strong start but it seemed ominous when they were turned over from the kick-off. However, this was not to set the tone for the half though as Wells were to see off the threat posed by Chingford relatively comfortably.

The irrepressible Hathaway earned a turnover penalty as the penalty count against the visitors rose ever upwards. It was, therefore, very much against the tone of the game when Crosilla received a yellow card on 53 minutes for what was deemed to be a dangerous tackle. Stuart Nicholls came on as a temporary replacement for wing Rich Murray to cover for Crosilla. The game had now became very scrappy which did Wells no harm given they were ahead and it took two thrilling counter-attack runs from Hobbs to elevate the standard of play. Chingford were determined in their efforts as they tried to save their season but one particularly fine Mike Doherty run took away their momentum.

On the hour Chingford were awarded a penalty 30 metres out and, with Wells a man down, the attacking line-out that looked destined to follow set alarm bells ringing. Much to the relief of home fans the kick was sent dead and this was to be the key moment in the game. Shortly afterwards a 35 metre Hobbs run took Wells into the Chingford half. The brothers Doherty made strong runs to set Wells back on the attack and after another “typical” Nick Doherty break and offload, Reynolds linked superbly with Montgomery who cruised over for the very popular bonus-point try which Reynolds converted. 26-5 on 64 minutes.

Matt Symonds and Nicholls now joined the fray for Earle and Straeche who could be satisfied by a job well done. Chingford continued to make one-out attacks but nothing more came from them with both Murray and Ben Isbell making crucial tackles. Taylor-Dennehy and Hobbs linked well to gain territory but despite a series of good attacking positions the home team were not to cross the line again. Beating off strong competition Charlie Rigby was named man of the match.

Full time was reached with a 26-5 win and with Brentwood losing to Sutton & Epsom, Tunbridge Wells had secured their place in the league for 2019/20 with three games to spare. Now the aim is to achieve as high a league position as is possible in a highly-competitive division to gain momentum into the off-season. This quest begins on Saturday (30th) with a trip to Dorking. Kick off is 3pm and all support would be gratefully received by the players.

Squad: Ryan Taylor-Dennehy (Capt); Jake Caddy (Max Hobbs), Mike Doherty, George Montgomery, Rich Murray; Frank Reynolds, Charlie Rigby; Carl Straeche (Stuart Nicholls), Josh Pankhurst, Brendan Crosilla, Josh Hawkins, Christian Earle (Matt Symonds), Ben Isbell, Mike Hathaway, Nick Doherty.

Scorers: Tries – Hathaway, Crosilla, Hawkins, Montgomery; Cons – Reynolds (3).

Graham Withers

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