Match Report: TWRFC 35 – 27 Hertford

Wells Start Season with 5 Points

It’s a long time (if ever) since the competitive rugby season started on the first day of September for Tunbridge Wells. However, with 26 games to fit in during this second season in the level 5 London and South East Premier League it was a sunny St Marks that heralded the opening game of the campaign.

After a positive pre-season ended with a win at Westcombe Park, there are five new teams to encounter this time around in the shape of Bedford Athletic, Brentwood, Chingford, CS Stags 1863, and Wimbledon. However, it was familiar foes in the form of Hertford who were the visitors to the Wells. A fifth place finish exceeded most expectations last year but with Hertford having finished one place higher (and a whopping 28 points ahead) no one was anticipating anything but a tough opener.

Wells have strong continuity from last season with the coaching team remaining in tandem along with the vast majority of the side continuing and Ryan Taylor-Dennehy as captain. The squad has also been bolstered for the season with this week’s team containing big second row Chris Pentney, inside centre Tom Bailey and back reserve Henry Toomer. A few players missed this game due to holidays and last season Players’ Player Mike Doherty suffered an injury in training and will miss the early part of the season.

Wells played the first half up the slope towards the clubhouse and proceedings began very well for the home side. Hathaway secured an impressive lineout steal on the Hertford 10 metre line and the travelling side conceded a penalty, Reynolds sent the kick to the corner for a lineout 7 metres out. A well-executed catch and drive ensued which saw Pankhurst peel down the blindside to touch down unopposed, Reynolds converts from the left. 7-0 after 4 minutes.

Both sides threatened for the first quarter of the game without an end product as a little rustiness showed which was to be expected on the opening day of the season. Wells were getting some joy down the left hand side through Webster and Smith, who were both to have excellent games and Hertford broke through centre field on a few occasions through their 13’s direct running for the most part. Wells’ scrum was proving very solid and would hold a slight advantage throughout the game in what was a terrific battle, whilst the lineout provided some good ball, primarily through Earle and Hathaway, but proved sloppy at times.

It was Hertford who were next to score on 20 minutes, after a number of phases they found themselves in the Wells 22 where the scrum half darted down the narrow blindside to offload to the winger to score in the corner, conversion missed 7-5. Within 5 minutes Wells had responded effectively, they broke down the right hand side up to the 22 after good handling by Taylor-Dennehy and the ball was moved back to the left where Taylor-Dennehy’s superb delayed pass sent Webster powering through only to be pulled down just short of the line. Hertford cynically conceded a penalty for offside and their blindside flanker was sent to the bin. The ball was kicked to the corner and the home support were willing for a replay of the first score, it was not to be as Hertford’s maul defence saw them receive a scrum.
The game was proving very open with strong running from both sides with Hathaway, Doherty, Webster and Bailey getting through a lot of work. Whilst the breakdown was clean for the most part, Hathaway and the travelling four were proving to be nuisances for their opposition.

On the half hour mark Wells scored their try of the game. Hertford were launching what looked a dangerous attack up to the Wells half way line on the Wells left hand side. However, Pankhurst ripped the ball from the attacker and threw the ball deep to Taylor-Dennehy who surged across the pitch before straightening and offloading to Hathaway on the 10 metre line who in turn moved the ball to Doherty. He provided quick hands to Spicer and he expertly drew the final defender and sent Bailey free down the right hand touchline and under the post for an easy conversion for Reynolds 14-5.

Whilst the team’s second try was superb the third would best be described as opportunistic. With one minute to go until half time Hertford looked to play from deep, as they did for much of the game, but the ball was knocked on just outside the 22 metre line. Reynolds reacted quickest to hack through twice before falling on the ball over the line dusting himself off and converting, 21-5 halftime.

Both sides would have been looking for improvement in the second half and the home side were wary of a resurgent Hertford. The half began with strong breaks from both hookers, the run from the Hertford number 2 could easily have resulted in a try after only 5 minutes but the ball was knocked on and Wells had a scrum 5 where the front row of Crosilla, Pankhurst and Williams secured a penalty. The Tunbridge Wells scrum hasn’t always been the strongest in previous seasons but the side now appear to be very secure in the area and it offers an effective attacking platform.

Hertford were next to strike, from a scrum in the Wells 22 they moved the ball wide to touch down in the corner, good conversion 21-12. Wells’ defensive effort was being optimised by Reynolds who made numerous tackles including a crowd pleasing dump tackle on the opposition centre. From this tackle the supporting players were over-zealous and pinged for going off their feet in the centre of the pitch 30 metres from the Wells posts. Hertford opted for the corner, but the ball was sent dead which was to prove a big moment. From the resulting scrum the ball went blind as Bailey sent Smith on a surging run down the left hand side, the ball was kicked deep and Hertford recovered the ball under pressure in their 22. The ball popped out the ruck and Webster was there on this occasion to hack through to score and secure the try bonus point, converted again 28-12. From the following kick off Pankhurst’s comical left foot swipe should, but probably never will be forgotten.

As the game entered the final quarter Hertford saw their best period of the game. Firstly they scored as they broke through the centre and fantastic offloading saw their prop dot down against the post. Then with 10 minutes to go they received a penalty infront of the posts which was successfully kicked, 28-22.

The previously very confident home support were now wary that the next score was crucial, up steps Hathaway. The openside secures a brilliant turnover on the left hand side as Hertford attack inside their own half. The ball is moved inside for one phase and then back to the left where Hatherway powers through before offloading to Doherty who strolls over for the try, Reynolds does it again 35-22. There was still time for Hertford to score a length of the pitch bonus point try which proved to be the last play of the game, conversion missed which meant the away side didn’t secure the losing bonus point.

It was certainly a great game to watch and a fantastic 5 points awith impressive performances through the team. Wells scrum half Charlie Rigby was awarded the Man of the Match award due to his impressive controlling of proceedings.

Head Coach Simon Whatling said “it was a contest between two teams who clearly were rusty, but we had fantastic character and work rate. It was great to see a change of mind-set.”

Next week sees Wimbledon who were relegated from National 2 South last season visit St Marks for a 3pm kick off. This is sure to be a tough game against a side that many consider favourites for the league and won 28-15 against Tring (3rd last year) in their opening game.

Photos from the game can be found here:

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