Tonbridge Juddians 8 Ampthill 8
The weather was kind last Saturday at The Slade for the crunch match between TJs and Ampthill – crunch because the winner would go forward to a play-off match to determine promotion. A large crowd of between five and six hundred was there to watch it.
Ampthill started strongly and confidently. Their large pack and particularly their front row had a definite edge over TJs in the first few scrums. Early on TJs were penalised three times for collapsing the scrum. The scrum is one of the most troublesome features of today’s game and an area which allegedly the rugby authorities are looking into. The “hit” between the front rows often determines who gains a scrummaging advantage. TJs were penalised when Ampthill’s Davies gained the upper position and forced TJ’s Evans down to the ground. Pushing should, however, be straight and level not downward but the penalties were awarded just the same. Fortunately, full-back Lavery’s kicking for goal was off-target and no scoring harm was done.
It took TJs a good ten minutes to come into the game. It was in the loose that they made their impact with the back row of Leulinui, Collins and Nabbs playing an outstanding tackling, driving and mauling game. On a number of occasions Ampthill drove the ball into the ruck or maul and were dispossessed.
There was a chance for TJs to take the lead but, surprisingly considering his recent record, Harding failed with a penalty from some 30 metres. Clearly the nerves of both goal kickers could not cope with the truly tense scenario.
TJs did make their improvement count. After half-an-hour a penalty kick to touch put them in a good line-out position. The ball was caught and driven but it took some time and several determined surges before wing-forward Leulinui drove over the try-line with the ball under control. The try was not converted but now at least TJs had opened the scoring and taken the lead.
Scrum-half Hamlin had shown some deft touches at the base of TJ’s scrum but some two minutes before the half-time whistle he, in his turn, was shown a yellow card, presumably for playing the ball on the ground. The subsequent penalty kick by Ampthill’s Lavery was good this time so that at half-time the score was TJs 5 Ampthill 3 - probably a true reflection of the state of the game. TJs had survived the early onslaught, come to grips with the game, decided where their best threat would lie and shown that they would not be swept away by Ampthill’s evident power up front.
The second half revealed more of the same: an even, tough game of attrition with just an occasional flash of speed, side-step or skill to catch the spectator’s eye.
Ampthill’s lock Lewis was yellow carded for stamping some ten minutes into the half but try as they might TJs could not take advantage of his considerable absence.
It was twenty minutes of the second half before Ampthill ventured into TJ’s half of the field and it was a further ten minutes before their almost constant pressure paid off. Inevitably it was Ampthill’s pack which created the power and position from which their prop Davies was able to cross for a try which, also inevitably on the day, went unconverted.
Now the situation had changed. For the first time, at half-way through the second half, Ampthill had taken the lead at 5 – 8 and TJs might well have felt that their chance of going forward to the play-off match had gone.
By this time the scrums had been reduced to “uncontested” by the departure through injury of TJ’s hooker Knight and prop Ambrose. This undoubtedly gave TJs a bit of a relief for at any particular scrum the ball would be won by the side putting in the ball.
The game was becoming more and more fragmented with stoppages as the rigours of play took their toll on the players. With the benefit of a couple of penalties TJs made their way down field and set up an attack. Five minutes had passed since Ampthill had taken the lead and time was running out. In attempting an interception of TJ’s passing move the ball was deemed by the referee to have been deliberately knocked down. A yellow card was handed to Ampthill’s centre which meant that for the majority of the crucial last fifteen minutes of the match they would have to play one man short. It also meant that TJs were awarded a penalty in a position which the usually cool Harding would kick ninety-nine times out of a hundred. But this was no usual situation. He had already missed with a couple of penalty attempts as well as the conversion and his confidence might well have been low. Consider then the roar of relief from the home supporters when he stepped up and calmly slotted the ball between the posts
The score was 8 – 8. Both sides now had the same number of league points but probably everyone knew that because TJs had a better points difference they were now in pole position.
The last few minutes of the game seemed interminable because no one knew just how long the referee would add on for stoppages. Truth to tell TJs played these final phases with slightly more confidence than Ampthill who must have been terribly disappointed to realise that they had to score again to win the game – a game in which points had been very difficult to come by.
The final act of the match came when TJs established a good position in front of Ampthill’s posts with the put-in at the scrum. It would be their ball and skipper Harding took up position in the middle of the field to take a drop at goal. A slight delay occurred during which, presumably, the referee revealed that this would be the very last play of the match. Harding was signalled and now took up position nearer to the right-hand touch-line. The ball went into the scrum and it came out. It was passed out to Harding who kicked it off the field and into the river. Final whistle! Game over!
The draw meant that TJs ended the season in second place in the league and would go forward to a play-off match next Saturday away to Chinnor from the South-West Division. Their season is not over yet.
It is always difficult to single out players for praise or mention and it usually comes down to those who do the scoring. There was however no player in the TJ’s team – and indeed the Ampthill side - who does not deserve the greatest praise for his considerable effort. This was not a pretty match. It was hard, tense and a very, very nerve racking experience but it demonstrated some fine qualities of fitness, determination and dedication in both teams.
Tonbridge Juddians: Normann; Child, Tabrett, Harding, Farmer; Hamlin, Rothnie; Ambrose (Thorpe), Knight (Underhill), Evans, Martin, Collingham, Collins, Leulinui, Nabbs.
Havant 17 Tonbridge Juddians 67
Last Saturday TJs played away at Havant for the very first time. In the two clubs’ first encounter back in December TJs had triumphed by 88 points to 5. It looked as though TJ’s task in the return match would be an easy one.
Surprise, surprise! It was the home team who took the lead after just five minutes when fly-half Knight jinked his way through the melee to touch down. TJ’s start had been casual and full of errors. At this very early stage it did not look as though TJs were the side searching for a place in the league play-off and that Havant were a side destined for relegation.
It took TJs some ten minutes to shed their lethargy and find some of their normal rhythm and it was a particularly cruel bounce of that oval ball which helped them. A speculative chip ahead bounced over the head of the defender and down into the arms of TJ’s ever-eager No 8 Nabbs who ran on to score.
This score was a sort of turning point. TJs went on to score three more tries in the following eight minutes: first. wing-forward Collingham refused to go to ground as he charged down the left wing fending off tackles to touch down half-way out; second, a break by full-back Tabrett was taken on by Farmer and Hamlin and it was the latter who yook the scoring pass; third, Leulinui broke through from his own half and found fly-half Rothnie in position for to complete the score. Harding converted two of these three to take TJs into a good lead at 5 – 24.
Havant should have been finished by this burst of power and scoring but, to their credit, they were not. Aided by some fairly indecisive tackling by TJs and by their own ability to retain possession of the ball after a series of thrusts at TJ’s line, scrum-half Reynolds darted in for their second unconverted try.
TJs rallied but failed to take advantage of a line-out on Havant’s five metre line when the throw-in was ruled “not straight”. However, the pack contrived a good push in the subsequent scrum to take the ball against the head. A long pass out to Tabrett made the space for winger Farmer to beat the defence on the outside and score.
Once more Havant rose to the challenge. Just on half-time they established themselves on TJ’s line. TJ’s clearing kick was charged down and the ball then seemed to be dropped or knocked-on by a Havant player following up. Nevertheless a try was awarded to fly-half Knight, his second of the match, and he went on to kick a good conversion from a wide position.
So the first half ended with the score at Havant 17 TJs 29 and reflected the fact that the home side had responded well against all expectations and that their TJs might well have under-estimated the resilience of their opposition. What would the second half bring?
Before many spectators had realised that the second half had kicked off TJs scored a try. Nabbs caught the kick and broke through the initial tackles. Hooker Knight completed the move and scored the try which Harding converted.
TJ’s tackling sometimes remained fragile but they remained a potent attacking force. From the base of the scrum No 8 Nabbs picked up and created a gap for Hamlin who burst into down the flank. He and Farmer had only the full-back to beat with the well-timed pass for an unconverted try.
Havant very nearly scored their fourth – and bonus - try in response but the ball was dropped with the open line just a few yards away.
With some twenty minutes to go this effort was more or less Havant’s last tilt at TJ’s line and there were occasional signs that they were at last feeling dispirited.
TJs went on to score four more tries: skipper Harding chipped ahead and with benefit of another fortunate bounce caught the ball himself and converted his own try; prop Stanford caught the ball from the kick-off and made some good “hard yards” to set the defence back on its heels and open it up for Tabrett to burst through and score in the corner; Farmer completed his hat-trick with a fine, fast, side-stepping run and try which Harding converted; and finally, winger Normann, who had little in the way of a pass all afternoon, chased hard after a kick ahead from Harding and was rewarded for his effort by scoring a try under the posts which Harding converted with the last kick of the game.
This was a curious match. TJs never seemed to be at full-speed and intensity for very long but they did manage to score eleven tries, many from within their own half. Havant’s side are in rebuilding phase and showed good spirit, with fly-half Knight a constant threat whenever he had ball-in-hand, but they found TJs too much of a handful on this occasion and were outplayed in the open phases of the game.
Next week it is crunch-time. TJs are at home (kick-off 3.00 pm at The Slade) to Ampthill. As a result of their being surprisingly beaten by Bishops Stortford, Ampthill lost their three league points advantage over TJs who now take over second place in the league. Although there are theoretical possibilities to confuse the issue, basically whoever wins the match next week will go into the play-off match for promotion. Be there to witness the outcome!
Tonbridge Juddians: Tabrett; Normann, Harding, Child, Farmer; Hamlin, Rothnie; Underhill (Ambrose), Knight, Stanford, Thorpe (Robinson), Martin, Collingham (Collins), Leulinui, Nabbs.
Tonbridge Juddians 49 Dorking 8
A cold wind greeted the players and spectators for TJ’s return match with Dorking. The first game back in December had ended with a victory for Dorking at 29 – 8. Dorking had played superbly and had not allowed TJs to break into their stride.
The pitch was hard and the prospects for an exciting encounter were all in place. The opening exchanges consisted of the usual testing out phases but on one occasion Normann came very close to the first score when he followed up on Rothnie’s cross-kick.
Having seemed to be under pressure at the first scrum TJs produced a mighty push in the second and took the ball against the head. Two or three slick passes put wing-forward Collins over the line for a try which Harding converted.
TJs were clearly in running mood but it was Dorking who scored next with a MacDonald penalty kick from TJ’s 10 metre line – a warning to TJs to not give penalties even at the extreme of their own half.
Normann did score immediately after the visitors’ penalty. A quick ball from the ruck reached the winger and he was through the defence half-way out to the touch-line. Harding converted.
Just five minutes later Nabbs made a good catch at the line out after TJs were awarded a penalty kick which they took to touch. The ball was quickly moved and Leulinui went over the line for TJ’s third try which Harding converted.
Dorking then had a period of prolonged pressure on TJ’s line which the home side managed to defend successfully.
TJs missed with a penalty attempt but another good scrum gave TJ’s scrum-half Hamlin the room and opportunity to break for the line. Full-back Tabrett, who had a strong attacking game throughout the match, took his pass and went in for the try which, once more, Harding converted. The bonus point for four tries was now achieved and TJs led by 28 points to 3.
TJ’s Collins received a yellow card for retaliation and there followed a long pause in the match whilst one of Dorking’s players received attention for a serious injury. With the wind blowing even colder now the two teams retreated to the clubhouse until the injured player was taken off in an ambulance. Half-time was taken whilst the injury was dealt with.
Inevitably, the break in play affected the pattern of the match and the second half started as did the first with a robust and somewhat frantic start in which Dorking had the majority of the possession. As in the first half TJ’s defence was magnificent – a well-timed anticipatory tackle by Farmer being just one of a number of heroic events in this period.
TJs moved into Dorking’s 22 and put together another telling scrum. The ball was picked up by No 8 Nabbs and his speed and power took him clean through the defence to score under the posts, and Harding was on-target once more with the conversion.
TJ’s next score came about following some fancy footwork by Tabrett. Somehow he managed to keep his balance and his momentum whilst running down a very crowded channel adjacent to the touch-line. He also managed to elude the tacklers and just before his run was stopped he off-loaded to Hamlin who scampered over for the try which, perhaps inevitably ow, Harding converted.
Dorking’s wing-forward Roux was red-carded for foul play but the loss of a player seemed to enliven his side. Before they reaped the reward for their efforts, however, there was a further move of some magic by TJ’s backs and forwards. Normann made a fine catch in his own 22 and kicked ahead. Tabrett followed up and caught this kick-ahead and passed to the ubiquitous Collins who, in turn, found winger Campion in the right place to run the ball in and score. This time the conversion was kicked by Normann.
Did TJs sub-consciously relax now with the score at 49 – 3 and some five minutes to go? Whatever was the reason Dorking will take great credit from scoring the last try of the match. Consistent attacking finally put full-back Tyler over in the corner. The conversion attempt failed and left the score at Tonbridge Juddians 49 Dorking 8.
This was a fine win by TJs. Their play was as different to that in last week’s defeat by Gravesend as chalk and cheese and it showed TJs at their best. The score does not however reflect the difference between the teams. TJs created many good attacking opportunities and their handling and determination turned most of these chances into points. Dorking’s chances were fewer and until the very last play of the game their efforts were successfully resisted by a resilient TJ defence.
TJs have a rest over Easter and return to league action away against Havant on Saturday 14th April.
Tonbridge Juddians: Tabrett; Farmer, Child, Harding (Campion), Normann; Hamlin, Rothnie; Underhill (Evans), Knight, Ambrose, Thorpe, Martin, Collins, Leulinui (Collingham), Nabbs.
Gravesend 27 Tonbridge Juddians 26
In November TJs beat Gravesend at home by 35 points to 3. Expectations were therefore high that TJs would enjoy a further win over their Kent opponents. But Gravesend has not been a happy hunting ground for TJs and so it proved last Saturday.
The day was fine and sunny with a breeze from the north favouring the home side in the first half and bringing just a touch of chill to the spectators.
TJ’s early approach to the scrum clearly did not accord with the referee’s interpretation of the laws. With just three minutes on the clock TJs had offended twice for early engagement at the scrum, giving Gravesend free kicks, and penalised on a third occasion at which opportunity Gravesend’s Dorton stepped up and slotted a penalty. This was an augury of things to come, at least for the next 25 minutes.
Two more Gravesend penalties by Dorton took their lead to 9 points to nil: the first for another early engagement, the second for a late tackle. Fortunately for TJs, Dorton missed with two other penalty attempts but TJs too missed with a simple penalty in front of the posts. At this stage of the game neither side could seem to complete a passing move without knocking on or dropping the ball and every time a scrum was called TJs, who were clearly and genuinely taken aback by the referee’s decisions, were penalised. Also they could make no progress against Gravesend’s defence whenever they managed to hold onto the ball.
But fortune favoured TJs and the well-worn tactic of penalty kick to touch near the corner followed by line-out catch - by Thorpe - and drive over by the forwards saw Leulinui touch down for TJ’s first try. It was some relief for TJ’s spectators when they saw Hamlin’s conversion sail over the bar to bring the score to 9 – 7 in the home side’s favour – somewhat of a surprise since at this point in the game Gravesend had not ventured as far as TJ’s 22.
TJ’s try was cancelled out soon after when Gravesend responded with a try of their own with a little help from what seemed to be a clear obstruction of a potential tackler by a Gravesend player in front of the ball. The try was scored by centre Bishop but went unconverted.
The game had settled down a little by now and the handling had improved somewhat when Gravesend lost the ball whilst on the attack in TJ’s 22 allowing TJ’s centre Child to break away. Rothnie backed him up and was available to take the ball on and score under the posts. Hamlin converted and almost on the stroke of half-time the scores were level at 14 points each.
The second half started just as untidily as the first – just one mistake after another - but after ten minutes, with Gravesend’s pack exerting great pressure, Leulinui was yellow-carded for killing the ball on the ground. Dorton took the three for the penalty.
TJs came back and took the lead for the first time when the bustling Collins at wing-forward emerged from an untidy maul with the ball in his hands and trotted unopposed over Gravesend’s line for a try under the posts which Redman converted.
The game see-sawed back to TJs end and Gravesend, when awarded their umpteenth penalty, opted to kick for touch in the corner instead of relying on Dorton’s boot to kick the penalty points direct. This proved to be a wise decision for they won the line-out and drove over TJ’s line for captain Forsyth to score. Dorton converted to take Gravesend back into the lead at 24 – 21.
Until now TJs had not managed to give either of their wingers a pass but at last, after winning a line-out, a long pass reached Redman coming into the line. He made good ground in the centre to put Campion over the try-line well out on the left. The conversion attempt failed but this, TJ’s fourth try, had taken them back into the lead at 24 – 26.
There were still some eight minutes to go and it was another penalty against TJs which finally turned the tables. It was also the occasion when TJ’s Evans received a red card for foul play. Dorton, who was TJ’s bête-noir in last season’s Kent Cup Final, kicked the three points which gave Gravesend victory.
This was not a good match and it was not TJ’s finest hour. There was a lack of urgency and accuracy in their team play, notwithstanding some good individual performances, and they started the game without a recognised kicker. Their early troubles at the scrum and with the referee must also have unsettled the scoring machine. They must re-group for next week’s home league match against Dorking.
This defeat means that Ampthill take over second position in the league pushing TJs down to third.
Tonbridge Juddians: Normann; Farmer (Redman), Child, Tabrett, Campion; Hamlin, Rothnie; Evans, Knight, Underhill, Thorpe (Collingham), Martin, Collins, Leulinui, Nabbs.