By Colin Whiteley
Ashford RFC 17 – 24 Thanet Wanderers RUFC
There were a few changes to the side that had defeated Folkestone two weeks ago. Andy Letts was back in the second row with Connor Brown moving to the back row. Danny Clement played out of position at inside centre as did Callum Doody on the wing. Centre Charlie Knight returned, after injury, for only his eighth game of the season and teenager Jacob Payne made his senior debut at ten. In the reverse fixture, Ashford had recorded one of their three wins this season by 30-24 and Wanderers were determined to prevent the double.
Thanet kicked off with a strong wind gusting behind them. After an early break for an injury to a Folkestone player, Wanderers maintained their quick start and Knight was soon back in the scoring groove with a lovely try under the posts that Tom Walton converted. What looked a straightforward penalty was sent wide by Walton before minutes later, an increasingly resurgent Ashford, went over wide left for a try that could not be converted into the strong wind.
The momentum was with the home side and uncharacteristic errors crept into Thanet’s play as the penalties mounted against them. Connor Brown was now forced off with the recurrence of a shoulder injury. He was replaced by first XV debutant Kurt Pearson who has been playing well in the second XV. Skipper Sam Taylor was shown yellow for offside and penalties against Thanet continued to mount, culminating in a yellow for Walton for a high tackle, as Taylor prepared to return. The half closed with a penalty attempt from Ashford that drifted left leaving Thanet leading 7-5.
Ashford used the wind well at the opening of the second half to set a useful attacking position. Sharp handling created space against some uncertain defence and Ashford touched down for a second try. The conversion rebounded off the post but the hosts were in front 10-7.
Wanderers were stung into action and following a good passage of play it was again Knight who powered close before forcing his way over, near to the posts, for Ryan Copp to convert and give Wanderers a 14-10 lead.
Shortly afterwards Walton stretched the lead with a penalty. The next ten minutes were strewn with penalties against Wanderers before a determined Ashford attack led to a try wide right that was well converted. With the scores level at 17-17 home tails were up before a yellow card took them down to fourteen players.
Thanet’s penalty established a good platform and fine handling from Andy Letts, Neil Wakefield and Sam Taylor put James Hamilton away. His brilliant offload to Walton left the scrum-half with a lot to do as he threaded his way through the home defence before touching down under the posts and then converting his try for a final score of 24-17.
This was far from Thanet’s best team performance of the season but a win is always welcome and there were individual displays that left the players and coaches in good spirits for the run in to the season end.
James Hamilton at eight again showed his value, taking decisions without comment or complaint and using his positional sense to good advantage. It was great to see Charlie Knight fit and firing again with his two crucial tries that took his season’s total to nine. Tom Walton’s final try capped another fine performance and his half-back partner, Jacob Payne, made an excellent debut. The young ten played with assurance and tackled hard in a performance of much promise that brought him the Man of the match accolade.
Next Saturday (19th Feb) is the penultimate home fixture for Wanderers when Dartfordians are the visitors (Kick Off 2.30) The match will be preceded by a two course lunch (12.30 PM) for just £10. Contact Kelly to reserve your place. 07881 956887.