By Colin Whiteley
THANET WANDERERS RUFC 59 –12 CROWBOROUGH RFC
For the first time this season, Thanet’s coaches had a nearly full availability of players to select from as their league campaign reached the twentieth match of the season.
It was great to see that sixteen of the eighteen-man squad were ‘graduates’ of Wanderers junior rugby.
In the pack, James Green was back at loose-head and Connor Brown was in the second row. In the backs, Marius Thompson returned at fly-half as Nick Herbert moved to inside centre and Louis Marshall was back on the left wing.
Wanderers had lost the reverse fixture in early December by 20-5 when just eleven of the squad played. There was little to separate the teams in the league table with Wanderers in sixth and the Crows in seventh.
Conditions were good as Thanet kicked off down the slope into a stiff southerly breeze. A penalty gave Crowborough an early attacking position but the urgency in the Thanet side was already clear. On six minutes, Thompson broke from his own half and showed great pace as he ate up the metres before putting Charlie Knight clear to race in under the posts with Thompson adding the extras. Five minutes later the ball flashed along Thanet’s backline to Callum Doody on the right wing who finished well. There was no conversion so Thanet led 12-0.
Two tries followed before a quarter of the match had been played and they both went to Knight. For the first he showed good footballing skills and benefited from a kind bounce before being first to the ball and finishing off for Thompson to convert. Two minutes later some truly amazing handling and back of hand offloads was once more finished by Knight and Thompson again obliged for a 26-0 lead and a try bonus point after nineteen minutes.
Two of Wanderers replacements were already on the pitch with second row Jack Startin and full-back John Oxley off with shoulder injuries. Andy Letts and Callum Beck replaced them. Wanderers continued to press but over eagerness brought errors and there were no more scores until eight minutes before half time inside centre Nick Herbert ran from near half way and picked his way through the Crows’ defence to make the score 33-0 following Thompson’s conversion. Wingers Doody and Marshall went close but there was no further score before half time.
After sustaining a nasty knock towards the end of the first half, Thanet’s play maker, Marius Thompson, was unable to resume immediately in the second half although he did bravely rejoin the action later in the second period.
The half-time message from Wanderers coaches will have called for more of the same and Knight quickly answered the call with a try from the restart as he stayed close to the right touchline to touch down near the corner. No conversion but just the opening Thanet will have hoped for. Seven minutes later referee, Tim Hartley, produced a yellow card for Thanet’s hooker Neil Wakefield. Wanderers defence was sound in the face of a Crows’ onslaught before Knight again got the ball in hand and there was no catching him as he outpaced the chasers to score with Tom Walton adding the extras. The visitors were also now shown yellow but mounted an attack to score an unconverted try.
No sooner was Wakefield restored to Wanderers pack than Warren Riddell-Bloomfield was shown yellow. Wanderers again responded with a try from Knight who was a picture of determination as he ran from his own half to outpace the Crows chasers for another memorable try. Thompson converted as he did a seventh try for Knight who once more broke clear to easily outpace the chase. In the closing stages of the match Crowborough were awarded a penalty try to make the final score 59-12, some small reward for those of the visitors who never gave up.
By any standard this was an outstanding performance by the Wanderers’ squad that drew plaudits from both the referee and Crowborough as well as the cheers of delighted Thanet supporters. Thanet’s pack put in a superb shift with Brown producing a commanding performance that mounted many an attack.
Nick Herbert’s distribution and defence were admirable, and Thompson was clearly delighted to be playing rugby again, running some superb lines to ignite the attacking fire of a backline and he was Wanderers coaches choice as Man of the Match.
‘Seven timers’ are a rarity and the last time that one can be recalled for Wanderers was from the marvellous Mario Meyer twenty five years ago. A wonderful achievement then from Charlie Knight to record thirty-five individual points in a game and to be bracketed with the South African legend.
The first XV are not in action this Saturday when the second XV will be at home to Dartfordians 2s in the semi-final of the Kent Shield, Kick Off 2 PM.
Two more league matches remain for the first XV on the following Saturdays, both away, against South London opposition in Old Alleynians who are currently fifth and Old Colfeians who are first ahead of Wanderers in sixth place.