By Colin Whiteley
Thanet Wanderers RUFC 31-11 Aylesford Bulls RFC
Wanderers had Danny Clement back in the front-row and Warren Riddell-Bloomfield was another welcome returner to the back-row after missing two games through injury. Tom Walton and Marius Thompson resumed their half-back partnership and after missing the last match due to work commitments, wingers Henry Mirams and Louis Marshall were back on first team duty.
Aylesford, like Wanderers, have had a poor start to their season and have yet to register a win in the league. Wanderers were aiming to record their third win of the campaign and move away from the relegation zone.
The visitors kicked off up the slope with the breeze behind them and the opening minutes were played at a high pace with errors aplenty. Skipper, Nick Herbert’s, big tackle set the Bulls back and Knight broke well but couldn’t get over the line before a penalty allowed Aylesford to clear. The visitors opened the scoring with an early penalty but Walton’s attempt to even things up slid by the post.
A promising Thanet movement broke down when a penalty was conceded and the visitors’ were seemingly growing in confidence. With twenty-five minutes remaining a superb cross-kick from Thompson was gathered at speed by Knight who raced in to touch down before Walton’s conversion gave Wanderers a 7-3 lead. Three minutes later Walton was all urgency as his tap penalty opened up to Thompson who sent Knight away from his own 22 to outpace the Bulls’ defence for an unconverted try. The aptly named Referee, Mr Oliver Tyson, now intervened firmly to defuse the situation after a quick flurry of fisticuffs that saw Thanet’s Clement and two from the visitors’ front-row receive yellow cards.
Moments after the game restarted Wanderers hooker, Neil Wakefield was also shown yellow and the Bulls added three points from their kicker. With four of the front rowers off the pitch, scrums were now uncontested and Walton, breaking down the blindside of the next scrum, sent Knight away to complete a fine hat trick with half-time still eight minutes away. Walton’s excellent conversion opened up a 19-6 lead before Knight, in full-flight, was called back for a forward pass. Three of the four yellow carded returned on the stroke of half-time when there was no change to the score.
Two minutes into the second period, Knight broke down the Bulls’ right and his kick ahead was fielded by a defender who badly miscued his clearance which was seized by Mirams who was delighted to nip in and touch down for the bonus point try which Walton converted for a 26-6 lead. The visitors increased their pressure but Wanderers defence was sound, despite living dangerously on occasion in their own 22.
Regan Doody replaced Riddell-Bloomfield who had enjoyed a good return with around 20 minutes remaining and Harrison Leach went on for Walton minutes later. On what was now a rare excursion into Aylesford’s 22 a well controlled drive from Thanet’s pack ended with Noah Dann claiming the touchdown for an unconverted try.
Wanderers repelled attack after attack before, as the game moved into extra time, the visitors finally crossed the line for a well-earned unconverted try. Just enough time remained for Lenny Brown to be shown yellow and for substitute prop Mike Whitehead to put in two good chop tackles before, as darkness descended, the final whistle sounded.
This was a much improved performance from the Wanderers. It was heartening to see Knight speeding in for his tries but this was very much a team performance with the defence holding firm for most of the game. Thanet’s coaches were impressed particularly with the walking wounded of the front row, Clement, Wakefield and Morris who competed well in the tight and loose to help their team to the win. Tight-head Michael Morris has worked hard at his game since breaking into the first XV and put in fine shift today to be named the Wanderers man of the match.
This Saturday the Wanderers face another long journey into the Weald to take on Cranbrook who have lost their last three games after being unbeaten in their previous seven. Kick Off will be at 2pm.