League leaders dig deep to overcome tenacious Wanderers team

Tom Walton passes from a scrum

By Colin Whiteley

THANET WANDERERS RUFC 24 – 35 OLD ALLEYNIANS RFC

After a distinguished 25 year career in rugby, Thanet’s Hooker, Neil Wakefield, decided over Christmas, that it was time to hang up his boots. Second XV hooker, Kurt Pearson was tasked with filling the very large gap in Thanet’s front row where Joe Carlier was also a late call up at loose-head for Danny Clement who was absent for family reasons.

Callum Doody and Charlie Knight were not available in the back division; James Crompton and Marius Thompson replaced them. Thompson replaced Drew Dolan at full back who moved to the wing.  Connor Brown and Lennie Brown returned on the bench where Kent U18 Colt, Harrison Quittenden was waiting to make his debut.

Wanderers kicked off down the slope into a very strong wind. After just three minutes Thanet were caught out of position and slick handling set up a try for Old As that was converted for a 7-0 lead. Wanderers came back strongly and the visitors conceded penalties as they defended before Tom Walton dodged around a scrum to touch down a try which he converted well for 7 all after eleven minutes.

Drew Dolan heads for the line

Old As were playing sensible rugby and a couple of minutes later took the three points from a close penalty in front of the posts to regain the lead 10-7. Warren Riddell-Bloomfield made a crucial tackle as Old As headed for the line and Walton made good distance with a penalty into the wind. Louis Marshall made many metres as he burst through from a tap penalty as did Thompson as he ran back after catching a long penalty rather than kick into the wind.

Crompton made a big tackle but there was no stopping the visitors as they touched down a second try under the posts before three minutes later slotting a difficult penalty to lead 20-7. Steve Jones and Louis Marshall made important tackles.

The visitors were dangerous with the ball in hand and another converted try extended their lead to 27-7. Joe Carlier now took a break after another good shift as Connor Brown returned after missing five matches. His presence had an immediate effect particularly with his strong carries over the gain line.

After 35 minutes, Wanderers patiently built a strong attack and the pack put increasing pressure on O A’s defence before Gully Goodall claimed the touchdown. Walton’s excellent conversion made the score 14-27 but four minutes later the visitors added three points from a penalty. The half closed with Thanet on the attack but there was no further score before half time when Thanet’s coaches were not too daunted by the 14-30 deficit.

OAs restart to the second half failed to reach 10 metres as the wind remained strong. Captain Nick Herbert made good use of it to mount attacks early in the second period when the visitors’ outside-centre was shown yellow. Walton’s penalty made the score 17-30 and Wanderers were playing with confidence as the contest hotted up.  Steve Jones playing at seven for Wanderers had been in the thick of the battle with many big tackles but now took a break.  His partner, on the blindside, Riddell- Bloomfield soon followed him after another big defensive effort with Lennie Brown on in his stead.

After 13 second half minutes, Old As pack drove over wide left to lead 35-17. Back came Wanderers and Herbert’s long pass went to Crompton who cut a great line to run in under the posts for Walton to convert and bring the deficit down to 11 points 24-35. Half an hour remained of an absorbing contest with Wanderers repeatedly testing Old As defence without getting over the line.

Thanet’s front row of their scrum

Left winger Henry Mirams made the most of the limited ball available and as ever, was sound in defence There were yellow cards for Lennie Brown and 12 minutes later for Jack Startin, who spoilt his record of playing in every minute of Thanet’s games during the season with his spell in the bin. Marshall suffered an injury to his wrist and lower arm and was replaced by Quittenden who made a confident debut. A third yellow card went to Goodall a minute before the final whistle when Old As kicked into touch with their mission accomplished.

This was a rousing start to the new year for Wanderers and their supporters. Noah Dann had another fine game as did Goodall who has become a very accomplished tight-head.  Hats off to veteran Andy Letts who gave a brilliant performance in both the second and front row. Thanet’s man of the match however was Tom Walton who kick started so much of what was good about the team’s play. An early try and some fine kicking helped to make him the coaches’ choice.

SQUAD: Carlier, Pearson, Goodall, Letts, Startin, Riddell,-Bloomfield, Jones, Dann, Walton, Herbert (c) Dolan, Marshall, Crompton, Mirams, Thompson. SUBS: Brown L., Brown C., Quittenden.

Next Saturday 14th January the first XV travel to Bromley for a 2pm kick off. The south London club is currently fourth in the league having won 9 of their 13 matches and won by34-10 in our home match against them in October.

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