By Colin Whiteley
CHARLTON PARK RFC 21 – 13 THANET WANDERERS RUFC
The Wanderers made five changes to the side that started last Saturday. Danny Clement was a late withdrawal due to illness; he was replaced by Harry Clemo and in a new front row Mike Whitehead was the hooker with Joe Carlier at tight-head. Harrison Quittenden started at fullback and Tom Stevens was on the right wing in a reshuffled back line with Drew Dolan on the bench.
Competition between these two teams has a long history and the early exchanges were pacey and full-blooded. Quittenden found a good long touch before Callum Doody and Louis Marshall broke through on the short side of a scrum to test the home defence and Jack Startin covered metres to make an important tackle. Wanderers were attacking well but were penalised for not rolling. Warren Riddell-Broomfield was forced off with a shoulder injury, and Regan Doody replaced him. His brother, Callum, who was on the left wing, put in some crunching tackles against much larger opponents.
With 15 minutes played, Tom Walton kicked an excellent penalty from near the home ten-metre line to give Wanderers a 3-0 lead. The hosts camped near Thanet’s line and Wanderers conceded three penalties in three minutes before Thompson broke down the left touchline only to be called back to halfway for a Thanet penalty.
Connor Brown was doing what he does very well consistently punching holes in the home defence, he was a constant threat with the ball in hand. Wanderers defended their narrow lead with great commitment before the hosts found their way through for a try near the left touchline which was well converted. Stevens picked up a knock and withdrew to be replaced by Dolan.
A penalty attempt for Park was missed while Brown and Thompson combined to make good metres. Deep in injury time for the first half, a penalty to Park set them near Wanderers’ 22-metre line and a home forward galloped through a gap in Thanet’s defence to make the half-time score 14-3.
The score did not fully reflect the first forty minutes but Thanet’s spirits remained high. Mike Morris had carried strongly and Louis Marshall regularly stretched the home defence with his midfield bursts to bolster hopes for the second period. Tom Walton has worked hard on his kicking and early in the new half he made another great clearance from near his own line to halfway. Five minutes into the half Mike Whitehead was forced off and the injury-defying, Warren, raced back to join the fray.
Andy Letts had spent the previous evening at the presentation dinner for rugby’s Wooden Spoon charity and perhaps that inspired him to a fine performance in this match. His bustling run into the heart of the home defence set a good position before Nick Herbert’s crosskick was caught by Thompson who couldn’t get the touchdown. The award of a penalty to Park brought a comment from a Wanderer and Park’s kicker moved forward ten metres. The referee then indicated that further comments to him, from other than the captains, would be sanctioned.
Tom Walton now took a knock and had to withdraw, Callum Doody replaced him at scrum half and Stevens returned to the wing whilst Carlier returned for Clemo who had put in a good shift on his return from injury. Wanderers had spent a long spell in their opponents’ half but could not get the breakthrough.
At last, on seventy minutes, pressure from Thanet forced a hacked clearance. Letts’ smart catch and run back from 15 metres led to his touchdown in the left-hand corner. Thompson could not make the difficult conversion but at 14- 8. Wanderers’ tails were up and five minutes later as good handling, with Brown and Thompson prominent, took the ball left before switching back for Harrison Quittenden to touch down 15 metres to the right of the posts for his debut try in the senior side. The conversion attempt, which would have given Wanderers the lead, was missed. However, the referee indicated eight minutes remained so at 14-13 Wanderers were well placed. Sadly, as they aimed to attack out of their own half, a ball went loose and was gratefully grabbed by a Park winger, who raced over under the posts. The conversion was good, the score was 21-13 and that was the game over.
This was a much better all-round performance from Wanderers who will rue their missed chances but they will be in good spirits for the run in to the season’s end. The were many candidates with another top performance from Noah Dann, Harrison Quittenden gave another assured performance and scored his first try but today, Andy Letts was Thanet’s man of the match. His try ignited the Wanderers’ final minutes of hope and his overall performance belied his official Veteran status.
Head Coach Mike Pond said: “The run-in of 4 home games and 2 away should mean that we remain in Counties One for next season. We have to play Folkestone, Crowborough and Aylesford the 3 other teams at the bottom with us and 3 wins against them should guarantee our survival but with them targeting us as must-win games, it won’t be an easy task. The games against the comfortable mid-table teams like Cranbrook, Heathfield and Ashford could well prove to be easier games for us, 2 of which are at home.
“With the tremendous team spirit in the squad and their determination to stay up, we have set ourselves a target of 4 wins from the last 6 games.”
The next three fixtures are at home, with Cranbrook first up next Saturday for kick-off at 2.30pm. Please support the Wanderers as they battle to stay in Counties One Kent League.