By Colin Whiteley
THANET WANDERERS RUFC 26 – 19 ASHFORD RFC
Kurt Pearson returned at hooker and Connor Brown was back at Number 8 in Thanet’s pack. Harrison Quittenden replaced Charlie Knight, who was unavailable for selection, on the wing.
Ashford have enjoyed a good season and defeated Wanderers in their opening fixture of the season by 13-3.
The clubhouse was still clearing after around 130 had enjoyed their lunch at the annual Paul Keohane Sports Fund Fundraiser when the Wanderers opened the scoring. Thanet attacked down the opposition’s left and a good interchange between centres Adam Harrison and Henry Mirams put full-back, Marius Thompson, away to speed in from 25 metres out. Tom Walton’s attempted conversion from wide right went across the face of the posts and the Wanderers led 5-0.
Both sides made errors that stopped promising movements. Mirams, with a little help from Thompson, made a strong tackle that forced the opposing left winger into touch. Connor Brown made some trademark carries shedding opposing defenders in his wake. The visitors’ pack outweighed the Wanderers’ eight and regularly threatened but the Wanderers’ defence with Brett Scott outstanding at blindside, kept their line intact. It was good to see Drew Dolan back on the bench on his return from injury and he now came on to replace Thompson temporarily. He was soon busy making a fine catch from a long Ashford clearance but the counter-attack petered out and the half ended with no addition to the Wanderers’ 5-0 lead.
Danny Clement had started the game with a broken foot and was now forced to take a break. Mike Whitehead replaced him at loose-head. Louis Marshall on the left wing roamed across the pitch looking for an opening and open side Noah Dann broke well but was dragged down near the line although six minutes into the half, Wanderers went further ahead.
A patient build-up, again down Ashford’s left, saw Walton receive following a tackle. The scrum-half nipped through a closing gap and when tackled, handed on to Harrison Quittenden who finished off the second try of his debut season stylishly. Walton’s conversion was assured and the hosts were 12-0 ahead. Andy Letts broke well and made a lovely back-of-the-hand offload before taking a break, Lenny Brown replaced him.
The Wanderers’ third try came with around an hour played. Connor Brown broke strongly and Walton’s probing kick to the hosts’ 22 was chased by Thompson who caught a hesitant Ashford defender and came away with the ball and handing on for Adam Harrison to finish off just right of the posts. Walton converted and Thanet led 19-0.
The referee, Oliver Tyson, who had kept the lid on a potentially explosive fixture well, now showed Lenny Brown a yellow card as Ashford threw everything into attack. Their forwards scored wide left and a fine conversion made the score 19-7.
Now with their tails up, Ashford spread the ball nicely to their wide left and touched down for an unconverted try. Clement bravely returned when Whitehead could not continue. Lenny Brown rejoined the team after the captains had received a referee’s warning for the number of penalties conceded.
There was a lengthy break whilst an Ashford forward was treated before leaving the field. At 17-12, the next score was clearly crucial and it is a credit to Wanderers’ Captain Nick Herbert that it was the Wanderers who scored their bonus point try. He dummied his way through the Ashford defence to near the goal line before passing to Mirams to run in for the try bonus point and make Walton’s conversion an easy one. Ashford continued to press and from the final play crossed for a try and a fine conversion ensured they left with a losing bonus point.
This was not a classic game but it generated plenty of excitement, particularly in the second half.
Although Thanet have played their final match, the final league table is still in doubt with three games still to be played next Saturday. Relegation is still a possibility with the final criteria still in doubt. Head Coach, Mike Pond, was away today attending his son’s graduation ceremony in Edinburgh. His associate coaches, Elliot Blackmore and Kieran Hopper ensured that the team achieved the objective of a bonus point win. Gareth Redmond did a shift as touch judge whilst Director of Rugby Neil Roby enjoyed a rare Saturday on the touchline. The physios for both sides had a busy afternoon, thank you to them all.
This was Tom Ball’s final game for the Wanderers before he goes travelling. He had another top-class game today and will find the welcome mat out should he return to Thanet. Harry Clemo has battled his way back from injury to give a quality 80-minute performance today but the coaches were quick to nominate Connor Brown as their man of the match. Dogged by injury recently, he returned to near his best today with an influential and dominant performance.
Wanderers have entered a team in the Papa John’s Community Cup and await details of the draw.
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