By Colin Whiteley
Thanet Wanderers RUFC 38 – 27 High Wycombe RUFC
Wanderers had a squad of 22 for this game which had RFU-appointed officials to add to the sense of occasion that was building as kick off approached.
High Wycombe had brought a good crowd of colourful supporters to join their Thanet counterparts and conditions were ideal as Wanderers’ captain, Nick Herbert, kicked off down the gentle slope. The early battle for supremacy up front was won by Wanderers and with just three minutes played, tight-head Gully Goodall combined with scrum half Tom Walton before Herbert sent Henry Mirams away to touch down. Walton’s conversion gave Thanet the ideal start 7-0.
The visitors reacted strongly and were soon applying pressure to the Wanderers defence. Hooker Danny Clement took a break after an early knock with Mike Whitehead replacing him, both were on top form throwing to the line-out. On 17 minutes, Wycombe were rewarded for a spell of persistent pressure that eventually broke through the home defensive line for an unconverted try. Full Back Marius Thompson cleared deep into Wycombe’s half before chasing the catcher and halting him in his tracks.
Andy Letts’ stunning tackle stopped a dangerous move developing and Walton’s penalty set a good attacking platform only for there to be offside at the subsequent line-out. With just over half an hour played, the home defence was slow to react as the visitors built for their second try which was converted. Thanet raised their game, Brett Scott’s athletic catch at a line-out and Noah Dann’s big tackle helped to keep the visitors in their half and a couple of minutes before half time, more superb handling from Thanet’s backs resulted in Harrison Quittenden racing in for a fine try after showing brilliant footwork to stay within the touch line. No conversion and it remained at 12-12 two minutes later, when half time was called.
A knock on was not the ideal response to Wycombe’s restart to the second half but a stolen scrum seemed to have rescued matters. However, the visitors made an interception as Wanderers aimed to attack up the field and a good conversion put Wanderers seven points down. Adam Harrison’s incisive break was foiled only by a defender hanging on to his shirt tails but a minute later Wycombe opened up a ten point gap when choosing to take the points from an eminently kickable penalty for offside.
Ten Points behind, Wanderers inspiration came straight from the training ground with Gully Goodall quickly into in top gear and unstoppable as he cruised to the line. Minutes later Wanderers went ahead with a special try from Connor Brown. After Thompson had set good field position before being dragged down, Connor set his eyes on the line and with defenders hanging off him touched down for an amazing try. Walton converted both and the momentum was with Wanderers at 26-22.
The visitors battled hard to wrest it from them but Thanet were not to be denied and Thanet stalwart, Andy Letts was rewarded for another five star performance when he was on the end of a forwards drive that built energy from ten metres out. Walton’s extras put Wanderers 33-22 ahead. Ten minutes later Thanet reworked the formula and this time the drive resulted in Connor Brown emerging from the bottom of the pile to claim his double. The visitors played a great part in making this a hugely entertaining match and typically they were still determined to get back on terms and in the dying minutes scored their fourth try to make the final score 38-27 to Wanderers.
Wanderers played with great spirit and a will to win that was refreshing after the travails of the league season. Nick Herbert was inspirational at Ten and his half back partner Tom Walton had another superb afternoon. It was great to see Harry Clemo firing on all cylinders again at loose-head and Warren Riddell-Bloomfield in the back row ranged far and wide battling for the cause. The Kent U20s, Noah Dann, Andrew Dolan and Harrison Quittenden all showed strongly as did those who joined from the bench. However, the Coaches decided that today’s Man of the Match was Gully Goodall. His strength and scrummaging ability were vital in the pack who did so much to secure today’s victory.
Wanderers will play Crowborough from East Sussex in the final on Sunday 7th May, kick off is at 3pm at Saracens’ StoneX Stadium. Entry is free but there will be a charge for vehicles. It is planned to run a supporters coach and costings are being explored. Please register your requirements with Kelly as soon as possible.