Wanderers just miss out in close contest

Scrum Half Tom Walton at a breakdown, as skipper Sam Taylor stands guard

By Colin Whiteley

Thanet Wanderers RUFC 20 – 21 Heathfield and Waldron RFC

Heathfield and Waldron (H&W) won the away fixture by 31-19 in the autumn against a depleted Wanderers side and in better weather conditions for the return match, hopes were high for a reversed result at home . Lenny Brown started for Wanderers in the second row and Tom Walton and Louis Marshall returned, after injury, for Thanet but the side had a more settled feel than has usually been the case this season. Joint captain, Nick Herbert, hopes to be available for selection again for the fixture after next following his injury and Connor Brown is back in training.

Playing conditions were ideal as the visitors kicked off down the slope but it was Wanderers who set the pace as the forwards posted an early marker. Two penalties took them near and a dominating drive was finished off by Walton close to the left touchline. His conversion attempt went agonisingly close to the wrong side of the upright but Thanet had a 5-0 lead after four minutes.

Minutes later a penalty for the visitors was advanced ten metres after some unnecessary comment was passed to the referee but the visitors’ kicker could not convert from just inside the Thanet half. Thanet enjoyed some good minutes of possession, but the points did not follow before H&W cleared their lines with a penalty. With 23 minutes played Charlie Panteli converted a penalty from in front and around 30 metres out to extend Thanet’s lead to 8-0. There were signs that the visitors attack was revving up and Andy Letts was prominent in Thanet’s resolute defence. Mike Whitehead had to go off with a knock and was replaced by Luke Browning.

Andy Letts prepares to tackle

However, in the ten minutes running up to half time, H&W’s attack really got into gear with their big ball carriers grabbing the initiative and finding gaps in the home defence to run in three good tries. All were converted, so at the break, Wanderers trailed 21-8.

From the restart, there was renewed energy from the Wanderers as they battled to wrest the momentum from the visitors. Gully Goodall and captain Sam Taylor led aggressive drives and took play deep into their opponents’ half. Wanderers outside centre, Harrison Quittenden, will count himself a little hard done by when shown yellow for taking a tackle over the horizontal early in the half.

Two minutes later a penalty for Wanderers set a good field position and Marshall’s burst for the line took Wanderers close before Walton grabbed his second try of the afternoon for Panteli to add the extras and bring Thanet back into contention at 21-15.

Dennis Davies was on from the bench to partner Andy Letts in the second row and the two now combined well to snuff out a developing H&W attack with a big tackle. Centre Max Rogers took a knock and had to retire with Leon Doody on in a reshuffled back line. Thanet were attacking on all fronts with full back Andrew Dolan and winger Lewis Downer making many metres as they attacked from deep.

The pack was dominant and a succession of strong drives with Goodall and Taylor again leading were halted only by impatience and an excess of enthusiasm that conceded penalties. Taylor’s back row partners Warren Riddell-Bloomfield and Number Eight, Brett Scott, combined to maintain the pressure and were to the fore as another drive drew a further penalty. Referee, Ross Alexander, enjoyed a good afternoon and now warned the visitors that another scrum penalty would bring a penalty try.

Warren Riddell-Bloomfield rises at a lineout

One of the visiting props had really been struggling and declared himself unable to contest the next scrum,  leading to uncontested scrums. From the second of these, Louis Marshall who had an excellent afternoon, zoomed in at pace, low to the ground, to touch down 10-15 metres left of the posts and leave Wanderers just a point behind with the conversion attempt to follow.

Teenager Charlie Panteli would hope to convert 99 percent of kicks from that situation but unfortunately this was the one percent that got away and the ball rebounded from a post to make the score 21-20 to the visitors. A few minutes of play remained but there was no further score and Wanderers had just a losing bonus point that lifted them off bottom place in the league above Cranbrook.

This was a very entertaining game to watch and played with great sportsmanship. Wanderers as ever, were much indebted to the efforts of their Veterans with great shifts from Danny Clement, and the engine room pair of Lenny Brown and Andy Letts. Tom Walton took his two tries in style and Wanderers are pleased to see him back. Some terrific defence from the visitors and a little naivety in attack from Wanderers meant there was only a marginal improvement in Wanderers’ league fortunes but the improvement in performance is clear.

Next Saturday, Wanderers travel to just off the A2 at Bexley to take on third placed Dartfordians. Kick off is at 2.30pm now that we go into February. Please support the Wanderers.