By Colin Whiteley
Dover Sharks RFC Veterans 19 – 3 Thanet Wanderers RUFC Veterans
This was the first game that the Wanderers have played in the qualifying round of fixtures for this year’s Spitfire Gold Trophy competition for Kent Over 35s teams.
Their two other scheduled fixtures, against Canterbury and Ashford, will count as wins after both of those sides could not fulfil their fixtures. Last year’s fixture between Wanderers and the Sharks ended in a narrow win for Thanet after an excellent contest at St Peters, so a good crowd of supporters had gathered at Dover’s Crabble ground for this year’s match.
The promised heavy rain had not arrived as the hosts kicked off into the stiff breeze. Wanderers were quickly into their stride and were soon driving towards the home line. In the face of good defence from Dover, the threatening series of attacks was ended when a penalty was conceded. Timmy Williams, in the centre for Thanet, was tackling strongly as was Jonty Stevens on the left wing.
It took nearly a quarter of an hour for the Sharks to mount an attack in the Wanderers’ half. However, their first try came from a try that originated in their own half. The powerful home centre, Luke Armstrong, burst through several tackles as he galloped in under the posts for Connor McCarthy to add the extras. Wanderers continued to play some spells of flowing rugby. The second-row pairing of Andy Letts and Tom Harvey combined well with Number Eight, Lenny Brown but the move broke down short of Dover’s red zone. Tom Longden, playing at scrum half, made a great charge down and Captain Peter Macaulay’s tackle saved an almost certain try but the next try came from the Sharks with a touchdown for McCarthy and a conversion from Armstrong. The half-time whistle soon sounded with Dover leading 14-0 after a very competitive half of rugby.
Wanderers were unchanged for the second period as the hosts made the most of their full bench. Now with the wind behind them and the advantage of the slight slope the Sharks exerted some serious early pressure but great defence from Wanderers kept their line intact and when the Sharks offended, Longden converted the penalty to make it 14-3.
A Sharks penalty set them up at a line-out seven metres from Wanderers’ line but Brown grabbed the ball and counter-attacked through the Sharks’ attack to clear the immediate danger. Dover were not to be denied however and after 20 second-half minutes, front-row forward Mike Keohane crossed for an unconverted try after strong pressure against a tiring Thanet XV to give the Sharks a 19-3 lead. Vinny Ganley, Wanderers’ sole replacement now joined the fray replacing Elliott Stokes on the wing giving him a well-earned break.
Neil Roby’s penalty, following a high tackle, set good field position and he and centre Rupert Syred linked to gain useful metres. Longden ghosted through the defence and linked with Ganley who was bundled into touch after a good dash. Thanet’s flankers, Greg Shingles and Ed Plori worked hard throughout the seventy testing minutes to keep their line intact in a pack that put in a fine defensive shift. The front row of props Danny Clement and James Whowell, with hooker Bill Wallace, deserves a medal for playing the full seventy minutes, particularly so for Bill who turned sixty earlier in the week.
The game perhaps slowed a little during the closing minutes but continued to entertain before the evening’s excellent referee, Mark Waterstone, blew for full time with neither side able to register any more points.
It was a well-deserved victory for the Sharks who made the most of their opportunities. Wanderers were handicapped by a shortage of replacements but put in a competitive performance against good opposition. Both teams will progress in the competition, Dover as a result of winning the group and Wanderers following their two victories by default.