Best display of season so far lifts Wanderers out of relegation zone

Henry Mirams scores his try Photo Umpire Cam/Andy Mair

By Colin Whiteley

Thanet Wanderers RUFC 41 – 13 Deal & Betteshanger RFC

Wanderers were pleased to have hooker Gabe Haydon available again at hooker and joint skipper Nick Herbert made his first appearance in 2024 at inside centre with Marius Thompson returning at full back.

Sadly Marius was injured in the opening minutes of the game and could not return to the field. He was replaced by Louis Marshall in a reshuffled backline.

Connor Brown was back on the bench for only his second outing of the season. Prior to this game, Deal and Betteshanger Lions were in a comfortable eighth position in Counties One Kent League with Wanderers in an uncomfortable eleventh of twelve.

In his programme notes, Head Coach Elliot Blackmore had recorded the squad’s intention was to win this match and that determination was evident as his side kicked off down the slope into a stiff breeze. Sharp handling took the ball first right and then back left before a big scrum was won and Tom Walton took the short side and made metres before handing on to Lewis Downer to confidently finish off wide left. Walton’s excellent conversion established a 7-0 lead.

Connor Brown on the charge Photo Umpire Cam/Andy Mair

Deal used the strong breeze to set a platform in Thanet’s half and converted a penalty to narrow the gap to 7-3 after fifteen minutes. Five minutes later, Connor Brown was introduced from the bench as Dennis Davies took a break. Great work from Thanet’s pack, aided Brown and he was unstoppable on his way to the line for Thanet’s second try. Walton’s conversion attempt was just wide but Wanderers led 12-3.

The Lions fought hard to stop the game getting away from them and after a patient build up were rewarded with a converted try under the posts with 30 minutes played. Wanderers were quickly back on the attack when Walton’s penalty set a good attacking position for the textbook try that followed. Quick ball from a good line-out went directly to Henry Mirams at outside centre who ran an excellent line to touch down. Walton’s conversion flew high over the posts and Thanet’s lead was restored to 19-10.

Both sides pushed hard in the 12 minutes remaining of the half but neither could find a further score before the break.

Wanderers had the wind behind them in the second half and immediately set an attack. Walton’s penalty gave them a line-out 25 metres out but a too strong final pass scuppered the flowing movement. A straightforward penalty two minutes later was converted by Walton to extend the lead but Deal soon also converted a penalty to maintain the nine point difference.

With twenty minutes remaining, Thanet’s try bonus point was claimed by Haydon who took a tap and go and tore in low to the ground to touch down for his first Wanderers’ senior try. Another excellent conversion from Walton made the score 29-13 to Thanet. Four minutes later there another memorable try from the Wanderers. Brown broke strongly attacking on Deal’s right before more top quality handling sped the ball along the line to Harrison Quittenden on Thanet’s right who used his speed to finish a quality try that could not be converted.

There was no giving up from the visitors and they now camped in the Wanderers’ half causing the home defence to again draw on its deepest well of resistance to keep their line intact. With the clock into injury time Wanderers broke clear and Walton’s long penalty set a line-out in a good attacking position. Haydon’s throw was spot on and fittingly, it was joint captain Sam Taylor who emerged with the ball and the utter determination he had displayed throughout the game helped carry him over for Wanderers closing try. Another top drawer conversion from Walton made the score 41-13. The referee, Simon Bingham, had handled this local derby with his customary aplomb and with a Deal player down injured he wisely soon decided enough was enough and blew for full time.

Gabe Haydon heads for the line Photo Umpire Cam/Andy Mair

This was a fine performance from Wanderers based on some tigerish defending and some exhilarating attacks. Much of the handling was superb with great distribution from half backs Walton and Charlie Panteli that regularly sent the backline away.

It was good to see Joint Captain Nick Herbert back, his leadership of the backline and resolute defence have been missed. The pack again had a good afternoon, their defence made a major difference to the result. Connor Brown played a major part on his return and his second row partner, Andy Letts with number eight Brett Scott and blindside forward Warren Riddell-Bloomfield tackled themselves to a standstill.  Prop Forwards, Luke Browning, and Mike Whitehead with Danny Clement on from the bench were influential both in the set scrums and open play. Hooker and try scorer, Gabe Haydon was deservedly named as the Wanderers’ man of the match award by the opposition players.

Next week Wanderers travel to bottom side Cranbrook for their rearranged fixture. The reverse fixture at home in October was won by Wanderers by 39-31. Kick off is at 2.30 for this vital fixture as they enter the final five fixtures of the season. Support will be very welcome.