Gillingham Anchorians v Old Gravesendians London & SE Division – Kent 1, 15:00 22th September 2018

Old Gravesendians were the visitors to Darland Avenue on a wet and windy Saturday to face Anchorians in a top of the table clash, which would see Anchs retain their perfect record in another good early season performance.

In the early stages, playing against the elements, Anchs showed dominance in the set pieces and went close to opening the scoring when winger Tom Williams was brought down by a tap tackle as he raced for the line. The opening score, however, went to captain Mark Barfoot who took a return pass from Ryan Lehane after a break on the blind side to give Anchs a 5 – 0 lead. The conversion was missed and there followed a period where the home side’s defence was tested with the game being played almost exclusively in the Anchs 22. Gravesendians did cross the line but were held up by full back Jon Mann’s try saving tackle. Eventually the pressure told when the visitor’s right winger fumbled a pass, which caused the defenders to hesitate, and he picked up the ball and raced over for a try which was converted to give Gravesendians a 5 – 7 lead.

Both sides showed a willingness to run the ball, despite the conditions which meant handling was difficult, but Anchs also missed some first up tackles, which allowed the visitors to keep the ball for extended periods and play the game in Anchs’ half. Good clearance kicks from Jon Mann and player-coach Dom Saunders, returning at fly-half, as well as good defensive work from Mark Barfoot kept Gravesendians from adding to their lead. With half time approaching, Anchs went on attack and Jon Mann fed Tom Williams whose pace took him past the defence to score in the corner. With the conversion hitting the post from out wide Anchs went into half time with a narrow 10 – 7 lead.

In the second half, Gravesendians continued to run the ball from defence with Anchs dominating territory, but lack of accuracy in a couple of lineout throws saw Anchs give up good attacking positions. The visitors were reduced to 14 men following a high tackle to stop Mark Barfoot on one of his powerful runs. The ball was kicked into the corner from the ensuing penalty and following the lineout Anchs were awarded a scrum and good ball saw Kenton Parbutt, on an angled run from centre, take a short pass and crash over for Anchs third try and a 15 – 7 lead.

Despite being a man down Gravesendians went back on attack and following a period of domination were awarded a penalty in the Anchs 22. They took a quick tap and fed the backs to create a try, which was converted to reduce the Anchs lead to a solitary point.

As the game moved into the last quarter, Anchs started to take control but were denied by the Gravesendians defensive line which was playing right on the offside line. Dom Saunders looked to break the defence with a well placed grubber kick which he chased and dived on to score Anchs bonus point try, but in doing so injured his shoulder. The successful conversion by Jon Mann gave Anchs some comfort by extending their lead to 8 points, but the loss of their player-coach meant a significant rearrangement in the back line was necessary.

Anchs superior fitness saw them finish strongly with a couple of scrums won against the head and Mark Barfoot again went close after a blind side break. Man of the match, Jon Mann who had taken over at fly-half, made a break and was held up short of the line but managed to feed Ryan Lehance who was on hand to crash over, keeping his try per game record intact since joining the club this season. The conversion made the final score 29 – 14 meaning Anchs secured 5 points and maintained their perfect record and, more importantly, denied Gravesendians a bonus point.

This was probably Anchs’ best performance of the season against a side with big ambitions who will undoubtedly be competitive in Kent 1 this season. While Anchs team spirit and fitness will give them an advantage over most sides, some improvements are still required to compete with the likes of Ashford who sit alongside Anchs at the top of the table with maximum points after 3 games.

By Ian Brenton

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