Ashford v Gillingham Anchorians London & SE Division – Kent 1, 15:00 27th October 2018

Anchs travelled to face an unbeated Ashford side sitting at the top of the Kent 1 table with a perfect record from 6 games, matching Anchs excellent start to the season. Faced with a pitch which had been widened to suit the Ashford side’s quick backline, on a cold and windy afternoon, it was clear that this was going to be a difficult encounter.

In fact, right from the kick off Ashford’s tactics were clear when Anchs failed to secure the kickoff and Ashford drove forward, spread the ball to the right and then back to the left where they won possession and went over in the corner for an early score which went unconverted, but put Anchs immediately on the back foot. Not to be deterred, Anchs immediately got back into the game and with the wind at their backs made some good ground but were thwarted by the home side’s solid defence. Anchs were also up against it in the set pieces, with the normally reliable lineout not working as well as usual and Ashford’s large pack also dominating in the scrums. Otherwise Anchs were more than a match for Ashford and created a number of scoring opportunities but were unable to capitalize.

Mid way through the half, Ashford’s open side was yellow carded for a high tackle, but the home side were still looking dangerous with 14 men and actually crossed the Anchs line from a lineout move but were called back for a crooked throw. With Anchs also looking to attack at every opportunity, the ball was coughed up on half way and Ashford’s quick winger found himself in space and raced virtually unopposed to increase the home side’s lead to 10 points which was extended to 12 with the successful conversion.

With the side restored to 15 players, Ashford continued to attack but Anchs’ efficient defence held them out until just before half time. Ashford were awarded a penalty, which they kicked to the corner, won the lineout and managed to force their way over the line in the corner. The try went unconverted but Ashford held a 17 – 0 advantage at the break.

Reports from Ashford’s earlier matches indicated that once they had broken the opposition they accumulated huge scores as their opponents capitulated, but Anchs were to prove far sterner opposition and put in a solid second half performance playing against a strong wind.

Anchs created the first chance of the half when full back Jon Mann made a good break but the move ended with a high tackle. Anchs chose to run the ball rather than take the 3 points on offer but lost the ball and the opportunity was gone. Ashford immediately hit back and would have increased their lead were it not for a try saving tap tackle by Chris Everest, who damaged his shoulder in the process and had to be replaced by Tom Williams. Anchs also reshuffled the pack with Paul Knight and Alfie Luckhurst coming on for Rory Turner and Richard Kyle respectively.

Anchs continued to hold their own and scored the try of the match when Taylor Parbutt, Jon Mann and Dom Saunders combined to attack from deep with Jon Mann putting player coach Dom Saunders in the clear and he raced over for a try which went unconverted. Anchs didn’t let up and began to put Ashford under pressure and chose to run a series of penalties awarded in the Ashford 22. On one such occasion captain Mark Barfoot crossed the line only to find that the ref had already awarded Anchs another penalty. As opportunities to break the solid Ashford defence seemed to disappear, Dom Saunders anticipated a long pass from the Ashford scrum half which he intercepted and raced unopposed to score under the posts to reduce Ashford’s lead to 7 points and set up a grandstand finish.

Another high tackle saw a second yellow card awarded to the home side, but shortly after prop Harrison Irons was also yellow carded for holding the ball in the tackle. This gave Ashford the opportunity to assert their dominance up front as they pressed for a 4th try, and they came close when they were called back for a forward pass and when the Anchs defence held them up over the line. After being awarded a penalty under the Anchs posts, Ashford chose to take the 3 points to deny Anchs a losing bonus point. Then, inexplicably, as full time approached they again chose to kick a penalty rather than go for the bonus point try. The successful kick gave Ashford a deserved 23 – 10 lead which was to be the final score.

While both sides missed out on the 4 try bonus point for the first time this season, this was a real battle between 2 sides who clearly deserve their 1st and 2nd spots on the Kent 1 table. On this occasion Ashford proved to be the superior side and deserved to keep their unbeaten record. Anchs can be proud of their performance, especially keeping Ashford try-less in the second half, but before they look forward to the return fixture at Darland Avenue, Anchs need to pick themselves up for their next fixture at home to RBS.

By Ian Brenton

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