Aylesford Bulls v Gillingham Anchorians  London & SE Division – London 3 South East, 14:00 14th December 2019

Anchorians made the short journey to play fellow mid-table side Aylesford Bulls on a sunny winter’s afternoon.

Initially both sides tested each other out and the Anchs pack looked effective in attack. Anchs were the first to create a scoring opportunity when they crossed the Aylesford line only to concede a penalty for a double movement. Despite some good running from defence, with Adam Davison prominent, the home side opened the scoring when, after a period on attack in the Anchs 22, they threw the ball wide for their winger to score an unconverted try. The momentum remained with Aylesford and they were rewarded when they chipped into space on the wing and a favourable bounce saw their winger feed  the ball inside for a try under the posts which was converted to give the home side a 12 – 0 lead. 

Straight from the kick-off Anchs were awarded a penalty, which they failed to convert.  The Anchs pack continued to win good ball but slow service from the breakdown and some speculative, but ultimately ineffective, wide passes in the backs meant that Anchs struggled to impose themselves on the match. A high tackle in defence lead to a yellow card for Aylesford and an Anchs penalty which was converted by Brad Ford to cut the deficit to 9 points.

Just before half time Anchs conceded a penalty and were marched back 10 metres for backchat but the kick was missed and Anchs went into half time trailing by just 9 points and looking forward to having the elements in their favour in the second half.

After half time, Anchs attempted to reduce the lead when they were awarded a penalty about 40m out but the kick went wide. Shortly after, Aylesford were awarded a penalty and further backchat meant Anchs were marched back 20m, the kick to the corner and following lineout gave Aylesford a scoring opportunity but the ball was stripped and Anchs were able to clear their lines.

Anchs saw themselves on the wrong end of a string of penalty decisions but Aylesford were unable to take advantage. Anchs continued to look to attack with their wide passing game, but the best opportunity fell to Will Rush who picked up a loose ball and raced fully 50m before being dragged down short of the line. Neil Alexander made his return to the side off the bench after an injury absence from the team. Strong runs from Mark Barfoot and Ryan Lehane failed to produce scoring opportunities and when they did break through Jamie Stevens was held up over the line. 

There followed a very scrappy period of play which culminated in a yellow card for captain Mark Barfoot who was adjudged to have obstructed an Aylesford attacker who had chipped ahead. The penalty in front of the posts was duly converted to extend the home side’s lead to 12 points.

Anchs made two more substitutions with Alfie Luckhurst coming on in the pack and player-coach Dom Saunders replacing Matt Callow in the backs. For a while, Anchs back play looked more penetrative, but as time went on it looked like Anchs were going to struggle to get any return from their final game of the year. In fact, despite being awarded a number of penalties, and with Aylesford receiving a second yellow card, Anchs failed to cross the line and were ultimately denied a losing bonus point in a very disappointing 15 – 3 loss. 

At the half way stage of the season Anchs are in 6th place in the league and now have a 3 week break before starting the second round of fixtures. Anchs have shown that they are more than competitive in this league but will need to avoid conceding early points, which has put them under pressure in a number of games.

By Ian Brenton

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