Ashford v Gillingham Anchorians London & SE Division – London 3 South East, 14:30 23rd Nov 2019

Anchorians travelled to unbeaten Ashford who were sitting at the top of London SE 3, following their unbeaten season which earned them promotion from Kent 1.

The match started with both sides testing each other out and, similar to last week, Anchs showed some good handling but the game was being played mainly in the Anchs half. Both sides conceded penalties for offences at the breakdown, but it was the home side who struck first. They won good lineout ball, and drove the Anchs pack over the line for the opening try which was well converted from out wide. 

From the kick-off Anchs were awarded a kickable penalty but the opportunity was missed. Ashford looked dangerous with ball in hand and extended their lead with a lineout move on the Anchs 22m line which saw their hooker score a fine try in the corner. The try went unconverted and Anchs immediately looked to fight back. While a number of kicks missed touch, Ashford made a number of mistakes under the high ball, allowing Anchs to retain possession and make ground. 

While Anchs were handling well, using both forwards and backs in attack, they lacked penetration and Ashford were able to commit only 2 or 3 players to the ruck, meaning they had a solid defensive line able to repel whatever Anchs threw at them. With the wind behind them in the first half, Anchs may reflect on the fact they could have played for position and turned the Ashford defence around more often, rather than playing their open running game in their own half.

Anchs defence was put under pressure when Ashford were awarded a 5m scrum but they defended well to initially keep Ashford out. However, a subsequent scrum saw Ashford exert pressure and they were awarded a penalty try to take their lead out to 19 – 0.

Once again Anchs went back on attack and they were awarded a penalty in the Ashford 22. They chose to kick to the corner and then ran a front of the lineout move to put captain Mark Barfoot over in the corner for an unconverted try on the stoke of half time.

Anchs faced a daunting task in the second half playing against the wind. They did, however, make a strong start taking the ball into the Ashford defence with Dan Perry and Mark Barfoot prominent. They were lucky not to go further behind when an Ashford counter attack saw them with a 4 on 1, but a forward pass saved the day. 

With the Ashford half backs taking advantage of the conditions, a kick from open play pinned Anchs on their line. Ashford then capitalized on a poor defensive lineout and dived over for their 4th try to secure another bonus point and a 24 – 5 lead.

The game then turned in Anchs favour when the home side were guilty of mishandling and giving away penalties. They were awarded 2 yellow cards in separate incidents and against 13 men Anchs retained possession and close inter-passing saw Adam Davison break the defensive line and race over, under the posts. Brad Ford added the conversion to reduce the lead to 12 points.

Ashford showed why they have remained unbeaten for so long, when their full back caught an Anchs kick, threw a long pass to their right winger, who outpaced the Anchs defence for an excellent try, although his celebrations were not well received by the referee, nor the Anchs defenders. With the game won, Ashford decided to take a shot at goal when they were awarded a penalty within kicking distance. The penalty was duly converted to give the home side a 32 – 12 win. Anchs did however finish the game with a flourish with a move which saw Adam Davison tackled into touch at half way. 

Despite the loss, Anchs can take some comfort in the fact that they were more than competitive against a side which, even at this stage of the season, looks set to win promotion. With a bye next week, Anchs then face Uckfield at home, when they will look to defend their home record. There is no doubt that Anchs are playing an attractive and enjoyable style of rugby, but with a little more game management, should be looking to a strong second half of the season.

By Ian Brenton

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