Chingford 33 Tunbridge Wells 35
A week ago neither of these sides were in the play- off position....
.....but a week later and both sides faced each other with the prize a place in RFU National League 3 South next season.
Whatever the result both Clubs had produced a great season and in the Wells case this was at the first attempt. The away side saw Charlie Harding replace ever present Frank Reynolds (playing in trials to make the England Counties U 20 's side) and saw Josh Crickmay added to a bench of 4.
Within 8 minutes playing against a significant breeze Wells had conceded a penalty to go 3 points down and had lost second row Owain Withers to a twisted knee with Charlie Dagwell added to the back row and flanker Mike Hathaway moving into the engine room. Hayden Pope put Wells on the board with a well struck penalty as a result of an infringement when Withers was injured. 3-3
With Wells finding the Chingford line speed giving them little room then scored a fine try after good hands on the right- despite the narrow pitch - giving skipper Lee Campion the chance to stand- up his opposite number and score the try in the corner with Hayden Pope grazing the post against the breeze. 3-8 after 12 minutes.
It took Chingford another 2 minutes to claw back some of the deficit as despite parity or better in the scrummage and the edge through Christian Earle at the line out Wells continued to give a string of penalties away predominantly for offside for the rest of the half.
No further score took place until the 30 th minute as ferocious defence was the winner. However, on 30 mins Wells conceded another simple penalty converted by the Chingford full back who then a minute later, using the breeze slotted one over from inside his half to restore Chingford's lead at 12-8. This remaining the score until half time.
The Wells halftime talk was all about composure and patience but Head Coach Matt Cook in his last game in charge would have been happy enough with this score against the wind.
The second half started with no changes and the first 20 minutes was characterised by a complete failure of the home line out being able to function to their advantage. Wells enjoyed better territory with the breeze and after a penalty to the corner and a maul Charlie Harding brought back memories of Twickenham 2016 with a well struck drop goal to bring the score to 12-11 48 minutes. At this stage the game was tense and tight with very few openings for either side as the defences dominated.
Wells continued to incur the displeasure of the referee and on 63 and 65 minutes the unerring boot of the Chingford full back put the home side 18-11 up.
The mood on the pitch had changed though and with the 'pick and drive ' being employed and with Josh Crickmay on the pitch the Wells build ups looked more solid. It took the pack until the 72 Nd minute to get the break they were looking for as Crickmay launched himself between legs and feet to get the touchdown which was converted by Pope 18-18. With full time close at hand and with Harding and Pope using the breeze to the corners Pope nudged Wells further in front on 77 minutes after a scrum infringement and at 18-21 the Wells supporters dared to see the win. Yet again after a Wells handling error in midfield Chingford broke away and were awarded another penalty to even the score in the 80 th minute to level the scores at 21-21 Wells having conceded 7 successful penalty kicks most of which had been simple kicks and so to Extra time of two ten minute halves.
Wells got off to a flyer facing the wind yet again as within a minute of the start Hooker Jake Thompson latched onto a passing movement 30 metres out to twist turn roll and get over the line for a brilliant 3 Rd Wells try converted by Pope 21-28.
With the centre pairing of Dylan Barkas and Fionn MC Loughlin making inroads in the middle gaps were opening up which Chas Spence was sending the backs into. Chingford had also lost a flanker to a yellow card for an offence on Thompson as he scored. Wells were dominating and after a penalty to the corner their rolling maul was used - not for the first time in the afternoon- to great effect as No 8 Nick Doherty was propelled over the line for Wells 4th try converted from the touchline by Hayden Pope for a fourteen point lead 21-35 at Halftime of extra time but by then Crickmay had been binned as well for a knock down in midfield.
If the crowd thought Chingford were finished they weren't yet as they charged into Wells pinning them in their 22 and after 4 minutes of the second half after a long period of defence from Wells they drove over the line for a converted try 28-35.
There was still time for the two yellow carded players to return but it was Fionn Mcloughlin's turn to see a yellow as Wells went one down. As the second period of extra time was coming to an end Chingford forced themselves over the line in the corner. The fullback could not convert and it was all over. Had the conversion gone over Wells would still have been the victors on try count but all agreed this was the way to end a brilliant game from both teams and the right result for Wells as they now look forward for the first time in the Club's history to National League Rugby next season and celebrate back to back promotions.
Squad: Kyle McGarvie, Jake Thompson, Nick Blacklock, Stuart Nicholls, Josh Crickmay, Christian Earle, Owain Withers, Hayden Pengelly, Mike Hathaway, Charlie Dagwell, Chas Spence, Charlie Harding, Jake Jones, Adam Webb, Dylan Barkas, Fionn Mcloughlin, Lee Campion, Hayden Pope.
By Roger Clarke