Tunbridge Wells 46 Maidstone 14
Tunbridge Wells hosted near neighbours Maidstone in their final league game of the season at St Marks.
The team knew that a win was the bare minimum as they chased a place in the National Three South play-off but were also resigned to the fact that their fate was not in their own hands as Havant had the chance to secure the spot if they won at league champions Sidcup. This was not going to be easy for the Hampshire side but Wells knew they had to simply focus on what they could do and the task in hand which was beating a traditionally competitive Maidstone team, and ideally with a 4 try bonus point.
The home team welcomed back Christian Earle into the second row and Charlie Harding at full back to bolster a pretty much full strength squad.
Wells kicked off playing down the hill in the first half as the sustained drizzle gave way to sunshine, and there were initial (and understandable) signs of nervousness. Early carries from Nick Blacklock and Kyle McGarvie gave Wells good field position but over elaboration saw some openings go begging. It was also clear that Maidstone had come to play, and play hard, and their scrum had a significant edge all game. The visitors dominated the opening quarter of an hour and it needed resolute defence from the home side to keep them at bay. Indeed, it was somewhat against the run of play when Earle turned over the ball in the Maidstone 22 to release impressive hooker Jake Thompson for a run in to open the scoring. With a fine Frank Reynolds conversion it was 7-0.
The teams distinctive styles were very much in evidence with the visitors using their set piece and forward runners and the hosts looking to use the width of the pitch via their backs. It was the dominant Maidstone scrum that produced their first score on 25 minutes when they took a ball against the ahead and outside half Rory Beech crossed for a try that was converted by Euan Caborn. 7-7.
On 32 minutes Wells were back in front when a miscued clearance kick gave skipper Lee Campion and Harding the opportunity to put man of the match Jake Jones away. He showed dazzling pace to beat his opposing winger on the outside and cross for the try that was superbly converted by Reynolds. 14-7. Three minutes later the home team extended their lead when another powerful counter-attack saw number eight Nick Doherty (who was playing himself into the senior Kent squad alongside team mates Reynolds and Chaz Spence) dot down. With Reynolds’ third conversion it was now 21-7.
Wells’ ambitious attacking game was now starting to click and the signs were increasingly ominous for the visitors. Good hands from Fionn Mcloughlin and Blacklock released Jones for his second try to secure the all important bonus point and although the conversion went wide Wells went in to half time 26-7 up.
Charlie Dagwell and Stuart Nicholls came on for Mike Hathaway and McGarvie but the second half started similarly to the first with Maidstone in the ascendancy. One gilt-edged opportunity was spurned when a ball was dropped five metres out but with hard-working flanker Hayden Pengelly yellow carded it seemed a matter of time before the visitors reduced the deficit. The ensuing scrum saw another penalty awarded but just as it looked inevitable that another scrum would see a penalty try and perhaps a second yellow card, a quick tap was taken and with a turnover Spence was able to clear the Wells lines.
On 55 minutes Wells put the game to bed when an audacious Reynolds cross-field kick was gathered by Doherty to run in under the posts which with Reynolds’ conversion made it 33-7. News was filtering through that having led at half-time Havant were now trailing at Sidcup which further buoyed the mood at St Marks. On 62 minutes Reynolds slotted a 35 metre penalty to extend the lead after good work by Dylan Barkas and Hayden Pope.
On 70 minutes the home support were treated to a sumptuous score when Thompson, Pengelly and Owain Withers combined to fashion a try for Earle. 41-7. Maidstone were still battling hard and secured an opportunistic try when wing Matt Moore intercepted a pass to cross from 30 metres and he converted it as well. 41-14. The boys from St Marks were not finished yet though and Doherty linked with Jones who beat three opponents to secure his hat-trick and Wells seventh try.
With the game won 46-14 the home faithful waited with bated breath ahead of news from Sidcup but with a home 43-30 victory confirmed plans began to be formulated for the promotion play-off. This will be at Chingford who beat Brentwood 35-7 in a “winner takes all” match in London One North. Whatever happens in Essex this has been another excellent season for Tunbridge Wells but one more win will see remarkable back-to-back promotions and a supporters coach will run from the club.
Squad: Charlie Harding (Hayden Pope); Lee Campion (Capt), Fionn Mcloughlin, Dylan Barkas, Jake Jones; Frank Reynolds, Chaz Spence; Kyle McGarvie (Stuart Nicholls), Jake Thompson, Nick Blacklock, Christian Earle, Owain Withers, Hayden Pengelly, Mike Hathaway (Charlie Dagwell), Nick Doherty.
by Graham Withers