New Year but same old story as Farnham suffer a narrow loss in the last minute.
There was something very familiar about this match.
A game of two halves; some scintillating tries; and a loss by one point in the last minute. “How many more times this season?” the question asked by the Farnham Faithful as they trudged away from the pitch rented from Richmond RFC that Old Tonbridgians (OT) call home.
There was an unfamiliar start to proceedings. In rugby, it is the home team’s responsibility to change strip in the event of a clash. However, despite being given a hint at this fixture two seasons ago, Old Tonbridgians have failed to develop any sort of club infrastructure beyond their 1st team. So, Farnham had to play in their change strip.
The starting Farnham XV also looked unfamiliar. With Corlett and Weeks unavailable, Andrew Freshwater took the No10 Jersey with the Salmon brothers at centre. This concentration of ball playing talent in midfield promised to create the space for the speedsters at the back, Scullion, Rich and Jones. Up front, the familiar front row of Naisbitt, Davidson and Joris were supported by Simmons and Adams in the row. The evergreen Jemi Akin-Olugbade started at 6 with Comley at 7 and Daly at 8. There was the welcome return of forwards Ian Williams and Lenny Jennings to the bench with Alex Chalker providing cover for the backs.
Farnham kicked off into a gentle, but chilly northerly breeze. Despite the recent wet weather, the pitch was firm underfoot - no doubt well drained by the north/south slope which trailed away markedly from half-way to the south-eastern corner flag.
The opening exchanges were scrappy. Cold hands. Scrum Farnham just inside their own half. Farnham under pressure and a careless foot booted the ball into the OTs pack. The OT backs take full advantage of the turnover and fizz the ball wide and their 14 rounded the defence to score in the downhill corner. Five minutes gone, conversion missed and its 5-0.
Farnham get back into the game. Mike Salmon barged through the centre and OT’s cough up the penalty in defence. Jack Scullion, who kicked well out of hand all day, was inch perfect to the corner. But the throw deemed not straight. Farnham’s line out was its Achilles heel for most of the afternoon.
Farnham gather the OT clearance and mount sustained attacks with Daly’s carries taking out two or three defenders. This time its skipper Naisbitt who breaks the line and forces the OT penalty. Scullion to the corner again and this time the line out works. The initial maul is well defended by OT’s but a series of quick surges from the base of the ruck and Akin-Olugbade burrowed over to square the score at 5 all on 25 minutes. T Salmon missed the conversion.
Within two minutes OT’s regained the lead to 12-5. Farnham failed to gather the restart and knocked-on. The OT’s scrum is secure and the ball moved sharply out wide and in a carbon copy of the earlier try, they were in at the corner. This time the kick was successful.
Both sides struggled with the restarts. OT’s fumble the ball and there followed an extraordinary passage of play. Andrew Freshwater gathers the fumble and breaks the line. Farnham pound the OT line with multiple phases until the offside penalty was, inevitably, conceded. The 5m scrum option taken and, under pressure, the OT pack wheel the scrum. Penalty awarded. Toby Salmon took a quick tap to release the backs in acres of space – but the ref deemed it was not taken from the correct spot. So back for another scrum. Daly picked up off the base and releases Toby Salmon. He’s held up short and after multiple phases Olugbade burrows over once again – but despite all the Farnham players arms raised in victory and the OT players starting to walk toward the posts, the ref deems it held up. Scrum 3 and the ball is spun wide. Elliot Rich rounds the defence and is in at the corner. But the OT touch judge deemed he had a foot in touch. OT overthrew at the line-out and Daly gathers to stroll over – but the ref adjudged that Farnham had closed the gap and awards a free kick to OT. The language among the watching Faithfull (who outnumber the home support) is unrepeatable!
OT clear their line and the play recedes into the Farnham half where a Farnham scrum is put under pressure forcing Toby Salmon to attempt a hurried clearance kick. This is charged down by the OT 13 who follows up and touches down. The try is converted and with minutes to go in the half, OT extend their lead to 19-5.
Despite the hairdryer treatment from Captain Naisbitt under the posts, Farnham manage to concede one more score before the interval. After gathering the kick off, a promising Farnham attack fizzles out with a knock on. From the scrum, OTs attack the Farnham midfield where, at the first break down, OT’s large but mobile loose-head prop, sporting delightful pink socks, bursts the defence and off loads to his supporting back row forward to go in under the posts.
OT’s have no club house to retire to at half time, so both sides form a huddle against the wind while Farnham contemplate how to get back in to this match 24-5 down.
OT restarted the half by kicking the ball straight into touch. Farnham attack and once again OTs are caught off-side. Scullion to the corner, initial surge at the line-out held but a series of fast and furious pick and goes puts skipper Naisbitt over. Conversion easy for Salmon and with five minutes of the second half gone, Farnham trail 24-12. Is their hope of a comeback?
OT’s go some way to dampening that hope by converting a penalty awarded for not releasing. 27-12 on 50 minutes. But Farnham do not give up. Far from it - despite some strange decisions. Toby Salmon rips the ball from his OT counterpart in the tackle – but this is deemed a penalty offence and OT kick for the corner. But the kick is collected and Toby Salmon skips through the chasing OT defence, offloads to Scullion who is bundled into touch. The OT throw is not straight and from the Farnham scrum, a training field miss move created the space for Toby Salmon to go over. Salmon converted his own try and its 27-19. Game on!
OTs are feeling the pressure and again the kick off went straight into touch. From the scrum, Mike Salmon broke the line and Farnham flood down the slope. Ian Williams, off the bench, makes telling in roads and once again Farnham pound the line only to be held up. Bolstered by the return of Lenny Jennings to hooker, Farnham’s scrum has the clear ascendancy and get the shove on. As the OT front row pop up, the Faithful celebrate what must be a penalty try. The ref decides to reset! Unbowed, Daly picks up from the base of the ensuing scrum, makes the space and off loads to Toby Salmon who is in. Salmon converts to make it a one-point game – 27-26.
This time the OT restart is good and Farnham fail to take a low, swerving kick. From an OT line out on the Farnham 22, the Farnham defence held strong and Ollie Brown, busy as always at No9, clears with the box kick.
Freshwater went over on his ankle and has to leave the field. Toby Salmon is back to No10 with Chalker on in a realigned back line. OT attack again but again solid defence forces an accidental off-side. Toby Salmon clears with long raking kick that bounces down the slope, with the wind, to within an inch of the right side of the corner flag. OT’s fail to exit effectively from their line out and Eliot Rich runs a wonderful line to take the ball back into the heart of the OT 22. But he’s isolated and penalised for not releasing. However, the OT penalty kick only takes them to just within their own 22. Farnham disrupt the OT line out. Daly wins the turnover and after a series of sharp phases, Toby Comley bursts through the defence and dots down under the posts. With minutes to go, Toby Salmon converts and Farnham are ahead 27-33.
The accuracy and cool heads required to see the game out desert Farnham. Mike Salmon knocks on at the restart. No drama – Farnham’s “D” has been pretty solid all game as is proven with a turnover soon after. But Ollie Brown’s box kick clearance goes straight out and from the line out deep in the Farnham half, OT’s go through the phases and threaten the Farnham line. The defence concedes the penalty and OTs take the quick tap – which must have been from the right place this time – and the ball is spun wide and OTs are in at the corner. 32-33.
It’s the last kick off the game - from the touchline and into the breeze. But – with great credit to the OT’s 14 - its good and once again this season, it is last-minute heartbreak for Farnham. In reality, the game was lost in that fist half where a combination of line out misses, scrum pressure and players out of position in the backs let in some soft tries.
Next Saturday Farnham entertain London Exiles at Monkton Lane. Exiles were one of Farnham’s scalps early this season, but have had some notable victories since and are one place ahead of Farnham in the league. The two bonus points secured in the OT game keep Farnham in mid-table but they need to change narrow losses to big wins – and as we have seen, on their day, any side can beat any other in this league. Farnham must believe that.
Podium: Toby Comley 3 - doing his job esp at the breakdown all over the park.
Toby Salmon 2 - recovered from an average 1st half to score the points.
Andy Naisbitt 1 - leading under pressure