Win confirms Farnham’s squad strength and potential
By Mark Weeks
In testing conditions a tribute to both sides and a deserved win for Farnham.
Cup games give clubs the opportunity to experiment outside the weekly grind of league rugby and this game was no exception with both clubs mixing their selections because of niggling injuries, enforced absences etc.
It was a testament to both sides that, in very testing windy conditions, the fitness and skill levels were still of a very high standard. All those that stepped up to the Farnham 1st XV played their part – some to such an extent that selection for next week’s league encounter at Twickenham will be difficult as chairman of selectors Jemi Akin-Olugbade will have a growing number of battle-hardened players to call on.
Farnham started with Storm Callum behind them and down the slope. The recall of Jack Scullion at Full back – he of the thunderous left boot - was a huge bonus to the visitors who immediately went on the attack. Farnham kicked a penalty deep into the OAs 22 where Jonny Davidson, Toby Comley and Ben Adams orchestrated the throw-in and Farnham were on the march. The maul was held some five metres out but momentum was regained as Oli Brown fizzed a flat pass to fly half and experienced stand-in Andrew Freshwater who put centre James Corlett through a gap. The defence breached and 0-5 to Farnham with the swirling wind pushing the conversion awry.
Corlett has been in the form of his career over the last three seasons. More than a crash ball centre, he is generally first receiver at kick offs, always makes ground and is elusive in the contact areas. He confirmed his form when freed up by co-centre Eliot Rich, the eventual man of the match, to end a bullocking run, spin out of a tackle and dot down under the posts. Rich with the conversion and 0-12 to Farnham in just ten minutes.
Alleynians were stung into action, running out from deep through their speedy three quarters, closely supported by their pack. Farnham’s tactics were to to blitz defend and put the ball back into the home 22. The defensive drills paid dividends and a tribute to the coaches as all of the players sing from the same sheet, covering across the pitch and quickly into the breakdown areas. OAs attacks were effectively stifled!
Farnham are lucky to have a fine crop of back row players and this game’s trio of Toby Comley, Reece de Gruchy and newcomer Rob Mitchell dominated proceedings at the breakdown. Backed by Jonny Davidson and Ben Adams (both flankers playing out of position) pace around the pitch proved the catalyst for the win.
On the half hour Farnham put together a pitch length attack with Freshwater and Brown pulling the strings. Reece Stennett stole the hard yards down the left flank before releasing the back row triumvirate. Momentum built through the centres with Rich finding the gap to free up the increasingly impressive Joe Wigmore. A knife through butter sprung to mind. However Wigmore was held up short of the line illegally and an easy three for Rich.
Farnham, oozing with confidence, launched a wave of attacks and after full back Scullion had breached the home defences Rich carried on the move to once again free up the flying Wigmore who cruised over under the posts with the provider adding the extras 0-22.
Half time with the hard graft to come for Farnham up the slope and into the incessant wind. Character played its part together with the confidence to back your drills. OAs sensed a turn round in fortunes and drove for the corner. Held but the fly half scampered over, untouched and calmly chipped over the conversion 7-22 and the game back on.
Always difficult in conditions like these - one fumble, one mistake or misguided pass and the resulting clearance kick puts the team back 40-50-60 yards. It was pressure Rugby. OAs tails were up and they followed up a kick to within 10 metres. Off the line out the fly half repeated his party trick under the posts but inexplicably fluffed the conversion. These little mistakes can come back to haunt. 12-22.
Farnham battled up the hill confining the game to the middle 50 metres of the pitch. The defence was intense with one crash tackle by Eliot Rich staggering the second row bearing down on him. The crowd winced. The five or six stone difference in weight was inconsequential.
Farnham started to empty the bench. Marco Azevado on for the ever reliable Gareth Yeomans, Alex Chalker for a limping Corlett, Woodhams for de Gruchy and finally Ben Brown for Davidson.
Note: Ben makes it four Browns after Father Karl, Uncle Mark and brother, and current skipper, Oli who have played for the 1st XV. A real rugby family with Mum, Jo Brown willing the boys on from the touch line.
The game was in the balance. OAs found their stride and were pushing for points. Another attack and Farnham are forced to give away a penalty. Line out and drive and OA’s No6 over for the try – again the conversion wide 17-22.
With the clock running down Farnham again go on the front foot. Stennett was bundled into touch inches short of the line and OAs clear. Chalker on the run, cut in field to the ever-ready Steve Simmons and the OA 22 was breached. On through Mitchell and Azevado to see prop Connor Haynes crash over for a try. The conversion was wide from Rich but that all important two scores cushion achieved - 17-27.
After a final frenetic five minutes in which the Farnham defence adopted the “kitchen sink” method, the referee called a halt. In testing conditions a tribute to both sides and a deserved win for Farnham.
Great team performance - stand outs from skipper Oli Brown and the back-row boys - Comley, De Gruchy and Mitchell.
Podium points to:
Eliot Rich - 3 penetrative in attack, above his weight in defence.
Rob Mitchell - 2 right place, right move and right time.
Jonny Davidson - 1 nuisance all afternoon attack and defence.