Always in doubt before fantastic finale.
By Mark Weeks
This was a thunderous contest between two very good rugby squads. Report by Geoff Bond, Club President.
The matches between Farnham and Eastleigh over the last three or years have always been bruising, high octane encounters. Yesterday’s game for sheer full on, no nonsense rugby was, according to many on the touchline, one of the best games witnessed at Monkton Lane since the Club’s move from Wrecclesham.
The two sides lined up in Mediterranean conditions after the monsoons of last weekend. With a warm sun on their backs and a gentle breeze the Weybridge-based referee commenced proceedings. The early exchanges proved to be a precursor to the whole eighty minutes – end to end throughout. Fitness levels are now at their peak with the players increasingly battle hardened with three or four games under their belts.
Farnham playing into the light wind and surging forward through Marco Azevado and Jonny Davidson, on at the start as Army flanker Moses Kurulala was delayed on duty. The pace was electric from the whistle with both sides determined to put down an early marker. First Farnham then Eastleigh seemed to be gaining the upper hand.
Both sides played expansive rugby. At every opportunity, Farnham spun the ball wide to their electric back three of Ben Jones, Eliot Rich (who enjoyed a successful tussle against his 16 ½ stone opposite number) and Reece Stennet. Michael Salmon and Ed Weeks made inroads in the centre provided the opening salvo to Farnham. Pressure brings points. A penalty for offside is awarded against the aggressive Eastleigh defence. Easy points for Toby Salmon and first blood.
The work rate of both sides was colossal. For amateur players this was a testament to their fitness levels and pure skills. Jules Joris, Lenny Jennings and Olly Thompson driving forward close to the breakdowns and smashing into tackles as Eastleigh launched close-in attacks. The forwards cancelled each out at scrum and line out. Gradually the territory shifted. Eastleigh created a sequence of swarming attacks, ball retention at a premium. As the phases of play began to mount and the momentum increased, the Eastleigh 10 Baldwin played a switch move to put winger Enock over in the corner. 3-5 as the conversion slid wide.
Eastleigh began to dominate the power struggle and to look the most likely. They increase pressure and force another penalty which Baldwin kicked into the Farnham 22. Desperate scrambling defence and Farnham were able to push back the attack but Eastleigh charged back, caught Farnham offside and the penalty was easy for Lovell the Eastleigh full back. 3-8.
Farnham was stung into action and made a rare foray into the Eastleigh 22 with a sustained attack driven on by new number 8 Rob Mitchell, who enjoyed a superb debut, supported by the ever present Toby Comley and Kurala on for the injured Jennings. Comley and in-form Ben Adams were beginning to rule the line outs and maintain the possession. Just five metres out and the attack was broken down illegally – penalty and easy for Toby Salmon. 6-8.
The game continued to flow end-to-end. Eastleigh upped the ante to attack pulling the home defence left and right. Gaps appeared in the otherwise stalwart defence and Baldwin spotted the winger Enock free and with an inch perfect cross kick, the try was a formality. However, Ben Jones at full back ensured the try was scored out-wide to deny an easy conversion chance. 6-13.
Farnham were hanging on at this stage with the home supporters urging the referee to call the half to a halt and let the battered players regroup. However, the players had other ideas. A chip and chase by Toby Salmon is halted by the Eastleigh full-back with a tackle so late South West Trains would have been proud of it. The referee was on the spot with a yellow card to go with the penalty to Farnham. With the clock running down, the ball is kicked to the corner. Line out won by a soaring Ben Adams, Farnham drove for the line. The maul was held up but scrum half Oli Brown managed to dig the ball out. Fast hands through Mike Salmon and Ed Weeks and Ben Jones cut back at high speed to score the try by the posts to allow an easy conversion for Toby Salmon. 13-13 at the whistle. Farnham were out of jail!
If the first half was fast, furious and bruising then the second half proved to be even more so. Early inroads by Farnham and prop Gareth Yeomans was held up over the line. Scrum to Farnham and again the touchdown unsuccessful. The Eastleigh defence held firm.
The slugfest continued as a 13-13 stalemate in a pulsating exhibition of attritional rugby. Eastleigh always looking the slightly more dangerous. On 71 minutes Farnham concede a penalty and it was easy for Lovell. 13-16 and with the clock running down, this was surly the clincher?
Eastleigh launched wave after wave to put the game beyond doubt yet with Farnham scrambling desperately in defence the Monkton Wall held. As the game wound to its conclusion, Eastleigh cleared the ball deep into the Farnham 22. The back three dealt with the threat and carried the ball to the edge of the 22. Recycled at the ruck, the ball reached Ollie Brown. Showing the skill and head-up rugby that are a hall-mark of Farnham’s back play, he put in an audacious, inch-perfect cross-field kick that landed between the upcoming Eastleigh backs and Farnham’s Toby Salmon lurking on the far touchline. With a perfect bounce the ball sat up for a flying Salmon who sprinted a lung bursting 80 metres down the exposed Eastleigh wing. The crowd held its collective breath. Would the cover defence be cut him off? Time seemed to slow down – but Salmon did not. Elation on the balcony as he made the line for the try out wide. Then, as if nothing had happened, Salmon kicked the most difficult conversions. 20-16 with forty seconds to go. Eastleigh's restart did not travel the requisite 10 meters and the ref blew for full time.
One of the results of the last six years at the “Fortress Farnham.” Eastleigh, joint league leaders, beaten in the last gasp of a pulsating fixture in which the Farnham boys earned their four league points by playing themselves into the ground. It was a great team effort from 1-18 and the Presidents Podium Points were difficult to decide.
Tremendous shifts from the boys in the pit - Jules Joris, Lenny Jennings and Oli C-T backed up by Gareth Yeomans and Jonny Davidson. The row of Marco Azevado and Ben Adams, eventual podium pointers, were great throughout backed by the back row of Moses Kualala, Rob Mitchell and the mercurial Toby Comley. The backs were marshalled by the ever improving Oli Brown at 9 and Toby Salmon at 10. Brother Mike and Ed Weeks made yards and, in particular, held firm at the Centre while the pacey back three of Rich, Stennet and Jones were always a threat with pace to burn.
“This was a good Eastleigh side fit, fast and focused they would say they deserved more than a point and, hand on heart, Farnham who battled to the very end just, just shaded it,” said Farnham President Geoff Bond.
Presidents Podium: Toby Salmon – 1, Marco Azevado - 2, Ben Adams – 3.
Last Saturday Farnham put out five senior squads. The 2nd XV (Hornets) lost 40-17 away at Battersea while the 4th XV (Barbarians) had a similar result going down to Sandown and Shankill 43-14. As the 1st XV were winning their monumental battle, Farnham 3rd XV (Warriors) on the adjacent secured a 40 point victory over Cranleigh 2s. Meanwhile, the Vets (L’Escargots) played in a Vets 10s tournament at Esher putting in a spirited display but without securing any silverware.