Once more unto the wire, dear friends! Once more!
By Mark Weeks
The faithful travelling support are put through the ringer again
After last Saturday’s the last gasp heroics against Eastleigh, Farnham were looking forward to a more settled affair against Old Emanuel. However, a combination of the kind of foul weather in which Farnham rarely thrive and yet another re-jigged pack of forwards meant the faithful travelling support were to be put through the ringer once again. Credit to Farnham’s shape and discipline and Old Emanuel’s “old school” never-say-die approach, the game concluded with a nail biting 24-27 try bonus point victory to the visitors.
Toby Comley (No 7) and, fresh back from a 3-week HIA rest, Jordon Frost, were the only forwards in the Farnham pack from that which started the first game of the season. Jonny Davidson, a “finisher” for that first game, started at hooker propped by Ollie Thompson and Gareth Yeomans. Connor Haynes, up from the 2nd XV joined Frost in the row with newcomer Rob Mitchell at 8, Comley at 7 and Reece De Gruchy at 6. The backs had a more settled feel with skipper Brown at scrum half, Salmon’s Toby & Mike at 10 & 12, James Corlett at outside centre. Ben Jones was at full back as usual with Joe Wigmore and Jack Scullion his wing men.
The game was played on a good surface but in a chilly northerly breeze and unrelenting rain. Handling and possession were at a premium. The first fifteen minutes saw little between the sides as they probed and battered. Perhaps Farnham had the upper hand defensively. This prompted the OE No10 to hoist a seemingly innocuous up-and-under from a free kick. No Farnham player claimed the ball and they let it bounce (unforgivable). The OE centre was on it and through for the opening score. Converted and the visitors were behind 0-7.
OE’s returned the kick-off effectively and put Farnham under pressure. Penalty conceded at its 0-10. Was this going to be a long afternoon for the faithful?
The players had other ideas. With Jonny Davidson to the fore, ably assisted by Mitchell and Yeomans, Farnham battered there way back to within range of a penalty well taken by Toby Salmon. From the restart, the visitors repeat the procedure with the same strong carries and efficient recycling to within kicking range. OE concede the penalty, but Salmon’s attempt strikes the upright. The ball is gathered by OE but Farnham’s tackling, ferocious across the park all afternoon, forces the knock on.
By this time, Ollie Thompson had to be replaced at prop by Moses Kuralala. Ollie had hobbled off at the warm up yet started the game to battle hard and hold his own against an opposition prop of significant proportion. Now it was Moses turn and in that first encounter drove his man back. With good front-foot ball, the Farnham backs did their thing and Salmon T was over for his first of three tries in the game. Conversion missed but Farnham are in the hunt at half time 8 – 10.
Farnham have become adept at scoring from the restart. The ever-reliable James Corlett, Farnham’s restart “first receiver”, makes no mistake at the start of the second period and bashes up the middle. A couple more phases and Ollie Brown, who mixed his game well between pass and sniping run, frees Salmon T who batters over for his second. The conversion scuffed, the score 10 – 15.
Repeat! OEs kick off. Corlett received and made ground. The forwards carried it up creating space for Mike Salmon who makes the most of the open acres. Out to brother Toby who off loads to Scullion to canter in. Salmon T converted and at 10-22 it looks like Farnham may have this one in the bag.
OE (not unlike the All Blacks v Springboks later in the day) had other ideas. While line outs from both sides had been untidy, Farnham’s inexperienced tight five were having a torrid time in the set piece. Scrum penalty to OE’s was kicked to the corner from where an unstoppable maul piled over. The conversion was good and at 17-22 OEs were back in it.
The ball was like a bar of soap from the outset and the continuous rain did not help matters. The game fluctuated between phases and fumble. At each set scrum, Farnham struggled but the defence outside holds. In one period of play, OE’s secured the ball on the halfway line and after a dozen phases failed to cross it. Farnham’s “D” was in good form.
After another multiple phase OE attack that goes nowhere, they hoof the ball down field. Alex Chalker, on to bolster the backs who had lost James Corlett to the pack after Jordon Frost came off injured, collects and made good ground across midfield. The ever present Comley takes it up and releases that man Salmon T who steps the cover defence and gallops in for his hat trick and the bonus point try. 17 – 27. Game over?
No! Back come OEs who make the most of their tight five dominance to turn over a set scrum on the Farnham 22. A deft chip from the No 10 and the they are in under the posts. The conversion a formality and at 24-27 its time for the faithful to chew their nails to the quick – again!
In the last five minutes the OE pack rumbled forward but the Farnham line held. Turnover and Salmon T hoofs the ball into the next pitch. Final whistle. And breath…..
Given the conditions this was a good contest between two totally committed sides in which, to the credit of their coaching team, Farnham’s defensive drills shaded the contest. That the newcomers to the pack, both freshmen and 2XV players, knew their jobs and the calls pays credit to those coaches as well as to the club’s overall strength in depth.