Farnham win "ugly"
This was not pretty. Grey, windy and rain interspersed with sleet almost made this a day to forget. The first half will not linger long in the memory.
Farnham playing with the breeze behind them just could not hit their straps. The Exiles, bottom of the league, belied their position by putting the Farnham boys under constant pressure. Assuming a win can take the edge of the performance. Perhaps that was the problem here.
Time after time Farnham conceded penalties for offside, for interfering with play, for high tackles. The list was endless and the count 6-1 against after just 12 minutes. The Exiles were organised and focused in defence picking off the isolated Farnham attack runners and winning vital turnover ball. The penalty count pushed the home side further and further back into their own half. While the Farnham blitz defence worked well across the field, the close in defence at the catch-and-drive from a line-out did not. One such attack was pushed back but at the next Exiles scrum, their scrum-half Sheldrake scampered over for a well worked try and a deserved lead after their dominating first twenty minutes.
Perplexed and frustrated Farnham could not get going. Passes floated inaccurately behind the attackers. The swirling wind may have been to blame on occasions but mostly it was down to poor execution and bad decision making. Even skipper Oli Brown and the ultra-reliable Toby Salmon caught the bug with a series of wayward passes.
However, Farnham gradually battled their way into the game and a series of attacks down the right spearheaded by winger Eliot Rich and flanker Toby Comley turned up the temperature. Exiles were under the cosh and conceded four penalties in succession - all on their five-metre line. On the fourth the referee went to his pocket and the Exiles No 8 Kirby went to the bin.
At last on 36 minutes, Farnham made their first right decision of the match. James Corlett through the middle and Toby Salmon took the game by the scruff and twisted and turned though the defence for a try under the posts. Easy extras and Farnham were flatteringly ahead 7-5 after a turgid, mistake ridden first half.
During the break the sleet came with a vengeance forcing supporters in to the clubhouse for a reviving drink. The teams needed the break and Farnham needed to regroup and focus on the second half. To their credit the boys in black and white left the poor first forty minutes behind them to create a second half of accurate, support play rugby ideally suited to the wet conditions. Phase after phase pulled the Exiles defence around the field.
Gradually the momentum swung but Farnham coughed up possession under the Exiles post and the ball was scrambled clear. However, Farnham winger Reece Stennett gathered the ball and set off on a mazy run popping a pass inside to a rampaging Steve Simmonds, the eventual podium winner, who drove into the 22. Quick ball and there was Salmon to elude three defenders and score wide out. Daylight between the scores at 12-5.
The Exiles had to attack and in so doing gaps in their defence appeared. Farnham's attempts to pierce the gaps were thwarted and injuries to Corlett and Salmon momentarily stopped the flow. On the resumption, with both players recovered, Farnham entered their most productive period. Winger Stennett was in no mood to let the Exiles off the hook. Put into space after a Farnham back row break out through Mitchell and Welch, he finished off the move with a forty-metre jinking run that left three defenders grasping at air. The score under the posts made the conversion easy for Salmon 19-5.
With full time approaching Stennett concluded his afternoon's work with another blistering attack down the left. He was held up but popped a pass to veteran Jemi Akin-Olugbade who blasted over from thirty yards once again defying the aging process. Again, an easy conversion for Salmon and a bonus point win which, given the first half performance, seemed unlikely.
The Exiles were dogged throughout and frustrated Farnham for the first hour of the match. The home side, however, never gave up despite everything seeing to go against them. The front rowers of Marco Azevedo, Ben Brown and Connor Haynes backed by Ben Adams and Steve Simmonds attacked and defended around the fringes all game. This constant pressure eventually paved the way for the win as the Exiles ran out of steam.
In dire conditions this was an ugly spectacle but, as the old adage goes, "if you're going to play in these conditions - Win! It doesn't matter how.
Presidents Podium: Steve Simmons 3, Ben Adams 2, Toby Salmon 1