Farnham battle to nervy win over Old Cranleighians
By Mark Weeks
A fast, fierce but fair encounter, close and difficult to call.
The games over the last five or so years against Old Cranleighians (OCs - or “OhhhCeeees!” as we were reminded by the strident chanting of their supporters) have always been fast, fierce but fair encounters, close and difficult to call. This one was no different.
A tremendous defensive performance by the Black and Whites defined their win. The standards were set from the first minute as Farnham strung out across the pitch to repel no fewer than fourteen phases from the hosts.
Prompted by their classy half backs, OCs launched wave after wave throughout the game but Farnham's first up tackling was destined to win the day. They varied their attacks through forwards and backs, all at pace with a myriad of cut-back, switch and miss moves. The number of players that hobbled off the pitch and into the clubhouse highlighted the intensity at which this level of rugby is now played.
After the initial challenges Farnham forced their way into the OCs 22. Tom Cerullo in off his wing after a break from man of the match, Ben Jones. The OCs flanker failed to clear away from the tackle and penalty to Farnham. 0-3 through the boot of Toby Salmon.
That the referee did not explain a number of decisions that baffled both players and supporters alike may have accounted for the rise in the penalty count. OCs on the attack and Farnham's Steve Simmons adjudged not have rolled away and an easy three points for the OCs fullback. All square.
OCs upped the pace and the Farnham back three of Cerullo, Jones and Reese Stennett had to make last gasp tackles to keep out the home attacks. Farnham centres Michael Salmon and Alex Chalker relished the contact area and for half an hour the attacks were repeatedly smashed back. The pressure was beginning to take its toll and after a concentrated multi-phased sweep, the Farnham defence opened up to allow fullback James in for a try wide out despite a desperate double tackle from Stennett and Jordan Frost. 8-3.
Still the penalties mounted. Skipper Oli Brown, who had the rare advantage of towering over the referee during their many discussions, did well to keep the lid on proceedings. With half time approaching and after a fierce and furious forty minutes into the wind, 8-3 down was a good return for Farnham.
The second half was a tense affair with OCs imprisoned in their 22 by the wind that had given them the advantage in the first. Farnham were perhaps too one dimensional as maul after maul and ruck after ruck were stopped. The front row of Andy Coutts, Lenny Jennings and Jules Joris battered away at the ramparts but the OCs defence stood firm. The referee, however, started to lose patience and after a succession of penalties Farnham completed a series of charges to create a gap exploited by the elusive skills of Toby Salmon. He went in under the posts and with an easy conversion the score was 8-10. Surely Farnham would stretch away.
There has always been much riding on this contest. According to local sources, this was the strongest team OCs had fielded this season – the performance making a mockery of their 9th position in the league. And so they battled their way into the visitor's half - phase after phase culminated in the winger going over out wide. The conversion missed but a narrow lead regained, 13-10.
The Farnham boys had other ideas. That was OC’s last foray into their territory as the black and whites continued to search for an opening, the tackle count mounting by the second, the intensity rising to new levels as the clock wound down. Ben Adams, Toby Comley, Ben Brown and Frost - all back rowers - had virtually tackled and run themselves into the ground. Bodies littered the pitch as cramp and injuries took their toll.
However, Farnham were in the ascendancy and after another series of probes by the heavies, the ball was worked out to Reece Stennett in a yard of space. He only needed that yard and didn't miss - in for the try followed by a superb conversion from Toby Salmon with the ball swirling in the wind. 13-17.
The referee indicated the last play at a scrum. OCs secured the ball and from their own ten metre line hammered no less than sixteen phases into the Farnham defence. They had no option but to keep the ball in hand and score. It was not to be, tackle after tackle from the Farnham boys and finally an OC knock on and the final whistle blew.
A superb, albeit nervy, win for Farnham and a true testament to all the players that took part.
President’s Podium: Ben Jones - 3, Jules Joris – 2, Jordan Frost 1.
The result keeps Farnham in the mix for the promotion play offs. Two points separate three sides still in that race one being Old Alleynians who visit Monkton Lane for the next round on 23rd March – potentially a season defining encounter.