Exiles give Farnham a play-off wake-up call
By Mark Weeks
Maybe the black and whites had one eye on the play-off decider next week
On a beautiful spring day by the Thames in the shadow of Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage ground, third from bottom London Exiles welcomed third placed Farnham. What could possibly go wrong?
Farnham needed a win to maintain their momentum for a promotion play-off place. Maybe the black and whites had one eye on the play-off decider next week against Old Tonbridgians where a bonus point win in the match would see them start that game on level terms. Meanwhile Exiles, battling to stave off relegation, had picked their strongest side of the season bolstered by players returning from unavailability and injury and boy did it show in this attritional, topsy-turvy contest. It was neck and neck to the final whistle and the outcome a 19-19 draw. So two points each.
Farnham made a bright start with the forwards rolling into their familiar attack patterns prompted by skipper Ollie Brown. Jonny Davidson, Ben Adams, Jules Joris and Marco Azevado all making early inroads. Exiles were on the back foot following a Farnham penalty into the home 22. Hooker Davidson picked out Adams at the line out, second row partner Simmons on the drive to Azevado who struck out towards the posts linking with Toby Salmon to scurry in for the openers and an easy conversion. 0-7 to Farnham but something was not quite clicking.
Passes were not quite going to hand, planned moves were just miss-timed and first-up tackles were missed. Exiles capitalized. In their pomp they are a classy side who, on Saturday's performance, belied their league position. Half backs and back row combined to create many opportunities. Something had to give.
After a break out from a scrum on halfway, Exiles stole a line out and from the resultant scrum shunted back the Farnham pack. Pressure and a cut back move allowed centre Atkins to score under the posts untouched. Easy extras and 7-7 the score line.
Farnham enjoyed a purple patch as the referee seemed to go through a line out infringement phase much to the bemusement of the Exiles pack. Time after time a minor infringement was punished with yard-gaining free kicks and penalties. Toby Salmon to the corner and from the line out centre Michael Salmon freed up co-centre Alex Chalker who was held up agonisingly close to the line.
Again, Exiles were penalised and Farnham drove from the line out - but after a period absorbing sustained Farnham attacks, Exiles won a turnover and broke out. But they are halted in their tracks by the combined hits from Jordan Frost and Ben Adams. Eliot Rich took the ball at pace and transferred to Frost, who made the most of the space out wide to free up Ben Adams. Try 7-12 and a contentious conversion attempt for Toby Salmon. Was it high and between the relatively low uprights, or was the adjudged miss another symptom of it being 'one of those days'?
From the kick off Exiles again went for a driving maul and with Farnham unusually disorganised in defence, freed up their rangy second row to equalise by the corner flag. 12-12.
Even with the frustrations and mistakes continuing to niggle, Farnham went back on the attack and after a turnover by Rob Mitchell, Jonny Davidson looked certain to score out wide but was forced into touch just a metre short. More frustration as prop Jules Joris knocked on under the posts spilling another chance right on half time. 12-12.
The second period was as intense as the first. However, the full on commitment from both sides was littered with a poor final pass or knock on and some bemusing refereeing decisions. The Exiles began to wrest the initiative and momentum away from Farnham. After their No 8 picked up from a scrum on halfway, they surged into the Farnham 22. Quick ball and there was Atkins with an identical move in under the posts. Easy extras and 19-12 to the Exiles.
Farnham's bench was now empty. Tom Cerullo was on for Chalker, Toby Comley for Davidson and Connor Haynes for Joris. Their troubles continued with Chalker back on for the injured Frost. Despite all the changes and disruptions, Farnham's defence continued to hold. The past three full on encounters had battle hardened the Farnham boys.
A fast break out saw Toby Salmon spot the mismatch with the Exiles prop. Linking up with Ben Adams down the right-hand touchline, he was over in the corner. Salmon Jnr followed up his try with a superb touchline conversion to bring back parity at 19-19.
Exiles were beginning to flag and Farnham had two more chances to win. First Rob Mitchell was crowded out and turned over just ten metres out and then in the last play of the match, the umpteenth phase was knocked on leaving a massive overlap abegging. It summed up Farnham's day.
Next Saturday is one of the biggest day's in Farnham's history. The match against Old Tonbridgians kicks off at 3.00pm with both teams vying for second in London SW2 and the chance to play Horsham for a place in Division 1.
President’s Podium, Toby Salmon – 3, Ben Adams – 2, Rob Mitchell - 1