If Carlsberg did Saturdays
By Mark Weeks
A chance for promotion after a tremendous, brutal, pacey encounter fought out by two superb teams.
What a day at Monkton Lane! Farnham took on Old Tonbridgians (OTs) for the right to play Horsham in the Division 2 play offs next weekend. An excited crowd had enjoyed a superb club lunch to set the scene for this season finale.
Both sides had built momentum for this crucial encounter. OTs had gradually ramped up their high scoring tempo over the previous few weeks with strong wins against some of the lower teams. Meanwhile, Farnham were battle hardened after close matches against Alleynians, Cranleighians and the Exiles.
A gentle but chilly northerly chilly breeze greeted both teams onto a firm pitch in front of a sizeable vociferous crowd - Farnham in their "peachy" change strip as is the tradition in rugby when colours clash. This was going to be a dogfight from start to finish and the spectators were never disappointed. “Nail-biting”, “edge-of-the-seat”, call it what you will, this was full-on throughout.
OTs with the wind at their backs began with probing attacks from all over the pitch. Backs and forwards at pace created unrelenting pressure. The Farnham Faithful took a collective intake of breath.
OTs took the early initiative. Coordinated running from their three quarters supported by a mobile back row told on the Black and Whites. Farnham defence was superb all afternoon but on this occasion they defend too close and narrow around the breakdown leaving space outside. OT’s moved the ball wide and winger Purves was over. 0-5.
There was total commitment and intensity from both sides for much of the first half. Did OTs squander scoring opportunities or was the home defence too efficient for the Tonbridge boys?
The Farnham back five of Jordan Frost, Steve Simmons, Toby Comley, Jonny Davidson and Rob Mitchell upped the the tackle count with every OT move. The Farnham “D” was testament to the coaching of Alex Chisholm, brother James and Max Crumpton of Harlequins who had driven home the message about communication, aggression and biding your time until opportunity presents.
Farnham began to eke away at the OTs defence with power in the centre through Jim Corlett and Michael Salmon, who probably played his game of the season. But stalemate followed stalemate. Attacks from both sides cancelled out by the cussed defence of the other. Eventually on 38 minutes, a Tonbridgian attack was battered back in the Farnham 22. Turnover by Simmonds and Stennett allowed Jordan Frost to gallop out of the home half to feed Michael Salmon. On through suporting back rowers Comley and Davidson to Corlett whose strong run sucked in the OTs defence to free up Toby Salmon for a twenty-five meter dash down the right wing - try 5-5. The conversion was wayward as the half ended.
It was to be the last half of the season for one of these teams and Farnham, with the wind now assisting, came out of the blocks strongly with wave after wave of attack. Front rowers Lenny Jennings, Andy Coutts and Marco Azevado on the charge. Then smart interplay between full back Ben Jones and winger Reece Stennet followed by the most adroit of passes by Toby Salmon freed up Jordan Frost. Try and the crowd went wild! Easy conversion for Salmon T 12-5.
The wind was helping Farnham who's defence remained gnarly and unforgiving. Successive turnovers were secured as the mazy OT runners threatened. One decent clearance and the visitors were back in their own 22. Frustration for them and relief for Farnham. Still OTs attacked and after a maul was turned over, winger Jenkins slid over out wide. 12-12 with the difficult conversion levelling the score.
Alarm bells? Not a bit of it as Michael Salmon and Eliot Rich combined to produce one of the tries of the season. An OT player took the kick off cleanly and drove forward only to be sharply tackled. Steve Simmonds was first at the ruck to effect a clean turn over. The ever present Ollie Brown spun the ball out to T Salmon and on to brother Michael who had a quick look and chipped a sublime ball into the outstretched arms of winger Eliot Rich at full pace. He was unstoppable and went over under the posts making the extras easy for Toby Salmon. 19-12.
There was still only one score in it as the clock ran down. Farnham in the ascendency forced OT to kick into the wind only for the ball to reach full back Ben Jones who with Reece Stennett in support broke out in trademark fashion. The hard yards gained and a superb off load to Michael Salmon who brushed off the tacklers to score the clincher under the posts 26-12.
Minutes remained as the OTs battled back for their right wing Williams to go over in the corner. 26-17 and the final whistle. To Farnham the spoils and a chance for promotion after a tremendous, brutal, pacey encounter fought out by two superb teams. What a treat for the crowd many of who will be making the trip to Horsham next weekend for the promotion play off to London 1.
Presidents Podium Ollie Brown – 3, Mike Salmon – 2, Toby Salmon 3.