“I’ve been at this club for 30 years and that was the most solid and mature performance I have seen from the first team,” said Garry Stennett, Farnham Rugby Club’s Director of Rugby after Saturday’s 5-18 win over London Welsh.
This RFU Intermediate Cup game was played on a pitch that had once been graced by seven British and Irish Lions in the home side. However, after crashing out of the Premiership as a bankrupt club and demoted to Level 9, London Welsh have been climbing the leagues remorselessly with a plan to restore the club to its former glory. They are unbeaten in their section of London 2 – as are Farnham – but there can be little doubt as to the challenge that faced the Farnham boys.
Despite the constant rain, the pitch was in good nick and the gentlest of southerly breezes meant neither side had the advantage of the wind. A crowd of a couple of hundred sheltered, gratefully, under the roof of the 1000 seater grandstand. The teams were announced over the tannoy and London Welsh kicked off the game.
The “early sparring” in the match lasted until the 38th minute of the first half. The wet conditions made ball handling a bit of a lottery. Both sides needed to up their skill levels. After a scrappy first ten minutes, lock forward – and skipper for the day – Ben Adams called the team together during an injury break. He and the wise head of experienced centre and ex-skipper Mike Salmon laid down the plan. Kick for territory, force the mistake and take our chances when we can.
Brother Toby, full back Jack Scullion and Mike himself put the plan into action with long, raking, often inch-perfect kicks down field. Scullion, in particular, would receive the ball on his own 5m line, take his time as the Welsh chase faltered, and - Boom! - line out back on the half-way line.
And so it was that most of the first forty was played in the Welsh half. Props Marco Azevedo and Jules Jorris made the hard yards from first receiver. They also provide a stable platform in the set scrum against a meaty Welsh pack. The back row of Andy Kidd, Toby Comley and Liam Welsh out-tackled and out-scavenged their counterparts. Man of the match Kidd secured the first opportunity to score on twenty minutes when Welsh failed to release as Kidd fought for the turnover. Toby Salmon’s penalty kick drifted just wide.
London Welsh kept coming. They kicked a penalty to the corner and went for the catch and drive. However, Farnham defended the maul effectively and fairly – the bulk of Steve Simmons to the fore. Welsh went through the phases and the Farnham D was stretched to create a three man overlap on the left. They spun the ball out and the try looked inevitable, until winger Gabe Hills read the play, intercepted what should have been the scoring the pass and galloped out to clear the Farnham lines.
The Faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief, but some frustration remained. Pressure could not be maintained as the line outs were erratic – indeed both sides struggled with this aspect of the game. Good passages of play with multiple phases invariably ended with a knock on.
The deadlock was broken on the 38th minute. It started when Toby Salmon saw space down the left and after a typical junking run, chipped over the cover defense for brother Michael to chase for the line. A Welshman got their first, however as the Farnham boys returned the 22 kick off, Welsh were deemed offside giving Toby a relatively easy chance from in front. 0-3.
There was a minute of play left for the first half. Uncharacteristically, Mike Salmon dropped the kick-off into touch and Welsh had an attacking line out. However, Toby Comley challenged for the ball in the air, flipped it back to scrum half Harry Wells who gratefully kicked it into touch to bring the first half to a conclusion.
The second half started well for Farnham. Under constant pressure, Welsh were conceding penalties. Jack Scullion took a shot from the 10m line that went wide. Welsh kept the ball alive and hoofed it into the Farnham 22. Back went Scullion to execute one of his siege gun clearances. Farnham stole the line-out and with the Welsh defence on the back foot, the forwards broke out. Andrew Kidd burst though the defensive line and off-loaded to Ben Adams who ran in under the posts. Salmon T completed the conversion. 0-10.
Farnham’s confidence is up. A slick set move by the backs from the set scrum almost puts in Hills, but Welsh clear. However, they concede the penalty at Farnham’s next counterattack and Toby Salmon makes sure from the tee. 0-13.
Back come Welsh, but the Farnham line speed was their undoing. The ball is turned over and Hills raced down the right. The support is there to secure the ball and almost the entire Farnham team was spread across the pitch to press home the attack. Through the hands to Ian Williams at pace and he released Kidd down the left wing. T. Salmon’s conversion attempt drifted wide and its 0-18.
London Welsh are a proud club with a long and illustrious past. They will not lie down. Farnham continued to hoof the ball clear, but Welsh attacks made more ground against a tiring defence. With eighteen minutes to go, Welsh prop Mike Blessed powered over. Conversion missed but at 5-18 there could be time for an upset. But, no, the Farnham D held firm and, as the first half concluded so did the second, with Ben Adams pinching a Welsh attacking line out to allow Ollie Brown, on for Harry West, to boot the ball joyfully into touch.
So, with five wins from five games, the squad resumes league action with the tricky visit to Eastleigh next Saturday. The next round of the cup is scheduled for 30th November.