Farnham travelled to Eastleigh on Saturday to slay the Eastleigh dog. Eastleigh is always a tough place to travel to and not many teams come away with a bonus point win. Farnham’s results against them last year were both decided in the last minute, losing away with a final whistle missed penalty, and a winning cross-field kick at home.
The Hampshire boys have started the season well with 3 wins out of a possible 4 – all of them close affairs. Farnham were looking to make it 6 wins from 6 matches in both League and Cup fixtures.
It promised to be the usual Eastleigh welcome – lots of edge, the pack on the hunt and their mongrels scavenging for every ball. The pitch was boggy from the vast amount of rain throughout the week.
Clear skies with only the slightest breeze set the scene at Eastleigh kicked off. Farnham’s forwards set the tone from the onset by carrying and tackling hard as they did throughout the game. The front row of Marco Azevado, Ben Brown, and Aussie Jules Joris smashed back the driving home forwards around the fringes. A balanced second row of Ben Adams and Steve Simmons did the dog work and worked through a lot of carrying. The mobile back row of Toby Comley, hat-trick hero Liam Welch and the returning Bobby Mitchell all competed hard at the breakdown and made their tackles in the open.
This encounter was always going to be a forward dominated fixture. That’s how Eastleigh play - “simple but effective”. Pick and go after pick and go with an occasional pop pass around the fringes to yet more forwards running into the Farnham defence. It was relentless and attritional. Farnham have looked extremely strong in defence all season, and this was to prove no different. They team has totally bought into the need to work for each other and be ruthless. This forced Eastliegh into mistakes that allowed the visitors to turn the ball over all over the park.
The pressure allowed our backs to make yards. The half back pairing of captain Ollie Brown and flyhalf Toby Salmon sniped for space and hit gaps in the Eastleigh defensive line. The space gave centres Mike Salmon at 12 and Tom Cerullo at 13, time to hit hard lines and get outside their larger opposite numbers. Wingers Reece Stennett and Dec Kavanagh pressurised the home defence by chasing down the massive kicks from “rocket boot” Jack Scullion that kept Eastleigh pinned back in their half throughout the game.
Conor Haynes and Ian Williams both enjoyed a good 30 mins from the bench with big shots and hard yards. The third finisher, winger Gabe Hills, tweaked a hamstring in the warm-up and was for emergency use only. And what a ploy it proved to be. Heavily strapped and with the tweak screaming for mercy, Hills went for the zero to hero by making an interception under his own posts and sprinting the length of the field to score what proved to be the match winning try. He then immediately left the field having made his one painful but telling effort for the team.
Farnham’s first try came from a huge carry by Liam Welch, slipping through multiple tackles. Toby Salmon converted. Stung into action Eastleigh then scored from numerous pick and goes and then breaking to the blindside. The Eastleigh full back took the extras to level the score at 7-7. Eastliegh got their nose in front from a penalty - 10-7 to the home side.
Farnham’s second try came from a penalty won by Rob Mitchell at the ruck. Toby Salmon kicked to touch and the forwards drove over from the line-out. Liam Welch on the back of the maul touched down for his second try. Toby Salmon converted and lead restored to 14-10.
The to and fro continued. Eastleigh were awarded another penalty in front of the posts which fullback Anderson slotted again The penalties were mounting against Farnham and another brought the score at half time to 16-14 to Eastleigh.
The second half proved to be as attritional as the first. Eastleigh rumbled forward, drive after drive. However, to play the powerhouse gam you have to be fit to sustain it. Some of the home forwards began to feel the effort and gradually Farnham turned the screw.
A howitzer from Scullion and Eastleigh are pushed back to their 22. Farnham line out and drive and a try scored once again by that man Liam Welch, for his hat trick. T Salmon converted. 16-21 to Farnham.
Eastleigh will not lie down and a period of pressure offers the full back another opportunity to slot a penalty, 19-21. The score remained close as the two teams battered away at each other.
It needed something special to break the deadlock. Gabe Hills came on for Jack Scullion who required an HIA after a mid-air collision. Eastleigh attacked the Farnham 5 metre line around the fringes but a huge defensive effort from the boys lead to Eastleigh spreading it wide. They go for a huge miss-pass on the 5 metre line and Hills pushes up for his zero-to-hero moment. With the conversion missed it was 19-26 to Farnham with a tense 15 mins to go.
Back come the dogged Eastleigh forwards. Penalty! Should they opt for the points or go for the corner – their last chance saloon? They opt for the kick at goal and the scored is a tantalising 2-26.
There was still time for the restart but an Eastleigh line out was snaffled by Ben Adams down to skipper Oli Brown who delights in smashing the ball of the pitch to finish the game. Farnham win and its 6 from 6!
President’s Podium: Toby Comley, 3. Liam Welch 2, Jules Jorris 1.
Next week Farnham travel to Richmond to take on Tonbridgians away looking for 7 from 7.