After a disappointing Friday night at Wembley with (apparently 61K people) I travelled to Sanderstead in Surrey to watch a First Round RFU Senior Vase game. A quick check of both websites showed me 2 teams who had experienced very different starts to their season. Both teams play at the same level but in different divisions; Old Mid-Whitgiftian with a record of 5 games played 1 won and 4 lost sit 11th from 12 in the London 3 South West league. Folkestone on the other hand sit at the top of the London 3 South East league with 5 wins from 5 and an impressive 208 points to date. Folkestone must have been going into the game as favourites; cup games however as a once off fixture often throw up surprises, would this game produce one?
The game kicked off as I was walking to the pitch side (thanks M25) and the first thing I saw was Old M-W’s (it’s too long to type every time!) No 5 Tom Christopher put his body on the line to protect the ball in the ruck. There was clearly going to be a lot of passion on display! Watching grassroots rugby is such a good experience; you’re so much closer to the action (you can even hear the impassioned swearing) In a stadium it can be hard to see/hear exactly what’s going on. It became clear that Folkestone Andrew (Seyhan?) Fell playing at fullback was directing the backs ahead of him; in fact his partnership with Richard Dagger playing on the right wing was to be instrumental.
It wasn’t to be the home sides game as one of many errors saw Folkestone in possession of the ball; Dagger a real speedster running down his wing to score the first of a brace of tries. The conversion was from a difficult spot and was missed. A penalty was awarded against Old M-W for off-side from the kick off, Folkestone lost the resulting line-out but poor support for the Old M-W no 9 Jacob Bacon gifted the ball back to Folkestone and Tom Carvill playing at prop ran in to score Folkestone’s second try, Fell converted this time to take the score to 0 to 12.
The next score was to go to the home team as Robert Farmer playing at no 14 anticipated a Folkestone pass and intercepted, he ran the ball in to score under the posts; James Orchard converted 7 to 12. Old M-W had a good passage of play but try scorer Farmer dropped the ball this time. Folkestone backs Fell and Dagger took over the show again as Fell ran a great line to pass to Dagger who scored a great try, Fell converted to share the points 7 to 19. Again Old M-W went on the attack, with Orchard breaking free, rather than placing the ball when he was tackled he threw it back one of many errors made. Folkestone gave away 2 of what seemed to be a large number of penalties but Folkestone ended with the ball and this time Dagger showed his speed and fitness to run most of the length of the pitch to score. Fell again converted and as the half time whistle went the score stood at Old Mid-Whitgiftians 7 Folkestone 26.
Now here’s something that will never happen in a Premiership game, the teams lined up to start the 2nd half – no ball! The one ball in use was still where it had landed after the conversion – the one ball scenario caused a few annoying stoppages through the game. There were a high number of penalties awarded against Folkestone for offside and offences in the ruck and I did comment to the Ref Bruce Wilkinson that I was surprised a yellow card wasn’t brandished. Old M-W took a fair few of these penalties as quick taps without checking of there was adequate support so they really didn’t benefit from them.
Dagger became provider for Fell for the next try with a neat pass; Fell converted his own try to add to his personal points tally and taking the score to 7 to 33. We had a few fisticuffs in the middle of the field as play carried on and when play stopped the ref had a word with both captains – it was funny to hear the Old M-W captain pass on to his players that they should ‘Keep your handbags to yourselves!’ . A familiar run of play for the next try saw Dagger run in to score his 4th try ball provided by? Fell of course – they were getting greedy these boys! Fell converted to take the score to 7 to 40.
Folkestone continued to give penalties away and Old M-W’s at last were able to make the most of the situation as Dave Spedding scored a deserved try under the posts – Orchard converted to narrow the gap 14 to 40. A good run of play by Old M-W followed but they couldn’t capitalise on their possession; they lost the ball after yet another penalty and Folkestone flanker Alex Randall emulating his winger colleague ran up the pitch like a thing possessed to score a great try! Fell failed to add the conversion – 14 to 45. Yet more penalties given away by Folkestone – I really was wondering if the ref had left his cards in the changing room, but again no points for Old M-W. The next score went to Folkestone after some good defensive play by Old M-W and Fell added yet more points to his tally to score the try, not the conversion though! (rubbish ;-))
Old Mid-Whitgiftians finished the game with some fighting spirit (and more penalties by Folkestone) and after putting a great deal of pressure on the Folkestone line Russell Jones – making his 252nd consecutive performance for the club scored a deserved try! The result went the way form may have suggested with the final score at Old Mid-Whitgiftians 21 Folkestone 50 with pointers for both teams to take away. Old M-W’s made a fair few basic errors, some tackling and passing practice is probably in order this week. And Folkestone gave away a very high number of penalties a different day, different ref and they may find themselves with less than a full complement of players on the pitch. For me – I’ll follow the season for both teams with interest.