Match Report By Rick Howe
Photo's By Drew Pratt.
Final of the Papa Johns Counties 1 South Shield
Several hundred Crowborough travelling faithful travelled to Saracens StoneX Stadium in Barnet, North London last Saturday, bedecked in red and white shirts and packed into the East Stand, creating a wall of raucous sound that drowned out those of other teams present for this carnival atmosphere, weekend of rugby.
Ironically the subjects of their support would have to wait until five minutes before kick off for their playing kit to arrive, having been left back in East Sussex. As the teams ran out onto the all-weather pitch the cacophony rose to a level that was not to diminish for the next 80 minutes.
This was the culmination of Crowborough’s roller coaster season, which since early February had seen 9 consecutive wins. Thanet had mirrored Crowborough’s turbulent season at the wrong end of the table, finishing in 10th place behind ‘Boro’s 9th. This was to be their third meeting, and although ‘Boro had taken the spoils from the first two, Thanet were determined to avoid a clean sweep.
From the first whistle Thanet were quick into their stride, with their captain at #10, centre pairing and full back immediately in the thick of the action and more ominously into the ‘Boro 22, before the ‘Boro defence woke to the threat, and cleared their line. However this was just a lull in proceedings as Thanet slowly went through the phases, ‘Boro’s defence narrowed, and a long cross field kick was contested by Elliot Rensch and Thanet’s Andrew Dolan, with Dolan winning the tussle and offloading to his full back Marius Thompson to score in the corner. The conversion was missed, but Crowborough were put on notice that Thanet were not there just to make up the numbers. 5-0
Both sides then entered a phase of kick tennis before James Hart returned the game to one of rugby, and slotted a penalty 5-3.
As the game settled down, ‘Boro slowly moved the ball into the Thanet half, controlling the set pieces with the Edwards / Bennett axis in the lineout being almost metronomic, and the scrums forcing the Thanet back row to stay honest.
Several times ‘Boro came close to crossing the line, but Thanet transgressed repeatedly until the referee had had enough and showed yellow to Michael Whitehead. From the penalty ‘Boro elected to go for the scrums, where twice more Thanet were penalised. On a warning Thanet had to stay bound, and as the maul developed, it was Will Creasey who came up with the ball and crossed the line for the score, which Hart converted. 5-10
Moments later and with half time approaching, Dave Bennett broke right and seeing a two on one overlap, appeared to slip in the act of passing, just as the scoring gap opened. This brought the half to an end.5-10’
Ollie Clinch came on for James Hart, for the second half and soon after Kieron Martin came on to replace Elliot Rensch. Crowborough were controlling the game at this point, and when Thanets, Leonard Brown saw yellow, Ollie Clinch lined up a simple penalty attempt 22 metres out.
From the boot the ball looked to be going to the left of the left upright , but at the last moment curled inwards and struck the left post, before bouncing onto the cross bar and back infield. Callum Main was alert, and following up the kick passed to Ollie Clinch at pace. Dummying out to the left Ollie Clinch slid inside evading the defence to cross beneath the bar. He converted his own try. 5-17.
Thanet narrowed the gap to just nine points moments later with a well struck penalty 8-17.
Will Creasey was next to feel the wrath of the referee when he was shown yellow for a wayward high tackle.
Thanet were not done yet, and as Creasey left the field ‘Boro sauntered back for the inevitable three point penalty kick at goal. But for the second time in the match they were caught flat footed, as Thanet’s mercurial captain Nicholas Herbert, took a quick tap from 25 metres out only to be held up just short of the line, but with support arriving quickly the disarrayed ‘Boro defence were bundled over the line for a Thanet converted try. 15-17 and just 15 minutes left.
Thanet’s defence was tested several more times but it held frustratingly intact, until Ollie Clinch, scragged by two defenders, off-loaded `Out the Back Door` to Kieron Martin, who had spied Zeb Kisbee lurking wide on the right wing. Placing an inch perfect cross kick the ball sailed over the flailing hands of the covering wing, leaving Zeb Kisbee with the simple task of catching and dotting the ball down for the try which went unconverted. 15-22 and 10 minutes left to play and Will Creasey back on.
The margin was still too close to call, but a 32 metre penalty by Ollie Clinch gave some breathing space, and with three minutes of overtime played a further Ollie Clinch penalty from the 10 metre line brought the game to and end at 15-28, with Crowborough Shield Winners and salvaging something from what was initially an unpromising first half of the season, and providing a more solid base and most importantly an impetus for 23/24 .