Match Report by Rick Howe
Our Referee today was Michael Ellis.
Off the back of two consecutive defeats, a visit to promotion chasing third placed Folkestone, was perhaps not what the ‘Boro squad had in mind when trying to close out the season as League Champions.
From the opening whistle, and with Groocock, Purnell and Main all sidelined, it was clear that on this balmy sunny afternoon the contest was going to be far from a walk in the park.
With five minutes gone; five minutes of Folkestone pressure and five points conceded, the ‘Boro defence showed that there is still much to learn, as they again allowed too much space to develop between the lines and each other. The #11 who was to kick impeccably all afternoon added the two points. 7-0.
With momentum on their side Folkestone engineered a penalty which they put into touch on the ‘Boro 5 metre. From the lineout the #15 gratefully exploited the gaps as the score doubled 14-0 after just eight minutes.
It was essential that ‘Boro got the journey out of their system quickly if they were not to endure a humiliating defeat and a quiet trip home. Rallying his troops captain Matt Botterman drove the pack into the Stones 22, and as the maul developed into a ruck Botterman picked up to dive over and score for a Connor Hand converted try. 14-7
However within moments Folkestone had restored their 14 point margin , when from the kick off, the ball, not for the first time, was allowed to bounce gifting possession to the fast arriving #18 centre who released his backs. With the ‘Boro cover arriving quickly, another punt upfield was fielded by Bertie Boast who returned the kick back into the Stones half to the #14. The game of tennis continued, with the returned kick again being misfielded. From the maul the ball popped out to see the #14 ground the ball over the line for another seven pointer 21-7.
With the Stones gargantuan prop spending 10 minutes in the bin for a series of offences, ‘Boro used the opportunity to assert their man advantage to add seven points from another Matt Botterman/Connor Hand push over try bringing the score to a manageable 21-14 with 90 seconds of the half remaining before the coaches could address the tactical shortcomings.
However Folkestone had not read the script, and having once more exploited an ill disciplined defence, the Stones #7 rounded three defenders to score their bonus point try that was converted by the unerring #11 to bring the half time score to 28-14, with ‘Boro desperately needing the next score if they were to get anything from this match.
It was not to be. Folkestone were awarded a penalty early in the half that was inevitably slotted to put 17 points between the sides.31-14.
If there was ever a time for a side to show spirit and character then this was it. Tactically moving the ball wide simply was not working, so Bertie Boast showing vision, used his prodigious boot to put a pin point accurate kick deep into the Folkestone 22. The throw in was stolen and from the resulting maul it was Mark Rosier who claimed the try, which Connor Hand converted narrowing the gap to ten points 31-21.
Crowborough’s superior fitness started to tell as the big Stones forwards began to blow and ‘Boro piled on the pressure. From a central field ruck Andy Orchard picked up the loose ball and seeing the way open set off for the try line 40 metres away, but chased by several backs who cut off the direct 40 metre route, he was forced towards the corner 50 metres away making it with inches to spare but crucially two yards from the touchline. Connor Hand had not missed until this point and he was not to disappoint again sliding the ball over the ball to bring ‘Boro within 3 points and now having secured the two bonus points to take the Championship. 31-28
However it would be a hollow and completely unsatisfactory way to achieve the championship on the back of three losses, so it was left for the best try of the day to put the visitors ahead. Fittingly it was to be a full team try, from Tom Kent’s initial 30 metre break that set up the ruck on the home sides 10 metre line. Quick ball to Tom West allowed Bertie Boast to release his backs with space to exploit. A miss pass from Gary Stevens to Connor Hand on the wing gave him the space to accelerate to tackle bursting speed, and with just his opposite number to beat crashed over for the try that put the Sussex side in the lead. With all kicks from both sides bisecting the uprights who would bet against the next one extending the ‘Boro lead to four points. Agonisingly it was not to be and the score remained at 31-33 with eight minutes remaining.
Now was the time for game management , and it was not a time to be playing where a home penalty could snatch victory. Earlier in the season in similar situations ‘Boro would attempt to run the ball out of trouble, but with everything riding on the outcome, Bertie Boast repeatedly put the ball down the field making the home side attack from their own half. With moments to go, Folkestone dug deep for one last effort and entering the ‘Boro half the referee spotted an infringement and awarded a Stones penalty some 35 metres out. Kick it and they win, miss it and ‘Boro are Champions. The ball sailed wide and moments later the whistle brought the game to an exciting end. 31-33
With one more round to play this weekend, mathematically Folkestone could gain a promotion place, through superior points difference, with a bonus point win over forth placed Vigo away, assuming an unlikely but not impossible Beccahmians loss to Bromley. Crowborough sign off their campaign at home to Old Williamsonians, and with the game being preceded by the presidents lunch, a large crowd is anticipated.
Crowborough Crows, ‘Boros third string rounded off a great season with a narrow loss on the AGP pitch at Horsham in the Sussex Cup Vase Final Level 12, against Bognor 3’s 31-28 in what was a thoroughly entertaining and hard fought match.