This encounter was an excellent advertisement for Rugby, watched by an enthusiastic crowd swelled by a vociferous contingent of Crowborough’s travelling faithful.
The final score will be disappointing to the visitors who showed great character and spirit in pulling back to the verge of victory, having gifted the home side 26 points is almost as many minutes.
Perhaps it was the long journey, or the disruption to selection, but following what appeared to be a thorough warm up, Crowborough could simply not get into the game, and with Dover dominating forward possession, and with the Crowborough backs static in first line defence and misaligned in the back 3, the Dover threequarters were able to take the ball at speed, targeting the weak inside shoulders of the ‘Boro defence, to score almost at will.
There were glimpses of what could be, with Gus Weir appearing everywhere, with some useful runs, tackles and catches, generally making a thorough nuisance of himself, while Sam Kisbee distributed what limited ball that he did get, decisively and accurately, that kept the home sides defence honest.
However this did not prevent the Dover #11 from twice exploiting the 10/12 channel, with the #10 following his example soon afterwards, and not to be outdone the gargantuan Dover forwards showed their game plan when they took a maul from their own 22 through to the opposition 22, before setting up the drive scoring their forth bonus point try after just 28 minutes.
Lesser sides would have capitulated at this point fearing a cricket score was in the offering. With 10 minutes of the half, Captain Alex Purnell got his team together, and called for a collective forward effort and a shoring up of the defensive alignment, in an attempt to stem the haemorrhaging of points.
How he said it seemed to have an effect.
Dover were once more on the attack deep in the ‘Boro 22, but Crowborough simply could not leak another score before half time. Fortuitously the ball squirted out of the ruck. With one hand, Gus Weir scooped up the ball, and with arms and legs whirling madly away, he Jonny May’d the first two defenders, and set off up the tram lines, trailed by the #9 who chased him 80 metres to the line only to see Gus Weir dive over for the score which Ali Main converted. 26-7.
Only the wildest optimist would see this breakaway as the point where this game would turn, but a little confidence is all it takes, and with two minutes of the half remaining ‘Boro gained possession and took the ball into the Dover 22. From a lineout ‘Boro popped up the ball for the support player to sprint onto, but each time the defence was resolute. Crucially the ball was retained and slung out wide to the backs, but desperate and illegal defensive work saw Crowborough awarded a penalty in front of the posts 8 metres out.
A guaranteed three points, or the possibility of seven was now the conundrum with the next whistle ending the half. Alex Purnell called for the scrum. With the nudge on the second shove moved the Dover pack back a metre keeping the back row bound in, allowing Purnell to pick up and in a flash he was over for the score that was converted to take the half time score to a more manageable score 26-14.
The next score could define the outcome of this match. The ‘Boro coaching team had suitable words with the team, and within minutes ‘Boro were competing for and winning more of the 50:50 balls and getting in the faces of the receiving backs stemming the momentum and turning over possession.
Ali Main moved to #10 and Sam Kisbee to #14 and as the ball was swiftly moved down the line Gus Weir was tackled high 15 metres from the Dover line and the Dover #10 yellow carded. From the scrum penalty the ball was fumbled and a chance to get within seven points went begging.
It was to be Dover that got on the score sheet next extending their lead to 19 points when ‘Boro were caught defending narrowly allowing the Dover overlap to score that was then converted. 33-14
Crowborough continued to compete and came close to scoring when Gus Weir dummied but got clattered from behind, when he had Sam Kisbee clear in a scoring position on the outside.
But as the Dover pack started to visibly tire, the momentum started to shift in ‘Boros direction, and when ‘Boro had a scrum 10 metres from the Dover line Tom West released Ali Main who held up the ball for Rob Lester to take the pop pass on an acute running line to score under the posts for another converted try 33-21.
Still outside losing bonus point territory, ‘Boro won another ruck and when Sam Kisbee on the wing ,spotted the defence was out of position he called for the cross kick which Ali Main duly obliged. Sam Kisbee pick the ball up on the first bounce and galloped over for the score that Ali Main converted. 33-28
Now in losing bonus point territory but with seven minutes remaining and a possibility of causing a major upset, a long ‘Boro clearance into the Dover 22 resulted in a Dover scrum. Dover had dominated these exchanges most of the afternoon, but they were tiring, and as the ball came in the ‘Boro shove moved the Dover pack back two metres before Ollie Jude –Trailor picked up at the back of the scrum setting up the maul that kept the back row bound in. Rather than arm wrestle, the ball was released to Tom West and then Ali Main, who threw a long pass to Gus Weir, who with a side step, rounded the defence to score. The kick by Ollie Clinch was wide, 33-33 and just three minutes to go.
Last season game management in the final few minutes had been an issue, had they learnt from their experience. Dover threw everything into getting a score, whilst Crowborough who had the chance to kick upfield on two separate occasions decided to play the ball close to their own line, and when they did eventually kick it was to the covering winger who brought the ball straight back. As ‘Boro knocked the ball on a Dover scrum was awarded 5 metres out, and as the ball came in the Dover backs rushed in to add weight to the pack, but the scrum went down, ‘Boro were penalised, and the referee awarded a penalty try and before blowing for full time. 40-33
Crowborough will rightly be disappointed, but can take great pride for a performance that provided two points to get their campaign under way.
This week Crowborough welcome Old Collfeyians to Steel Cross for the first home game of the season KO 3:00pm before taking on Bermuda Rugby on Wednesday 25th Sept KO 6:00pm.