Both Ashford and Folkestone began their new league campaign with losses last Saturday, highlighting the step-up both clubs will need to make following their promotion. Ashford welcomed Charlton Park, a well-established London and South East 2 club, with their preparations marred by the loss or non-availability of several players, resulting in a very young and inexperienced back division as well as a first outing for two new players, Lewis Dempsey and Anthony Conybear-Paladines. In ideal playing conditions, everything was set for a fast, flowing game, but both teams displayed nervousness and rustiness in their play.
A lively start saw both teams looking for an early advantage, with the visitors registering the first points after 3 minutes when Ashford conceded a penalty 25 metres from the posts. The following twenty minutes proved fairly even, with both teams seeking to create openings, but defences were to the fore. The stalemate was broken in the 25th minute, when the visitors took play deep into the Ashford 22, and a series of mini rucks stretched the defence, allowing the Charlton Park scrum half to exploit a gap for the game’s first try. The ensuing conversion extended the lead to 10-0.
From the restart, Ashford’s pressure on the visitors’ defence secured a penalty, converted by Charlie Colman, and reducing the leeway to seven points with some ten minutes left in the half. The closing minutes were marked by Ashford making a series of forays into the visitors’ 22, but a lack of precision and accuracy in finishing failed to make inroads, even though they crossed the try line on one occasion, thwarted by Park’s efforts to hold up the attacking player.
The game reached the halfway point with Ashford trailing by seven points. The deficit was increased in the opening minute of the second half, when the visitors probed deep into the Ashford 22, and swift transfer of the ball across field created an overlap for their second try, and a more comfortable 17-3 lead.
In a carbon copy of the first half, the following 20 minutes were pointless, although both teams created opportunities to score. In the 65th minute, a promising Park attack was halted when Marc Huxted created a turnover in Ashford’s 22, providing the opportunity for the defending side to relieve the pressure with a kick to touch. That, however, fell instead into the arms of the Park winger who initiated an attack, again moving the ball quickly across field to create an opening that culminated in their third try.
Whilst the visitors were in the ascendancy, they had to wait another ten minutes before securing the bonus point winning fourth try. Again they showed deftness and tactic awareness that allowed them to exploit gaps in Ashford’s defence. And as the game drew to a close, they secured a final, and converted, try to secure a comfortable 34-3 win.
“We knew that today’s game would be a challenge” said Ashford’s Director of Rugby, Chris Dengate, “Against a very experienced side, we struggled to match their sharpness and intensity over 80 minutes. The frustration was that we were competitive in the first half and had the opportunity to put points on the board. We will be looking to up our game in the coming weeks to ensure we are competitive across the season”.
This Saturday, Ashford travel to Folkestone for a local derby match. As the two sides are currently propping up the bottom of the league, even if only on points difference, both teams will be keen to register a first win. Ashford 2s will play Medway 4s at Kinneys Field, whilst Ashford 3s travel down the M20 to take on Folkestone 3s.
Huxted, Sherrin, Norman, Perkins, Redman, Knight, Vidler, Stuckey. Fussell, Blyth W, Sargent, Colman, Blyth A, Kemp, Alkin. Subs: Dempsey, Bushell, Conybear-Paladines.