Dominant 'Combe bring Kent rival's unbeaten start to a halt
By Mark Ley
Westcombe Park 29-13 Medway
It's been many years since 'Combe have played Medway in a 1st XV league fixture and this game was eagerly anticipated not least as Medway sit atop the league table having had a fantastic unbeaten start to the season securing 9 wins from 9 matches so far this term. Medway were determined to maintain their 100% record and 'Combe were determined to upset the form book. The pitch was soft underneath, a chill in the air with a light breeze but bright sunshine and perfect conditions for running rugby. A great game was anticipated and certainly the home supporters weren't disappointed.
'Combe welcomed back Tom Clarke into the 2nd row engine room after a lengthy injury lay off and Reece Conlon returned home to 'Combe and we are genuinely delighted that having satisfied his wanderlust of the last few seasons he has declared that he is home for good.
'Combe started at a canter and from the 1st whistle tore into Medway which left the opponent stunned and unable to get their hands on the ball for any length of time, a clearing kick from the Medway 22 was fielded by Matt Harrison and the ball went through the back line's hands eventually finding Dan Hamilton who raced down the touchline but was stopped just short by an excellent last ditch tackle, the ball stayed alive and from a period of clever pick and goes, skipper Charlie O'Sullivan was bundled over the line to open the scoring for 'Combe with barely 3 minutes on the clock. The conversion was missed but the home side were 5-0 up and the opponents already knew they had a game on their hands.
The restart produced much of the same, with 'Combe securing possession and working the ball towards the Medway line. Medway by their high standards had started slowly and could only kick to clear danger on the rare occasion they had control of the ball, and simply handed the initiative to 'Combe who came back at them in wave after wave of attack. The score could have been increased but for some excellent covering tackles but eventually on 12 minutes the pressure told and 'Combe were awarded a penalty which James Cameron slotted to increase the lead to 8-0.
It was Medway's turn to show their intentions next when they worked their way up the pitch and into the Combe half where they cleverly drew a penalty, on this occasion the usually reliable boot of ex 'Combe man Dan Harvey hadn't yet warmed up and the ball sailed wide and short, the danger was relieved with a generous kick to touch from Brad Smith but we had a taste of Medway's threat.
Combe continued where they had left off and attacked Medway with ferocity and pace, the pack doing there bit to nullify any potential danger, Medway were still only able to resort to their kicking game to clear their lines and an unfortunate lack of concentration when fielding one such kick resulted in a knock on followed by a penalty which Harvey calmly slotted to earn his side their first points of the afternoon. 8-3 to the home side and game on!
The pattern of the game was set, Combe mostly attacking, Medway mostly defending but the lads were alert to the threat that Medway possess, so it was some relief when 'Combe were once again rewarded for the dominance shown so far, yet another clearance kick was fielded by Matt Harrison who returned a high ball, Josh Livett was on hand to knock the ball backwards into the grateful arms of Matt Harrison who then fed the onrushing Bryan Young who delivered a superb custard pie to the covering defender before crashing over for his first try of the game. A quite superb touchline conversion followed and the lead was extended to 15-3.
This seemed to spur Medway into life and they set about trying to put together some phases of their own, they were successful in making yards eventually arriving at the Combe 5 metre line, the ball was moved left and right with the home defence being stretched but still appearing as an impenetrable blue wall to the Medway players, ultimately the pressure was relieved of sort when a penalty was awarded to Medway for offside and the 3 points were taken which in truth was scant reward for their efforts of the previous 5-6 minutes. 15-6 advantage to Combe with less than 5 minutes of the half remaining.
The game ebbed and flowed with the familiar theme of Combe attack, Medway defend when a clearance was met yet again by Matt Harrison who saw a dog legged defensive line and exploited the gap passing off his left hand to Bradley Saffery who ultimately found Bryan Young having hit yet another great line who then succeeded in breaking three tackles and somehow managing to dot down over the line despite the close attention of 5 Medway players. Try of the game, converted by James Cameron 22-6 and a dagger to the hearts of the Medway players and supporters who knew at that stage that they would have to produce something out of the ordinary if they were to get anything out of the game.
Medway came out of the traps with all guns blazing as expected and it was 'Combe's turn to spend prolonged period on the back foot, the opposition showing glimpses of why they were sitting at the head of the league table and unbeaten to date, it was some desperate defending, sometimes not to the referee's liking that kept Medway out. The Goddington Dene men were working tirelessly for each other and plugging gaps when they opened up preventing the onslaught from getting any reward. A maul was formed and Tom Simmons was judged to have halted it's progress illegally and was sent for a 10 minute rest. Medway moved the ball from forward to backs inching their way towards the Combe line when eventually the extra man paid dividends and Medway score a well deserved try which was converted by Dan Harvey. At 22-13, the the match now seemingly in the balance and an uneasy feeling of impending doom descended upon the 'Combe faithful. Surely the next score would be pivotal and with Combe down to 14 with 5 minutes to go until parity is restored, the odds surely favoured Medway.
Desperate not to concede again whilst numerically disadvantaged, the players knew that ball retention was key, if they were in any way unsure they were reminded, loudly, by DoR Rob Lawrence from the touchline. During a passage of play inside Combe's half, Medway unnecessarily infringed and a penalty was duly awarded, touch was found and we set for a lineout giving us more opportunity to retain possession and watch the clock tick down. Charlie O'Sullivan took the ball off the top and dropped it into Brad Smith’s waiting grasp, pick and drive, pick and drive, left then right. The sin bin was up but the ball was alive and the miscreant wasn't allowed to join play until there was a break in play. James Cameron then spotted an opportunity, threw a mis-pass to the excellent Bryan Young who found Dan Hamilton with a delicious inside pass who ran through a static defence untouched and over the whitewash for the 4th and bonus point try. The conversion was good and although still with 18 minutes to play, Combe now had an unassailable 29-13 lead and the vital "next score".
The final quarter was spent with Medway hammering the home line and Combe making the occasional counter attack, one of which could and should have produced another try but the wrong option was taken and the opportunity lost. Medway came back and probed, battered, and tried their hardest but just couldnt find a way through the resolute Westcombe Park defence who to a man had stepped up to the challenge.
The final whistle was blown and Combe were delighted to have secure an important home victory against one of the top quality sides in the division. Medway were magnanimous in defeat and very complimentary about the 'Combe performance, they clearly have a very talented group of players and coaches and we wish them well for the rest of the season and look forward to the return at Priestfields in March 2019.
Bryan Young was named man of the match for his fantastic contribution in all areas of the game but in truth there were at least 6 or 7 candidates that could quite easily have been awarded the accolade. Overall it was a team performance and a team victory.
Next weekend we travel to promotion hunting Camberley who have there own very impressive record, particularly at home. We simply must take the performance and confidence gained from today's game into that fixture if we are to once again upset the form book.
15. Harrison, 14. Hamilton, 13. Saffery, 12. Atiola, 11. Young, 10. Cameron, 9. Smith, 1. Conlon, 2. Hackett, 3. T Simmons, 4. Clarke, 5. Delderfield, 6. Pohlen, 7. Foster, 8. O'Sullivan.
Replacements: 16. Fernandez, 17. Pass, 18. Livett
15. Redman, 14. Garratt, 13. Wardzynski, 12. Walsh, 11. Chalmers, 10. Harvey, 9. Dance, 1. Petch, 2. Sandison, 3. O'Leary, 4. Panikoula, 5. Easton, 6. Stimpson, 7. Beaumont, 8. Stubbington.
Replacements. 16. Whitnell, 17. Dady, 18. Clement.
Match Reporter: Sir Quaffalot