Rugby result: Tunbridge Wells 15 - Wimbledon 19
Picture: Tunbridge Wells RFC
Following a red card to captain Josh Bayford after fourteen minutes, Wimbledon played the remainder of the match with a reduced team and went down to twelve players for several minutes at the end after a shoulder injury to hooker Dave Wayman and a yellow card to Bayford’s replacement, prop Malik Touilzak, this resulted in uncontested scrums.
Tunbridge Wells must be rueing their failure to use the resulting overlaps when in possession despite taking the lead on seventeen minutes with a try from their fullback Toby Wallace, the conversion attempt by outside half Jack Anderson was missed but a second try from a driving maul by no.8 Nick Doherty increased the lead, this time converted to 12 – 0 and it was followed by a penalty kick by Anderson to make it 15 – 0 at the end of a long half of 52 minutes punctuated by many injuries. It must be said that the prospect for Wimbledon was looking bleak at this stage, the wind favouring neither side by basically blowing across the pitch.
It was in the second half that Wimbledon’s match fitness began to tell, with some rare possession, outside centre Paul Hendry took two defenders with him over the line still with supporting players outside him, the conversion was missed and a yellow card to a Wells player, the first of two they earned evened the teams up. Wimbledon’s second came from winger Tom Milner, this time converted by Owen Davies and Wimbledon were back in the game.
The decisive moment came late in the game with winger Archie Brosch, who had a good game taking the high kicks sent his way, saw a gap and from about 60 metres outstripped the pursuers to sprint in and score under the posts, the resulting conversion from scrum half Owen Davies was direct and suddenly Wimbledon were in the lead at 19 – 15.
There was still the prospect of a long period of injury time as in the first half but despite Wells creating heavy pressure near their line Wimbledon with twelve players held out against the fourteen that Tunbridge Wells had on the pitch at that time. The home team’s failure to spread the ball against fewer defenders was costly. For all that the tacklers gave their all in these final few nail-biting minutes.
All the Wimbledon playing squad gave everything in this match but clearly there was outstanding leadership by vice-captain Jack Cooke for nearly all of the match and what was clear to the crowd was the speed that Wimbledon were able to transition from dogged defence to thrilling attack. One Tunbridge Wells player admitted to this writer at the end that they knew Wimbledon would not kick possession but would run from deep, the result, scoring three tries and playing 66 minutes with only fourteen players gave this victory.
Next Saturday Wimbledon will be back in action at home against league leaders Dorking with a 2pm kick-off.
Both teams did well to play some good rugby in the vilest weather on an already soggy pitch, particularly as both like to play an open running game, The home team had marginally the better of the weather, but more importantly they adapted better and made the most of the conditions in the first half with the strong wind and driving rain behind them than Wimbledon did in the second half (apart from the final ten minutes) and built a hefty 17-0 lead by half time. They kicked well, won several important turnovers and kept possession for much of the half, creating two good tries, the first by Knight following a Walsham interception, the second by Hodgson and a third, also by Hodgson, gifted to them by a poor Wimbledon clearance kick. The first and third were converted by that man Hodgson.
Wimbledon had their moments too, including a fine break by no.8 Mark Scott ten minutes in, and a try looked on until stopped by a deliberate knock-on 15m out which earned the offender a yellow card. There was some excellent defence by Dons too against numerous Walsham attacks, particularly by centre Tom Milner and the whole back line but, finding it difficult to keep hold of the slippery ball, they were unable to break Walsham’s defence.
The second half opened no better for Dons, conceding a rather soft second try for wing Knight directly from their own kick-off. But gradually they adjusted to the wind and rain behind them, winning more and more possession as the half progressed and after ten minutes a series of powerful drives by the pack quick ball out wide gave wing Archie Brosch just the room he needed to squeeze in at the corner to make it 22-5.
Still finding handling a problem and losing hard-won possession at critical moments it was a further 25 minutes before their territorial advantage paid off; excellent scrummaging brought a penalty and from the ensuing lineout the forwards finally drover over for try number two, touched down by lock Tony Machado and converted by scrum half Owen Davies.
With the wind now seemingly at hurricane force a great break by replacement Jake Rigby promised a third try but ended with a penalty for not releasing. Still they pressured Walsham and deep in injury the pack did what they’ve done so often this season and powered over the line for Rigby to score, and earn Wimbledon a deserved losing bonus point. The conversion by Davies was the final score - although many thought that given another five minutes the now dominant Dons pack could well have produced a winning score! As it is they will have to wait for the return match in March to get revenge – hopefully on drier day.
Their victory takes North Walsham into second place just ahead of Wimbledon with both teams closing the gap on leaders Dorking following their defeat by Sevenoaks.
Next week Wimbledon travel to Tunbridge Wells.
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December 6, 2021