Clear blue sky, rock hard pitch, 25 degrees – it was the normal first day of the season, except that we’d had 500 days off. And Park treated their followers to a hard-fought and satisfying bonus point win over determined opposition keen to make a mark after two highly successful promotion seasons.
The game fell into two distinct parts. The first half, playing against the breeze, saw Charlton having to withstand some determined attacks as Ashford’s kicks continuously pinned them back into the left corner. In the second half the game opened up and the backs stretched their legs, with four tries to add to scrum-half/coach Lee Amzaleg’s sneak through in the first period following some sustained forward pressure. A penalty and a conversion from fly-half Joe Simpson gave Park a 10-3 half-time lead.
Charlton strengthened their grip at the beginning of the second half when centre Freddie Naitaka wriggled through and his second more or less settled it, finishing off the move of the match. Park had been camped in the left corner when Ashford snaffled the ball. A big relieving kick fell into Reion Raybe’s arms, a big dummy from Enele Lingari opened up the field and Tommy Nightingale’s inside pass out of the tackle found Naitaka in support. Raybe then grabbed his try finishing off another cross-field move and Simpson fed man-of-the-match Scobie Ratubulavu’s straight line under the posts. Simpson added 2 conversions.
There were understandable errors early on, and the penalty count was too high, but in all this was a very pleasing first outing, with six debutants fitting in well. The scrum was its usual solid self and the welcome return of Ross McManus coupled with Ben Monsey helped Park’s line-out. Through a combination of pragmatism and youthful energy Charlton’s game-plan came to fruition, blighted only by an injury to Ally McQuitty.
We wish Ashford well for the season and thank them for their hospitality. Next week its Dartfordians at home, played in memory of past-captain Tony Penfold. We look forward to seeing you all there.