It is a cliché (I know, another one) that sides start badly after a long away trip and need to get the journey out of their legs. That was definitely the case in my day when we would have a quarter of an hour to get changed and out but I can’t see how that still stands when the team has gone through 45 minutes of ‘warm-up’ routines. But, as in some other of their away games this season, Charlton Park’s slipshod first half infuriated Andy Miller into a half-time dressing down which amounted to requesting his players to do the hard yards before earning the right to pass and run.
Park’s chances weren’t enhanced by having two of the substitutes’ bench on the field within the first five minutes; hooker Steve Laverie being replaced by Kevin Badger and then Mark English (broken arm) by Tom Coad. Our delight at seeing him back from prolonged injury is dampened by the news that he has to return to Yorkshire. The sides shared a penalty apiece before Basingstoke took the lead with a converted try after a clever chip had wrong-footed the Charlton defence. Thor Normann replied with an equally subtle cross kick which was fielded by Mick Casizzi, now on the wing, and his inside pass put Coad in, and Alan Knuckey’s conversion once more levelled the scores.
Charlton seemed unable to string together a series of plays, however, and Basingstoke were pressurising them around the tackle area and moving the ball threatening through their backs. A converted try putting them 17-10 ahead seemed to galvanise the visitors more. The scrum has been Park’s default position all season and Number 8 Rob Saunderson scored the first of his two pushover tries to reduce the deficit and then a sweeping move along the backs put Reion Raybe in at the corner so that Park had a barely deserved 20-17 lead at the interval.
After half-time, as the pack got on top and Basingstoke tired Charlton were able to relax and they added a further five tries, but not before Basingstoke’s impressive right wing had scored their third try. The forward dominance was underlined by the second pushover and a penalty try but it enabled the backs to show their passing skills, orchestrated by Thor Normann at fly-half having his best game for some time. Raybe was put away on an overlap and it was a delight to Park supporters to see him leaving defenders in his wake. Neil Collins ran a good straight line to score under the posts and the best of all came when four slick passes in the space between the five metre line and touch just enabled Sam Baker to score in the right-hand corner. Alan Knuckey rediscovered the kicking boots he mystifyingly mislaid in the last game to notch five conversions and a penalty.
So, there were many good things. As well as the scrum the improved lineout and more fluent back play showed the work that had gone in on these aspects during the week. Not for the first time this season we were hosted by welcoming club whose temporary hard times will clearly not last long, although Bernie Woods and the travelling supporters (thanks to all who made the trip) were bemused at having to pay to watch Charlton Park play!
Next week we have a VP lunch for the Dover game, sponsored by Dave Woods at Acclaim Handling – book your places with Dennis Miller as usual.