4 JANUARY 2014
Charlton Park’s decision a few years ago to spend funds on their pitches, rather than to put the money into other projects proved to be a benefit last Saturday, when following the period of inclement weather over Christmas and the New Year, they were only one of the few clubs in London able to host a league match.
Playing with the benefit of the natural conditions and with a strong wind in their favour it was Aylesford that had the better of play in the opening exchanges and good chasing of a kick saw them going close to scoring a try following a charged down clearance kick. The territorial advantage saw Aylesford being given the first opportunity when Charlton conceded a penalty but the ball, to Charlton’s relief, was carried just wide of the goal posts by the wind.
It was only after ten minutes were Charlton able to work their way out of the half but their play seemed to lack some of their normal fluidity as they tried to rid themselves of their rustiness enforced by the Christmas break. Such was their error count that they wasted any real advantage as they were prone to try over ambitious moves or run out of support thereby turning over the ball at inopportune moments.
The middle twenty minutes of the match saw play concentrated in the middle third of the pitch with Charlton utilising their forwards to good effect driving play and Aylesford using the wind to kick for position and this lead to several telling runs from Charlton’s backs especially Neil Collins, Reion Rabye and Tom Coad joining the line when able.
It was following a robust series of driving plays from Charlton that lead to the first score of the match after thirty minutes. When Aylesford, in their efforts to stop the drives, were adjudged to have killed the ball Charlton decided to use their slight advantage at the scrum to set up an attacking platform by opting for a scrum close to the Aylesford goal line. When the scrum began to wheel good quick thinking by number eight Rob Saunderson saw him pick the ball up from the base and slick transference of the ball through Will Robertson’s hand saw Rabye score Charlton’s first try.
An error in dealing with the ball from the restart cost Charlton dearly as in their efforts to control a wildly bouncing “grubber” kick saw them adjudged to have players off-side and Aylesford were awarded a penalty which they duly kicked to close the score to 5-3.
With both sides trying to gain a marginal advantage the last period of the half saw a closely fought encounter with Charlton marginally gaining the upper hand as decisions seemed to go in their favour.
Following words of wisdom from coach Andy Miller the start of the second half saw Charlton coherent play suddenly “kick into gear” as they struck immediately from the re-start when following a line out they set up a multi-phase of pick and drives that was finally finished off when Terry Read wrestled his way over the goal line to score a try. Liam Cleary added the conversion to extend the lead to nine points.
With the lead, and now playing with the benefit of the natural elements Charlton increased the tempo of their play taking the match to Aylesford but to the visitors’ credit their defence rose to the challenge and Charlton were soundly rebuffed on a number of occasions. Despite having the territorial advantage Charlton were still prone to making mistakes including one when being awarded a kickable penalty, despite having a forward sin-binned, they opted for a scrum rather that taking the kicking option and when this failed to realise any material advantage Aylesford received a big fillip to their moral.
It was a moment of an ill-considered remark by Aylesford to the referee that saw Charlton awarded a penalty and this time Charlton opted to kick fore the goal posts and Cleary duly made a successful kick to extend Charlton’s lead to 15-3.
The closing stages of the match saw Charlton Park in the ascendancy right up until time added on for injuries when following Aylesford being awarded a penalty they opted for field position to try and garner a losing bonus point. Aylesford then exhibited good skills when following a clean line out followed by a robust forward drive to close to Charlton’s goal line the ball was taken through several phases before being released to their backs who finished off the move by scoring a try.
Despite being “ring-rusty” Charlton managed to keep their momentum in the league but next week have a difficult fixture against Maidstone, a side that has league leaders for the majority of the season, kick off 2.15pm at Broad Walk.
By Roe Belcher
Aylesford’s View Of The Match:
by Nick France
Bulls show great fighting spirit to earn a bonus point in the closing minutes of the game.
The Bulls first match of 2014 was a tricky visit to league leaders Charlton Park and prior to the match a minutes silence was held in memory of Augustine Carnell, a member of the Bulls under 17 squad who tragically was killed on New Year’s day.
Charlton Park won the toss and elected to play up the slope and in the early exchanges the Bulls applied pressure in the hosts 22 initially keeping the ball tight then trying to utilise their power in the backs but the conditions and pitch weren’t conducive to open flowing rugby and they were unable to cross the line.
The first clear scoring opportunity came on nine minutes with a penalty to the Bulls 35 metres out but the kick from fly half Dan Harvey was taken by the firm breeze and drifted left of the uprights.
The next 20 minutes of play was mainly in the middle of the pitch with the conditions leading to numerous mistakes and the penalty rich match official breaking up any cohesion in play. Charlton Park were starting to inflict their large pack on the proceedings, the catch and drive was well contained by the Bulls but their pick and drive game was very effective and continually made them good metres.
On 29 minutes the scoring was opened. A series of drives on the Bulls line were halted but from a second five metre scrum awarded for illegally killing the ball the hosts executed quick hands from the base to give their left wing an open run to the line for an unconverted try.
From the restart the Bulls were awarded a penalty for an offside offence and Harvey stepped up to close the score to 5-3 from 25 metres out.
The final ten minutes of the half were a kicking battle and a forwards arm wrestle with the Bulls feeling the majority of close decision were going against them but they held firm in defence to go into the interval only two points down.
During the interval the Bulls made a double interchange with Robert McNamara replacing Simon Hollister at loose head and Edmund Mtshali replacing Harry Durrant at hooker. Prior to the fresh legs getting into the match they were behind the posts with the rest of the team as Charlton Park struck immediately from the re-start setting up pick and drive after pick and drive to work their way up to and finally over the Bulls line. The conversion was added leaving the Bulls 12-3 behind.
At this point it was looking tough for the Bulls to get anything out of the match, playing up the slope in conditions not really in their favour but they stuck at it and although they were forced to do a lot of defending close to the breakdown they rose to the occasion and with the introduction of flanker Ben Turner on 51 minutes, who tackled low and hard and added the necessary injection of line speed around the fringes, they thwarted the table toppers advances.
The Bulls cause was aided on 47 minutes when the Charlton Park second row was shown a rather harsh yellow card for a innocuous infringement in the middle of the park, but then hindered on 77 minutes when the official awarded a scrum against the Bulls when the knock-on clearly came from the hosts and when the decision was questioned he showed little empathy and turned his erroneous decision into a penalty giving the Charlton Park kicker a simple three points to stretch the lead to 15-3.
The closing stages of the match saw Charlton Park in the ascendancy right up until 80 minutes on the running clock when a penalty to the Bulls was kicked just outside the 22 by Harvey and the team kicked into attacking life with a clean line out followed by a great drive to take them metres short of the line and after a couple of attempts from the forwards the ball was released to the backs where centres Elliott Johnston and Jack Gray hit it up sucking in the defence and after a few more drives by the forwards the ball was spun to the right where it found Johnston once again to crash over the line in the corner. Harvey was unsuccessful with the conversion attempt but the Bulls had shown excellent spirit to take another bonus point off the league leaders.
It certainly wasn’t a day for open flowing rugby on a heavy track but credit to the Charlton Park ground staff for allowing the game to be played when so many others in the county had to be postponed. The hosts deserved the victory on the balance of possession and territory and they now sit seven points clear at the top of the table, but yet again the Bulls made them work for their narrow victory.