It is the time of year when injury lists inevitably play a big part in the hopes and fears of relegation and promotion for amateur clubs. Faced with having to cope with absentees, Charlton Park and Gravesend had to make do and mend – Charlton had five changes from last week’s scrape at Thanet. It was the home side’s versatility, augmented by some welcome returnees and a new arrival, that gave them the edge.
Charlton Park fielded a pack consisting of two props and six back-rows – more piano players than shifters. Mobile it certainly was, but did it have enough grunt? A lightning opening when Park held a twelve-point lead after two minutes possibly gave them the idea that the hard yards didn’t matter. There followed long periods where the home team tried to run round in circles before an even more frenetic last five minutes book-ended a restless game.
The visitors had at least half the possession and territory, courtesy of a slick line-out and some solid forward drives. The Charlton scrum, thanks in large part to its props, man-of-the-match Beau Stanford-Francis and captain Terry Read, was going forward, however, and when they got the ball into the open there was too much speed and support for the visitors’ defence.
Ben McMullan is finding his feet and the scrum half had darted through to score before many of the lunchees had poked their heads out of the clubhouse. A minute later there was another from Tommy Nightingale in the left corner following a break from Reion Raybe and Alan Knuckey, playing at full-back and seemingly enjoying it. Despite another try seeming on the cards as Park ran everything Gravesend worked their way back into the game and they had a deserved try as they drove into the corner.
After half an hour Charlton scored twice more, both tries run in from distance after moves from the home half – by Ben Pritchard and then Reion Raybe with a trademark electric burst. 24 – 5 at half-time, but only after Park had to soak up some heavy pressure. A try to the visitors narrowed the advantage after the interval but just when it seemed that Charlton were going to fritter it away they reverted to gameplan – the ball was carried up before the backs could have it.
McMullan scored his second after his change of direction shredded the defence and in the last five minutes Knuckey, substitute John Beith (a severe case of jug-avoidance from McMullan) and finally the inevitable Jake Conway took advantage of a tiring cover, scoring by virtue of being the last man in support of multiple-pass moves.
The final score was a bit hard on our friends from Gravesend. We wish them well. Meanwhile the Irish influx at Charlton Park grows, with David McGuigan joining the twins. Next week we are at home to Letchworth Garden City in the London Semi Final of the Intermediate Cup and selection is going to be hard!
Pictures are by Just Jack Photography