Since their promotion Charlton Park have had a less-than-comfortable start to life in the exalted heights of London League One – losing their first three games of the season. This solid victory over the team that was relegated last season from the National Leagues was a further sign, however, that things are coming round and that Broad Walk is returning to its old fortress days. For the third successive home game Park racked up over 40 points in a bonus point win having fallen behind at the start.
Once again it was the forwards who laid the platform, but their usual dominance was negated before half-time when the scrums became unopposed after an injury followed by a yellow card disrupted an already beleaguered Basingstoke pack. Despite losing captain Terry Read for ten minutes in the first half, Park took ruthless advantage when their opponents were reduced to 13 men at times in the second half, not for the first time this season reversing a 3-10 deficit after 20 minutes to a 40-10 lead late in the game.
Two simple Thor Normann penalties sandwiched the two Basingstoke tries in the first quarter of the game. The first came in the left corner after quick passing created a two-on-one, and then a kick to the corner led to a line out catch and drive which the depleted Park pack couldn’t hold. Thereafter the home team got a grip on the game, tightening up the defense and releasing their forwards in a series of attacking runs, particularly off a much-improved line out led by man-of-the-match Ross McManus.
Luke Boyns and Kevin Badger were particularly prominent in finding the initial gaps and their strong running created an overlap for Paul Haig to put Park one point ahead. Then more pressure on the Basingstoke line eventually led to prop Steve Laverie driving over next to the posts and Normann’s conversion meant the home side led 18-10 at the break.
The uncontested scrums were an irritation to everybody and there was some discussion with the referee at half time over whether this could be resolved – it couldn’t, but Charlton started the second half on the front foot. Scrum half Lee Amzaleg attacked the blind-side, Rob Saunderson kept the momentum going and from a quick ruck fly-half Normann scythed through for a try, and then converted. However, Basingstoke continued to throw the ball around searching for openings. The home defense scrambled but just about held out on the line through multiple possessions after initially losing the ball in the tackle, then broke out and forced a deliberate knock-on which enabled Normann to extend the lead by three.
Park kept the pressure on by kicks into space and when the ball was moved left Mike Casizzi was able to put flanker Ben Pritchard through for the bonus point try. Basingstoke were finding it harder and harder to withstand the physicality of the Charlton ball-carriers and Mark Harlow-Singh and then Mark English added further tries under the posts as Basingstoke threw the ball about in search of a losing bonus point try of their own. In between Basingstoke had scored their third unconverted try, a reward for their continuing spirit.
A convincing win for the home team then; satisfying and reassuring for players and supporters alike, over opponents who are clearly better than this score suggests. Park’s injury list shows they have reserve players able to step in, but this is having an effect on a depleted seconds. Both thirds and Fuffs had exciting and high-scoring games.