Due to the fixture congestion earlier in the year it was agreed that this game should also act as a Kent Shield Semi-Final so, in one fell swoop, Charlton Park kept their faint promotion hopes alive while at the same time booking their place in the Shield Final against Gravesend on Sunday April 28th – to be held, of course – at Broad Walk amidst all the other county finals.
It would be fair at the outset to say that the score did not do justice to an Aylesford side clearly up for it from the start, and who kept their positive attitude through to the end. Captain Terry Read said he had warned his side that they would have to withstand an assault early on and this duly happened, although it can often be good for this team to be forced to put in a defensive shift.
In both halves the visitors had the majority of possession for the first twenty minutes but once they got hold of the ball Charlton’s pattern was much improved from the stuttering attempts of recent weeks as, helped by the returns of Mark Harlow-Singh and Ally McQuitty, the ball carriers were able to create the space for the runners. Further enhancing Park’s cause was the fact that eight out of nine kicks at goal went over. Say no more.
Charlton led 29-6 at half-time (surely no away team comes back from that sort of deficit?) with four tries giving them the bonus, and then added another four in an increasingly tetchy second period, the highlight of which was a moment of farce as the referee disappeared from sight under a multiple tackle. After his confident handling of the game this was the last thing he deserved but there might be a rogue video from the match recording.
Jake Conway set the ball in motion with a early score accelerating onto Tommy Nightingale’s half-break and Connor McDonald’s conversion from wide out which hit the post was his only miss of the game. Three tries in a rush near the end of the half, countered by two Aylesford penalties, virtually sealed it. Conway added his second threading through a gap after some drives and off-loads from a line-out.
The third was the try of the match. Fielding a kick deep in their own half, Ben McMullan and Alan Knuckey used their scrum-half skills to spin the ball wide to Reion Raybe, whose run burst through tackles before a floated inside pass found Jack Hudson supporting. Finally Knuckey himself took Harlow-Singh’s offload to race away for the fourth.
Aylesford started the second half with a bang and, after Rob Saunderson was yellow-carded following a high tackle, they scored their try driving over in the left corner. There followed twenty minutes of not-a-lot, but the Charlton forwards were getting on top, particularly in the scrum.
Ben McMullan spotted a gap round a ruck and sniped in under the posts, to be followed by brother Josh sprinting through a yawning gap. And finally, Saunderson added two more in the last minutes, one from a pushover scrum and then following a series of forward drives.
Coach Lee Amzaleg pronounced himself well satisfied with the performance, based as it was on a much more committed week’s training. Jake Conway was a deserved man-of-the-match. Next week we go to Dover, hopefully avoiding any lorry queues, and we finish the league season with a lunch at home to Haywards Heath. Then there’s just the Shield Final.