In a keenly awaited game between old friends and rivals, first and third in the league, it was the leaders, Dartfordians, who reinforced their status with a clinical victory over Charlton Park at Broad Walk on Saturday. A smooth line-out and a solid scrum coupled with determined defence enabled them to keep the home side at arms’ length throughout a frantic game and their win was fully deserved, although Park could claim with some justification that a closer score might have given a more accurate reflection of the balance of play. In the final minute, however, only last-ditch defence prevented a bonus point try.
It would be unfair on Dartfordians to claim that the result turned on two incidents just after half-time, but they certainly had an effect on the points margin. With the visitors 10-3 up skipper Rob Saunderson scored a try which everyone saw but the referee. Instead a five metre scrum was awarded, from which Park had opportunities to score but didn’t. Then, under heavy home pressure, a defending kick under the posts was charged down but bounced straight back into the arms of the only Darts player in the vicinity and he had the presence of mind to burst away through a surprised and disorganised home team and to set up a try under the posts at the other end which put the visitors 14 points ahead. A 14 point swing on the bounce of a rugby ball.
Further pressure led to a home try from Beau Stanford-Francis, but the conversion was missed and Charlton were still two scores adrift. Darts turned the screw, Park’s line-out struggled and another try under the posts followed by a penalty nailed the result down.
The first half had mostly been a midfield arm-wrestle, although the visitors still looked the most likely to score. A penalty and try in the right corner off a scrum gave them a ten-point lead but Tom Amzaleg’s penalty on the stroke of half-time kept Charlton in it. Ben Chappell, returning after a long absence, and Amzaleg made half-breaks but Park were unable to get in support, whereas Dartfordians took full advantage of their opportunities.
There were some heartening features, not least the return of centre John Beith after a three-month lay-off, the whole side’s refusal to concede a fourth try when the game was over and the acceptance that that refereeing decision was not really a factor in their defeat. Frankly, Park didn’t get enough ball, and when they did Darts denied them the space they found last week.
It was a great day, with a lot of old friends renewing acquaintances in the bar and a mutual respect on the field. Dartfordians have put together an impressive young team, well coached and fit. They were a little unlucky not to be promoted last year. This year they will be, deservedly, and they’ll put in a good account of themselves in London 1. As with last year, the competition is for the play-off spot.
There was no pickled egg-eating competition afterwards. Time has moved on.
Next week we welcome Farnham in the third round of the Intermediate Cup. Both teams were at Twickenham last year, Farnham winning the Senior Cup, so it will be another good game.