Was this a point gained or four lost? After last year’s poor display and a less than convincing start to the season Park’s expectations before the game would undoubtedly have been focused on damage limitation, but by the end of a hectic and exciting local derby the visitors could look at several might-have-beens to take the points.
Without a doubt this was a much more cohesive performance against an impressive, young Dartfordians team playing with confidence based on nearly 200 points amassed in their first two home games. Both teams knew what to expect, based on last year’s games. Park would try to grind Darts down; Darts would run Park off their feet. And so it went for the first 30 minutes of each half. Dartfordians exercised their near-impregnable line-out to set up driving mauls, Charlton scrapped and held relatively firm, despite Alan Knuckey’s yellow card for offside.
A clever kick through into the space led to a try for the home side in the right corner, superbly converted, but within five minutes and still with a man down Park were level. A forward drive and initial claims for a try were turned down but from the ensuing scrum Sam Baker drove over and Tom Amzaleg converted. However, they were coming under more pressure as Darts concentrated their attacks on pick and go. Two penalties put them six points in front, but a counter attack led by Jeremy Montes running from the back led to Charlton pressure, they won a scum against the head and another charging run from man-of-the-match Sam Baker led to a simple penalty under the posts.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Confident passing and weak tackling led to a try for the left winger, again converted, and Park had to weather the storm as the game threatened to get out of hand. For twenty minutes it was all hands to the pumps, particularly after Ed Mason was the recipient of a rather harsh yellow, and a further penalty with twenty minutes to go extended the lead to 13. Thereafter the game moved into the home half. The Park pack, while not dominating, was getting on top in the scrums and Darts were conceding penalties and yellow cards. A penalty try brought the score back to 23 – 17, and only heroic defence kept Ross Sidebottom and Terry Read at bay right on the line.
The game became more and more stretched and a wild fly-kick from each side fell into the wrong arms from a Park point-of-view but Charlton came straight back. Replacement fly-half Will Barnes came on near the end and almost scored under the posts and a strong scrum enabled Knuckey to put Montes in in the corner.
An exciting game, with mistakes by all the participants, but fluent, played in a superb spirit and with a scoreline that just about reflected the play. Darts are a clinical, well-drilled and fit young team. Charlton Park not only held them but moved the ball confidently and were only denied by fearless tackles. Both sides will think they could have done more given a bit more luck; but both will also realise this might have gone either way.
Rugby was the winner, and long may it remain so between Park and Darts.