Glorious summer sun bathed the old county cricket ground at The Crabble and on a dry and fast pitch suitable for batting both sides put on a one-day thirteen-try-fest. Charlton Park had to win with the bonus point to retain any promotion aspiration and they had achieved this within the first eleven minutes, but once it was clear that Horsham were doing the same over at Colfeians the game lost all pattern and the fun took over. It was a fitting way for the two clubs to celebrate the season in front of a big crowd after a big lunch.
In all fairness, Park played some of their best rugby of the season in the first half when it looked as though they would score on every possession. Dover, however, were able to shrug off the ignominy of being 47-7 down at half-time to play a full part in an entertaining second half.
In that first period Charlton enjoyed the luxury of their early lead and the bounce of the ball to spread it around the field at every opportunity. A line-out maul led to Rob Saunderson starting things off, and then Ben McMullan was through for a second (although not in the manner the Twitter report suggests) after Josh had chased his own kick and then pinned the defender on the line. John Beith made it a third immediately after and then Jake Conway secured the bonus point with a run after supporting Jeremy Montes. Adam Neale, starting at loose-head for the ill Beau Stanford-Francis, then produced a stunning break leading to Reion Raybe scoring under the posts.
A quick tap penalty created a try for the home side, but Ross McManus brought up the 40, and finally Reion Raybe ended a breathless half finishing off a classic back move started in their own 22. Jack Hudson drifted through a gap to extend the lead at the beginning of the second period, at which point Park rang the changes, bringing on the bench to replace Terry Read, Josh McMullan and Jeremy Montes. This meant a first outing for coach Lee Amzaleg for several years and a prolonged spell for young Archie McDonnell at prop. Both seemed to enjoy it.
Dover came back into the game, scoring three tries to cheer their large support, while Nick Aston added one more for Park after Raybe had made the break. The man-of-the-match went to Luke Boyns, all over the pitch but not on the scoring chart. And, by the way, the score was 61 and not the 59 on the RFU website – nine tries, eight converted.
Congratulations to Beckenham, the best team by far in the league this season, for their deserved promotion. Next week we host Haywards Heath (lunch requests to Chris Wheal) and then have the County Shield Final as part of Finals Day at Broad Walk on April 28th.