It was a welcome return after several years to one of our favourite local rugby clubs for Charlton Park on Saturday. Gravesend’s vociferous home support has always made their Rectory Field ground a fun and difficult place to grind out a result, but despite the sometimes physical nature of the battles of the past there has always been a bond between the two clubs and this was alluded to at length at the Past-Captains lunch before the game. Everyone knew, however, that there would be no quarter given for the following eighty minutes.
Although still suffering from player absence, Park’s team had a reassuring look about it, bolstered by the return of Alex Miller to fly-half on a student loan agreement from Canterbury. With both teams locked together in the top half of the league table a close encounter was expected, and that was what we got – apart from another Park try-blitz, this time at the end of the first half rather than in the last seconds as has been the pattern for the last few games.
The teams were level at 10-10 after 25 minutes – a straightforward penalty apiece, followed by an interception try by Alan Knuckey and then a line-out drive from the hosts. Charlton Park were looking fluent, however, recycling quickly and with forwards and backs handling. Following a bullocking run from Mark-Harlow Singh up the middle Miller produced a Cipriani–esque looped pass to put Rob Saunderson in at the corner. Then from a wheeled scrum Knuckey attacked the blindside and number 8 Nick Aston picked up his offload to crash over.
Park were now in full flow and could have scored following a break from Jake Conway, before more wide and precise handling put Ben Pritchard in for the bonus point just on half-time. It had been the best half of rugby from Park this season. After the break the expected Gravesend fightback materialised and Park had some hard defending to do. Following the loss of both their influential props they did well to restrict some determined attacks to just one more try, and both sides traded penalties in the last minute.
It was good afterwards to hear players saying how much they enjoyed the game – that is after all the point of amateur rugby. Despite the glamorous passing and offloads it was a solid defence across the whole team that really kept Gravesend out, led again by a tenacious back-row trio who time and again got over the ball at the tackle to thwart attacks. Lee named three men-or-the-match, but it should perhaps have been 17.
Next week we are away again at more old friends – Heathfield & Waldron. See you there for 2.30 kick off