Despite an apparently big defeat at league-leaders Guildford on Saturday Charlton Park played their full part in an entertaining game. Unfortunately for the visitors the match took a further toll on their already crippling injury list, with Alex Miller, BJ Bridges, Eric Roye and Kevin Badger all having to be replaced. What those hardy few who made the journey in the cold did see was that Park’s spirit remains high and their willingness to keep the ball moving was much admired even if, unfortunately, it ran up against a strong defence and a dangerous counter-attacking team.
The first injury, to fly-half Alex Miller, came early in the game, but Connor McDonald moved up and was instrumental in many of Park’s handling moves. Mark Harlow-Singh and John Beith in particular made telling midfield line-breaks but the home defence swallowed them up before the support could arrive. Charlton also engineered several potential scoring positions through five-metre line-outs, but whereas two weeks ago the catch and drive was efficient this time throws to the front were comfortably defended.
Guildford’s skilful backs were in action quickly as a clever move put their full-back into space for the first try, and their ability to take advantage of attacking positions gave them a three-try cushion by half-time. Park engineered a fine response for Bridges in the right corner when their backs made good use of an overlap. After the break Guildford added a further three tries, although Park were guilty of some defensive concentration lapses for two of those. Nevertheless, Guildford were worthy of their winning margin. The addition of some strong backs has complemented their pack from last season, and they appear to be reaping the benefits of their close links with Harlequins. Oh that Charlton Park could have such philanthropic neighbours!
Ultimately it was as much inexperience as anything that let Park down. Although the scrum was always under pressure it held up well until injuries forced them into unopposed for the last ten minutes. The line-out was strong and the handling was more assured that for several games. The problems came from kicking, often aimless and as a last resort and ruthlessly punished, just as Chobham had last week. And once they were in reach of the line Guildford scored whereas Charlton seemed to choose the wrong option or simply fail to concentrate properly.
At the end coach Sam Naden made the strong point that a performance like that merited more, and there were many strong performances.