5 OCTOBER 2013

Errors at vital moments allied to the spasmodic failure of their normally well-functioning line out, cost Charlton Park dearly as they suffered their first loss this season against a hard running Maidstone side last Saturday.

Charlton started the match brightly and it was following a break by Mark English that they took the lead with a well struck penalty from Tom Amzaleg penalty but Maidstone’s response was immediate when from the restart Charlton failed to secure the ball and following direct running Maidstone established field position and following a lineout scored their first try to take the lead.

From the opening exchanges it was evident that the sides enjoyed differing styles of play. It was during the next fifteen minutes that saw Charlton’s forwards establishing a noticeable advantage at the scrummage and being on the front foot ensured that Charlton’s backs were able to run the ball with in particular full back Tom Coad running back clearance kicks well.

It was Charlton’s backs that scored their first try when following a break through the Maidstone defence by fly half Amzaleg his pass set up English to score the try by the goal posts to make the fly half’s subsequent conversion easy.

With the lead Charlton continued to press and wing Reion Rabye made several telling runs From the onset of the match Charlton’s forwards had gained the advantage at the scrummage and allied to their driving play had enabled Charlton’s momentum to be continued.

It was another break, running a Maidstone clearance kickback, from Coad deep into the Maidstone half that saw Charlton being awarded a scrum in the Maidstone twenty two metre area and with Charlton pushing the Maidstone scrum backwards No. 8 Rob Saunderson, continuing his try scoring streak from last week, when he drove over to score a try.

Maidstone in their efforts to nullify Charlton’s advantage at the scrum made a change in their front row and this seemed to be effective as matters evened up. With the change for Maidstone proving effective it was the home side who scored next when from a line out close to Charlton’s goal line Maidstone executed a good catch and drive before releasing the ball for a try to be scored that was subsequently converted.

The second half saw Maidstone seize the initiative and establish an advantage which they exploited when from a line out they spread the ball wide and in doing so scored a try that was to give them the lead that they were not to lose for the rest of the match.

Having fallen behind the match turned into a comedy of errors for Charlton as they began to make errors and their usually reliable line out began to spasmodically go amiss or they seemed to take the wrong option at times.

Despite having to play on the back foot for periods they still showed glimpses of their play including a flowing team move that saw them move fifty metre up field with a combination of driving play with mark Harlow-Singh to the fore and slick handling of the ball.

Rabye and replacement Kenny Molekoa continued to cause Maidstone problems with runs they made but unfortunately for Charlton they were unable to convert the field position gained into anything material in the form of points.

To compound Charlton problems, whilst both sides were reduced to fourteen following a spell of “handbags” Maidstone utilised the space generated by scoring their fourth try of the afternoon, which was converted to increase the lead to 26 – 15.

To Charlton’s credit they continued to compete and despite their previous lapses at line outs, when they were awarded a penalty they opted for field position. Following a good catch Charlton utilised they expertise to maul the maul forward with Sam Baker, fresh for his ten minute sojourn on the side line emerged with the ball to claim the try.

With time running out Charlton still continued to press in search of a bonus point or indeed snatch a win but errors they made cost them dearly as Maidstone ran in two further tries to consolidate their lead and maybe give a false impression of the match.

By Roe Belcher
Maidstone’s View Of The Match:

Everyone knew this was going to be a season defining encounter, and so it proved. If Maidstone had lost this game, their promotion chances would have significantly diminished, while for Charlton Park, a win to add to their 100% record, would have provided the best platform for their own promotion plans, after missing out narrowly for the last two years.

With Maidstone coming out on top, 38-20, a handsome margin, all options remain open. But this was no walk in the park, with one score separating the sides with ten minutes left on the clock. It was the superior running skills of the home team, allied to fitness that eventually put this game to bed. This was in marked contrast to the previous home game against Medway, where Maidstone buckled under similar pressure. But this time, with Caleb van de Westerlo in the fly half spot, they were able to play the game in the opponents half, much more, with some well-directed kicking.

With only one change from the starting team that generated the handsome victory against Colfes the previous week, namely Neil Graves replacing Mark Dorman, who picked up a knock, the style of play projected by Coach, Andy Foley, was for more of the same. And with Sam Brill on the bench after his own injury problems, alongside debutant prop, Joel Byford, and Nick Bunyan, it was difficult to see why the game plan should change. The big unknown was the impact the imposing visitors pack would have: to play Maidstone’s game requires plenty of possession and, without the ball, the momentum can change, markedly.

But it was only in the scrum that Charlton Park caused any measure of discomfort for the home side. Maidstone dominated the line out all afternoon, winning more than their fair share of ball, while the loose forwards made sure of their own possession and contested mightily anything loose.

The pattern of play was set in the first five minutes. Charlton Park swooped on a Maidstone mistake from the kick off and quickly got on the scoreboard with a Tom Amzaleg penalty. Maidstone hit back from the restart and, from their own penalty, established field position in the visitors 22, for skipper, Ben Williams, to batter his way over the line in the right hand corner.

The next score, on the quarter hour went to the visitors. Amzaleg found a gaping hole in the Maidstone line and set up centre, English, to score by the posts for an easy conversion, to open a five point margin.

Another break, this time by full back, Tom Coad, took the visitors deep into Maidstone’s 22 and from a resulting five metre scrum, No. 8, Rob Saunderson, got the touch down. The conversion was unsuccessful, but with the score at 5-15, it was clear the game was at a pivotal point. Another score from the visitors would have made it difficult for Maidstone to come back. But the measure of a good side is how they deal with adversity, and in this case, two timely substitutions underpinned the teams fighting spirit.

With Nick Bunyan on for James Iles, followed by a pack reshuffle that saw debutant prop, Joel Byford, in the front row, the visitor’s main weapon of attack was blunted and, following a classic catch and drive, Willie Brown received the final pass on the right to score with ease. A conversion by Van de Westerlo, from the touchline, brought the scores back to 12-15 and this is how it stayed until half time.

With all to play for, it was Maidstone that started the second half the fastest. Quickly establishing themselves in the visitors 22, the ball was spread right after a line out, for Willie Brown to cut back through the broken defence, to score once more. A further fine conversion from Van de Westerlo gave Maidstone a four point cushion, re-establishing their lead.

A spot of fisticuffs between Bunyan and flanker, Baker, saw both cooling their heels for ten minutes. But with Sam Brill on for McNamara, on the right wing, he immediately showed his pace, breaking just outside the Maidstone 22, to take play into the visitors half. With the ball linked back inside by scrum half, Hogben, Ben Williams was on hand to complete the move. With another Van de Westerlo conversion, Maidstone stretched their lead to 26-15.

But Charlton Park refused to lie down and a catch and drive, from the Maidstone 22, saw them reduce the margin with another Saunderson touchdown, with the clock moving toward the 40 minute mark. Another, and rather harshly awarded yellow card, incurred by full back, Jensen, for an alleged high tackle, had seen the odds stacked against Maidstone in this period, but with his return, firstly, left wing Morosan, finished off a move in the left corner and finally, Sam Brill, did the same down the right. With Van de Westerlo completing the conversion on the latter, the 38-20 scoreline was complete.

So the question posed last week by the conundrum of a big pack, has been emphatically answered. Will the answer be the same on a heavy, wet pitch later in the season? We’ll have to find out; but in fine running conditions, it will take a good side to beat Maidstone, on this form.