Charlton Park denied the forces of nature to present a second half of sparkling rugby up there with any this year to beat Pulborough in the lashing rain and howling gale yesterday. Turning round with a slender lead of 10 points, having played downhill and downwind, Park were facing a challenging further forty minutes against a side whose forwards and tactical kicking had kept them at bay. What followed was a change in game plan, but above all a change in attitude, which saw them score a further six tries, to send a sizeable band of supporters home happy if bedraggled.
After going ahead with a quick try, Ed Mason following up to dive on Tommy Nightingale’s grubber kick after some smart handling, the rapidly deteriorating weather, the strength of the Pulborough forwards and the clever kicking of their fly-half combined to thwart further attacks. Connor McDonald kicked a penalty to add to his conversion, but the home side were up for this and forced Park back. With Sam Baker yellow-carded, and ignoring the seemingly simpler option of kicking, Charlton were almost relieved to get to half-time and, for the second week running, the warmth of the changing rooms.
The second period started as expected, with a concerted Pulborough drive from a line-out just held up. With the gale and freezing rain in their faces kicking was not an option and neither, initially, was moving the ball laterally. With man-of-the-match Mark Harlow-Singh leading the charge, the route was straight up the middle. For almost twenty minutes Park pummelled away to gain a bridgehead until the floodgates metaphorically and literally opened.
As so often happens, the try that started it was a bit of a fluke, Sam Baker diving on a loose ball over the line after it had been dropped under pressure by the home side. Now Pulborough’s kicks were desperate rather than calculated. Reion Raybe ran the ball back and John Beith scored, and then Harlow-Singh burst through and Tommy Nightingale finished it off. Captain Rob Saunderson bashed over under the posts and then followed up with his second way out in the left-hand corner. Connor McDonald decided a drop-kick conversion was a preferable option to placing the ball in a swamp, and promptly converted with a soaring kick. In injury time Sam Baker added his second after some Fijian-style handling.
The players need nothing but praise for that second half. By the end all passes and offloads were sticking but they had done the hard yards first and felt free to indulge. All eighteen made big contributions when the conditions could have won the psychological battle. The supporters, including now local resident Grant Parker, felt the trip was worth it, further enhanced by the warm hospitality and excellent beer provided by Pulborough.
Smiles all round. Next week another drive in the same direction to Horsham.