Charlton Park have won some nail-biters in the last couple of seasons but this one had a supporter who had made the journey hiding behind trees as the clock ticked down. In a heroic Rorkes Drift defence Park played most of the second half with 14 men and some of it with 12 and just managed to hold out a powerful Thanet pack led by a rampaging Connor Brown at number 8. Coach Lee Amzaleg gave the man-of-the-match to Terry Read, whose leadership was crucial amid the wreckage of players disappearing from the field every other minute.
It can’t be said that Charlton played well and they could have had no complaint had Thanet kicked the penalties or drop goals that came their way near the end, but the picture that comes to mind is the refusal to back off and the waves of attack they put in when down by two points and two men. As at Broad Walk last October it was Alan Knuckey’s scruffy penalty against the swirling wind that won the game.
That wind had a big effect and there were signs in the opening exchanges that the home side was dealing with it best. Their big pack was pressurising Park at the scrum and the line out and their big runners were proving a handful. Left winger Charlie Knight went over for a try in the corner to give them the lead but it was his punching the ball into touch that received the first of two yellow cards later in the half and Park were able to use the numerical advantage to stretch into a slightly unreal 14-5 halftime lead.
Firstly Park drove an attacking line-out to the point where it was collapsed and were awarded a penalty try, and then from a scrum on the line they utilised the extra man by spinning the ball for Josh McMullan to run it in, and for Connor McDonald to float over a wind-assisted conversion. All points mattered.
In the second period, with the wind in their favour, Thanet kicked a penalty, then a try from the aforementioned number 8, and then a penalty to take the lead. Park began to run out of numbers but not of spirit. A memorable trundling maul carried the ball down the pitch, Jake Conway burst through but Thanet’s defence was equally secure. Maybe that penalty should have been kicked. Another one, just after, was.
A remarkable match. Park’s superhero costumes for the coach home would not have looked so funny had they lost, but they didn’t. Their last-ditch defence was immense and their desire to attack, often from their own 22, bordered on the reckless.
Despite all the cards it was a full-throated proper game of rugby which never looked like boiling over and Thanet Wanderers do not look like a team at the lower end of the table. Best wishes to them for the rest of the season. As I have said, it’s a very competitive league.
Thanks to Just Jack Photography for the pictures