Despite, or perhaps as a result of a late arrival thanks to traffic, Charlton Park put in one of their best all-round performances of the season in this convincing win at Twickenham on Saturday.
The blasts of icy rain blowing down the slope meant that this was always going to be a game of two halves, as they say. In choosing to play with it in the first half Park knew that they would need a considerable buffer to defend, and it was clear from the off that the hosts, with their team restored to nearer full-strength from last week’s game, were up for it. Park played the obvious game plan to near-perfection, with scrum-half Alan Knuckey pushing his kicks into the corner and then releasing the ball-carriers. Within twenty minutes Park were 18-0 up and Twickenham had to chase the game. In conditions that were getting colder and wetter they began to drop the ball or turn it over and Charlton punished the mistakes clinically with three more tries before the break.
Second-row Mark Harlow-Singh’s passing skills created the first two tries, transferring the ball fluently for Ross McManus to score in the corner, and later turning it back inside for Ben Pritchard to drive over. Knuckey converted one and added two penalties conceded by an under-pressure home scrum. Following another very clever kick to the corner from Thor Normann, Rob Saunderson picked up from the back of a scrum to blast through the tackles and a penalty try followed to give Park the bonus point.
It was from Twickenham’s best attacking spell of the half that Charlton scored the try that best illustrated their growing confidence. After defending against some strong running, man-of-the-match Steve Laverie stole the ball, Sam Baker in his first game of the season injected speed and interpassing enabled Mick Casizzi to score and Knuckey to convert.
At 37-0 Charlton Park were almost home and dry, albeit an inappropriate metaphor on such a day, but they were well aware there would be some hard defending against the elements, and this was immediately made clear when after prolonged pressure Twickenham were awarded a penalty try. Knuckey then had a penalty against the wind blow back to his feet but made no mistake a little later, followed by a second try for the home team in the corner converted superbly.
Charlton were defending well against the kicks on the wind, however, running the ball back with increasing confidence, and they finished the game with two more fluent tries, both created by bursts from centre Mark English and both rounded off by Tommy Nightingale. Firstly English found Nightingale on his shoulder running in powerfully from 30 metres. A further break led to the ball being kept alive and moved left through the hands to Casizzi, who put Nightingale over in the corner.
Director of Rugby Andy Miller expressed satisfaction at the all-team performance and particularly at their ability to put the game plan into almost-perfect practice. It was one of those days when things work and when the hardy supporters saw what we are capable of.