Oaks fight back in local derby match against Tunbridge Wells but have to settle for a draw
Tunbridge Wells RFC 1st XV 15 Sevenoaks RFC 1st XV 15
In challenging conditions, Tunbridge Wells RFC 1st XV and Sevenoaks RFC 1st XV served up an enthralling derby match in front of a healthy crowd on Saturday. Despite being 12-3 at one stage in the first half, it will be Sevenoaks that will have been the more frustrated with the draw away from home, having worked their way back to a 15-12 lead with five minutes to go.
Before kick-off, Oaks were subject to two changes, with Josh Baldock replacing Sam Porter, who had failed a late fitness test, and Jonny Short came in on the wing for his first start of the season.
Despite the weather conditions worsening, the Wells pitch remained in fair condition throughout and it is testament to both sets of players that handling errors stayed at a minimum throughout, despite the fading light in the last 20 minutes of the game.
The match started as one would expect a ‘derby’ match to, with both sides eager to physically impose themselves as well as gain the upper hand in territory. As every forward in the land will no doubt tell you, games of rugby are won and lost by the forwards and the backs will determine how much by. As such, both sets of forwards were keen to show the other that they ruled the roost, with Oaks gaining immediate ascendancy in the lineout and Wells grabbing a foothold in the scrum.
As the half went on, the home side started to gain momentum. After a sustained period of pressure, which required some resolute Oaks defence, Wells were awarded a scrum five metres from the line. With prop Croall now on, Wells marched Oaks back and referee Steve Randall awarded the St Mark’s team a penalty try, as well as showing hooker Sedgwick a yellow card. 7-0 to the home side.
Credit to Oaks, they reacted well and slowly but surely made their way up the pitch. Knowing that the driving maul was a significant weapon, at every opportunity Oaks kicked penalties to the corner which allowed them to get their driving maul going from the excellent line-out. After excellent Wells defence repelled them, a scrum was awarded to Wells, but this time it was the away side that was awarded a penalty, as Oaks powerful front three pushed their opposition off the ball. Tom Gray converted and Oaks were on the scoreboard.
If Oaks thought that could provide them a springboard to launch from, they were undone by some indecision from the resulting kick off, gifting Wells an attacking scrum after a knock-on. After some good handling and direct running, particularly from prop Tauaika, Wells fed Hobbs on the wing who scooted round and finished in the right hand corner to the delight of the home crowd. The conversion from Reynolds was unsuccessful but Wells had a 12-3 lead with under 10 minutes of the first half to go.
It was clear that Oaks needed the next score as another try or penalty by the home side would give them a good cushion to defend and Oaks would have to chase the game. With that in mind, Oaks upped the tempo started to use their strong runners and got some joy down the blind through Richardson and Short. After one such attack and pressure at the breakdown, Oaks were awarded a penalty which they kicked to the corner.
From the resultant lineout, Oaks used their driving maul which was hauled down illegally by Wells. Oaks sensed an opportunity and kicked to the corner again, this time driving Wells back, with back row Josh Baldock going over in the corner for an unconverted score.
It was 12-8 to Wells at half time and the break provided an opportunity for players and supporters to catch their breath.
With conditions worsening, particularly the light, in the second half, Oaks knew that the slope could provide them with a real weapon. However Oaks went down to 14 men when prop Dan Power was penalised for a late hit on centre Montgomery – needless in the circumstances as Oaks already had the penalty.
Despite being a man down, Oaks started to gain ascendancy, and after good work from their forwards, Gray was again kicking to the corner from a penalty. Excellent Wells defence repelled Oaks for some time, although second row Ben Whale also received a yellow for stopping Oaks illegally. After more sustained pressure, Oaks carved open Wells via the boot, with Simmonds using the large in-goal area to his advantage, as he slid the ball under the posts for centre Leighton Ralph to touch down after winning the footrace. Gray converted and Oaks were now 15-12 to the good.
Despite the remainder of the second half being played in Wells half, Oaks could not land a killer blow and this was to haunt them, as with under five minutes left, Wells moved their way up the pitch and drew a penalty when perhaps they were in the hunt for a try. Reynolds converted and the scores were level.
There was still time for one last Oaks attack, as the men from Knole Paddock had three more attempts at trying to barge their way over the line, but were repelled by the very good home defence. As Oaks made their way to the centre of the field, referee Randell gave a penalty against the visitors for an infringement at the breakdown. Wells kicked the ball off the field and the contest was over, 15-15.
Head Coach Adam Bowman said: “As expected, that was nip and tuck throughout and credit to both sets of players, it was an entertaining fixture and the skill level was high. They had the upper hand in the first half but I felt we turned that around and controlled much of the second half and it was disappointing not to close the game out having got ourselves in front.
“That said, we come away with two points from a ground where we haven’t won for a number of years against experienced opposition at this level. I keep talking about continuing on the upward curve and we must back this performance up at home to London Irish Amateurs on Saturday at the Paddock.”
Earlier in the day, in the reverse fixture, Oaks 2nd XV maintained their unbeaten run to the start of the season, beating Tunbridge Wells RFC 24-0. The win keeps Oaks at the top of the Kent Invicta table. It was not such good news for the 3rd XV, who went down 25-22 away at top of the table Gravesend RFC 2nd XV. Oaks 3rds still have two games in hand on Gravesend RFC and will hope to get back to winning ways this weekend against Dover RFC.