Top of the table clash – Oaks emerge as victors after titanic tussle against Medway
Sevenoaks Rugby 22 Medway RFC 16
SEVENOAKS Rugby 1sts secured a hard fought 22-16 home win over Medway on Saturday as a 500-strong crowd was served up one of the most entertainingly competitive matches to grace Knole Paddock in recent memory.
There was plenty of added spice in the mix as both sets of players stepped out to play some truly outstanding rugby. And there was also a special guest on the touch line in the shape of Chris Kelly, President of the RFU.
Going into the match the two sides were level on points at the top of London 1 South League, which is entering the final stages of a testing season. In the 16 matches played between them at various league levels since leagues were introduced in the late 1980s, these teams had won eight apiece.
The match started at a ferocious tempo as the teams tussled for territory in combative early exchanges and seldom has space on a 100 by 70 metre patch of grass been so resolutely defended.
Medway showed fantastic ball retention and looked dangerous in their ambition to move the ball quickly from any part of the field. Oaks had a slightly more free flowing dynamic with ball in hand and were relentless in their defensive squeeze.
In such tight matches discipline comes to the fore and Oaks were frequently adjudged offside after being slightly too eager in the press in penalty kicking territory.
Fortunately the reliability of the Medway kicker who slotted three from four in the first 30 minutes was equalled by Oaks’ metronomic Ben Adams who kept Oaks in touch to make it 9-6 to the visitors entering the final moments of the first half.
It was then that Sevenoaks outside half Leighton Ralph cut through the Medway line from inside his own half. The mesmerising interplay that followed resulted in Nigel Gumbleton diving over for a try that Adams converted to take Oaks in at half time with a 13-9 advantage.
Medway came back fast and hard in the second half and finally found a gap in Oaks defensive set up to score a converted try and take a deserved 16-13 lead into the final quarter.
Oaks responded by upping the energy level yet again and supported by excellent tactical kicking from hand, took advantage of the wind at their backs with composed kicking from the tee by Adams who took Oaks into a 22-16 lead with three consecutive successful penalties. The third was a beauty from just inside the Medway half that sailed high through the uprights and beyond the car park behind the posts with 20 metres to spare.
Medway remained determined to make a mark on proceedings and for every second of the last five minutes were camped inside the Oaks 22 and hammered at the try line. However the courageous home team mentality and solid scrummaging kept the Oaks’ line in tact. As another massive hit forced a Medway knock on, time was called and the crowd erupted in applause for the win and in recognition of a phenomenal spectacle of a match where both teams gave everything.
As well as vying for supremacy in an incredibly tight division, Sevenoaks and Medway are also two clubs investing in youth and depth, and one sign of this was proved by the fact both clubs fielded four senior sides apiece against each other on Saturday afternoon. This was a regular feature in the 1990s when two clubs played one another with two squads at home and two away, but it is too rarely repeated these days. Across the four Oaks v Medway matches, Sevenoaks 1sts, 2nds and 3rds secured victories, but the Gents/4ths lost out to their Medway counterparts. It was refreshing to see that rugby in Kent is alive and well.
Oaks now hold the narrowest of leads in the League and face another stern test this Saturday (9 match) against Camberley away as the Surrey club are just three points behind Oaks. The match kicks off at 3pm and all support is very welcome. The venue is Camberley Rugby Football Club Watchetts Recreational Ground, Park Road, Camberley, GU15 2SR.