Another perfect day for rugby at Monkton Lane as Farnham welcomed Dartfordians, another team from Kent they have never met in the league. The unseasonal weather produced a perfect playing surface. A low sun shining brightly down the pitch was perhaps the only climatic nuisance. The pre-match supporters lunch had attracted a hundred diners bolstered by Saltus - the club’s principle partner and matchday sponsor, Smart Tasking - sponsor of the club’s volunteers and finally, a group of hardy players who had just completed an overnight march from Twickenham to raise funds for Movember, a charity dear to the club’s heart. A packed balcony eagerly awaiting the encounter.
Dartfordians kicked off from the nursery end with that low sun in their eyes. Farnham had the gentlest of breezes at their back. In the early exchanges Dartfordians established ascendancy at the set scrum and that remained a feature for the rest of the game. However, their attacks were foiled by the now legendary Farnham “D”, the other key feature of the game.
After just three minutes, the Black and Whites showed their attacking flair. A break from fly half Ben Jones released Reece Stennett at centre who with trademark step and pace went over from a distance out. Toby Salmon was accurate from the tee. 7-0.
Back come Dartfordians from the kick off and power to the Farnham corner, but they were held up. A goal line dropout from Toby Salmon, reminiscent of last week’s monumental effort, forced the Dartfordian 10 to hoof the ball back to restore territorial advantage. Scrum half Ollie Brown collected the ball and spotted space behind the attackers’ back three. His inch-perfect kick was gathered by a hard chasing Michael Salmon who shipped the ball to brother Toby. Toby went over and made good the subsequent conversion. 14-0 after ten minutes and Dartfordians were shell shocked.
Farnham’s confidence was now sky high – perhaps a little too high as speculative off-loads went to ground and the rhythm was lost. But then a reset, and it all clicks. Forwards and backs combine to put in the phases and a gap appeared through which Ben Jones glided with some style. Toby was accurate again and the score was 21-0 after fifteen minutes. This could become a rout.
As is the case in this league, there is no side that will drop its head and give up the game. Dartfordians are no exception. Their pack was not only dominant in the set scrum, but powerful in the maul. This was to be their primary weapon for the rest of the game. From a penalty to the corner, the Kentish pack drive for the line and lock Harrison Horner is adjudged to have collapsed the maul. He received a yellow card and Dartfordians received 7 points for a penalty try.
Matt Chapman came on for Horner and an already reduced backline loses Reece Stennett for an HIA – which he thankfully later passed. Dartfordians were on the attack and had the scrum in a dangerous position inside the Farnham 22. Down it goes and the referee awards the scrum penalty to Farnham much to the well-earned delight of man of the match Marco Azevedo at prop.
The game fluctuated. Sharp attacks by Farnham’s backs are thwarted by Dartfordian defence or by their own mistakes. A fierce offload from Toby Salmon that smashed into the face of brother Michael was a memorable example. Meanwhile the Dartfordian forwards continued to apply the pressure and but for the Farnham “D” in their own 22, may have got the score. It was Farnham’s disruption of a Dartfordian attacking line out that heralded the half time whistle.
A strange pattern to the game was established in the second half. Farnham would attack, but eventually knock on or be adjudged to have passed the ball forward. The Dartfordian scrum would apply the pressure and they would sweep into the Farnham 22 to once again exercise the Farnham “D”. One flowing attack did see Toby Salmon over, but he’s held up. Photographic evidence suggests he was unlucky, but referees at this level don’t have the luxury of a TMO. On another occasion, Chalker intercepted out wide and was clear to the line only to be called back for an earlier off-side infringement.
The deadlock had to be broken and it took a bit of misfortune for the Black and Whites and canny play by the visitors to break it. Dartfordians cleared deep and Mike Salmon was set to scoop up the bouncing ball. Reece Stennett jogged back on his line as he is entitled to do to keep the chasers at bay. However, as he approached Salmon a timely shove by the chaser propelled him into Salmon and the ball was spilt. Dartfordians gathered and dotted down under the posts. 21-14 and twenty, nervy minutes were left to play.
Both sides had their chances in the final period. Farnham flanker Jonny Vincent charged down an attempted chip into the backfield, and Mike Salmon broke free. However, the ensuing flowing backs’ move ended with Chalker bundled into touch metres out by the cover defence. At the other end, the Dartfordian pack mauled toward the Farnham line but it was disrupted by Farnes – on for Jones - coming in from the side. He gets a yellow card for his determined defensive efforts, and Dartfordians tap and go. More pounding. More Farnham “D”. Eventually scrum half Ollie Brown has the final say with brilliant work on the floor to secure the turnover. The ball was shipped to Toby Salmon who kicked it dead. The final whistle blew, and the balcony could breathe again.
It was a great match and a good win for Farnham as they continue to push for season honours. This was game they could have lost, but all eighteen were determined that would not be the case.
President’s Podium: Marco Azevedo 3, Ben Adams 2, Ben Jones 1