Farnham Rugby Club beat Guildford to continue perfect start

Friday 16th September 2022 6:00 am
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No 10 Ben Jones is upended but not before he offloads to skipper Toby Salmon PICTURES BY Mike Dewey Photography

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God save the King! was sung at the pre-match lunch, a minute’s silence was held in honour of the Queen – then Farnham and Guildford Rugby continued their close rivalry in earnest.

Last season’s two encounters saw Farnham nudge the aggregate points score by two points in a close win that followed the earlier drawn game.

Farnham retained the bragging rights on Saturday with a 30-23 victory in Regional 2 South East – but in reality, the game could have gone either way.

It was a perfect day for rugby – dry and mild with the going good-to-firm after the recent rain.

Monkton Lane looked a picture as lush green pitches accommodated both this game and a non-league fixture between the third XV and Hook and Odiham.

However, the rugby – at least some of it – was less than perfect and it took every ounce of the new skipper Toby Salmon’s skill and energy to drive his team over the line on what was to prove a long afternoon.

Within the first eight minutes Farnham were down ten points. On two minutes, the Guildford fly half Sam Druce hoofed the ball into the Farnham 22 to gain early territory.

Perhaps enticed by a dry ball and a perfect surface, the receiving Farnham backs flung the ball about and tried to run it out.

But they were pinned under their own posts and coughed up the penalty which Druce gratefully converted.

The speed of both sets of backs on the chase or in defence was a feature of this game.

From the restart Farnham battled back and earned their own penalty that Toby Salmon speared to the corner. However, the throw-in went awry and the speedy and direct running Guildford backs seized their chance to burst out through the Farnham backs, who were aligned for attack not defence.

The ball was dotted down under the posts by No11 Nicholas Street and the easy extras for Druce made the score 0-10.

Farnham got straight back into the game. The high-speed chase from the restart forced a Guildford knock-on and Farnham dominated at the scrum.

The front row of Sam Woodhams, Jules Joris and Marco Azevedo, powered on by Tom Dullage and Fin Andersen in the row, earned Salmon T a shot at goal some distance out – but nevertheless he converted with aplomb. Toby’s goal kicking was to prove immaculate all afternoon, and he made it 3-10 after just ten minutes.

Guildford’s restart did not go the required ten metres and Farnham were back on the attack. The forwards – notably Azevedo, Woodhams and the mercurial flanker Jonny Vincent – battered the defence and when the backs got ball, the distribution was accurate out to flying winger Max Williams, who was a constant threat.

During this period of sparring, Farnham’s No8 Dan Aldwinkle pulled a hamstring bringing on Ben Brown to earn his 50th appearance for the club. He went to the flank while Toby Comley took the No8 role.

However, the Guildford defence was up for the challenge. Williams was a marked man and when Guildford full-back Alex Jordan and winger Charlie Cutting went for him with a double hit, an unlucky clash of heads left Cutting prostrate with a neck injury.

The on-field medics adopted the protocol that wisely dictates a player with a neck or back injury should be moved only by professional paramedics.

As the wait for the ambulance began, the game was moved to pitch two from where the third XV gave way to play on pitch three.

After a 40-minute delay, battle recommenced.

The game restarted with a Farnham scrum from which a penalty put Farnham into the Guildford half. The line-out was scrappy but Farnham’s No10 Ben Jones secured the ball, popped it to scrum half Ollie Brown who darted through the first line of defence and released Toby Salmon, who sped to the line under the posts. He made good the simple conversion to level the score at 10-10 after 25 minutes.

Further sparring and the Farnham scrum dominance allowed the home side to march up the field, but then, similar to the earlier score, a misjudged pass was snaffled by the Guildford backs who had the pace and guile to punish. After another score under the posts and an easy conversion, the visitors were back in the lead at 10-17.

More end-to-end sparring ensued with the speed, vigour and canniness of both teams’ defences holding sway.

Guildford’s scrum half took a quick tap penalty only for his dash to the line to be impeded by a “lazy” line run by Jules Joris. The referee, rightly, decided it was cynical and gave the Farnham prop ten minutes in the bin.

Down to 14 men, Farnham fought back from their line with a sequence of phases, combining forward power and back-line pace that caught the Guildford defence off-side. Toby Salmon called for the kicking tee and his unerring boot took the score to 13-17 at the half-time whistle.

The second half started with the ball bouncing around the Farnham 22 and the backs deciding to fling it about. Again they were pinned in front of their posts and again Druce was happy to take the three points to extend the lead to 13-20.

The ping-pong continued as Toby Salmon replied in kind from the restart as Guildford infringed at the break down to make it 16-20.

The Guildford pack gained supremacy, especially in the tight – but the referee spotted some front-row skulduggery and awarded Farnham a penalty.

The Farnham line out remains uncertain in early season, but the defenders were up sharply to dislodge the ball and Toby Salmon scooped up the loose ball, split the Guildford defence and put Max Williams away to score under the posts.

It was an easy conversion for Salmon and Farnham took the lead for the first time in the match, going ahead 23-20.

Play was dominated by defences until once again Guildford were caught offside, allowing Toby Salmon to find touch on the Guildford 22.

This prompted Farnham’s best period of play. A driving mall made ground and the forwards went round the edge to pound the line, and when they were held the ball was zipped out by Brown to Jones who popped to Mike Salmon to crash over from full back.

Brother Toby secured the extras and at 30-20 there was at last some breathing space for Farnham.

With the clock ticking down Guildford mounted attack after attack through their now-dominant pack. They repeatedly decided to take a scrum penalty in the Farnham 22 as the Farnham pack folded, but the Black and Whites held out, often with the ball in Guildford possession inches from the line.

Eventually, with seconds to go, Guildford decided to take the three points and a well-earned losing bonus point.

There is little between these sides and the return fixture at Broadwater in December will doubtless be a thriller too.

Meanwhile Farnham’s preparation this week will be focused on next Saturday’s trip to Chichester where they hope to make amends for one of their poorest performances of last season.

Report by Mark Weeks

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