Farnham maintained their perfect start to the Regional 2 South East season with a battling 39-36 win at Chichester.
They battled back from 36-27 down with less than 15 minutes left to take the points.
Chichester started proceedings playing away from their Oaklands Park clubhouse, and Farnham won an early scrum on their 22 and although under pressure took the ball infield.
As Farnham drove the ball on at pace, the referee was quick to blow for a penalty as a shoulder charge by the home No8 came into contact with Jonny Vincent’s head – resulting in a red card just moments into the game.
The referee applied the letter of the law but even the vastly-experienced Gary Stennett, Farnham’s director of rugby, felt it was a harsh decision so early in the game.
The resulting penalty led to Toby Salmon kicking well into the Chichester half to launch Farnham’s first attack of the game.
As the ball was spun wide left, the speculative loop pass was intercepted by the Chichester centre with a clear pitch in front of him – but there was a lucky escape as the ref blew for a penalty to Farnham in front of the Chichester posts.
Toby Salmon successfully converted for the first three points of the game.
Chichester began to put some of their phases together and a break from their full back took them to the Farnham ten-metre line, and winger Miller ran under the posts for a converted try to go 7-3 ahead.
A second home try was quick to follow with Farnham fly-half Ben Jones kicking just too long, resulting in a Chichester lineout on the Farnham ten-yard line. Quick ball off the top enabled the home side’s fly-half to break and then feed on to the full back, coming on at pace, to score under the posts to make it 14-3.
After 16 minutes Farnham were awarded another penalty and again kicked to the left-hand touchline, metres short of the try line. Farnham caught and drove with Fin Anderson bulldozing over from three yards, and although the conversion was missed the arrears had been reduced to 14-8.
The game continued at pace, flowing back and forth. Farnham were awarded a flurry of penalties which were all kicked to touch. Small mistakes allowed Chichester to clear their lines but then scrum half Harry West fed the ball to second rower Fin Anderson moving into space on the left to score.
The conversion failed but now Farnham were only a single point behind, 14-13.
Back came Chichester from the kick-off and the home full back beat Farnham’s defence and offloaded in the tackle to their prop. After a fine run he neatly passed back to the full-back who fed the winger in support, who touched down to move the score on to 19-13.
With half-time approaching, Farnham again found themselves with a lineout short of the home five-yard line following a penalty well placed by Toby Salmon. An efficient catch and drive trundled Farnham forward but the maul was pulled down illegally by the back-peddling defenders and the ref had no option but to award the penalty try and the visitors went ahead 20-19.
A yellow card took Chichester down to 13 men for the ten minutes either side of half time, but they battled gamely and their final act of the half was a failed penalty attempt.
Farnham were first to score in the second half after a flowing move saw wing Alex Chalker free up Ben Jones, who slid over on the right wing to score.
Toby Salmon successfully converted, extending Farnham’s lead to 27-19.
But Chichester, back to 14 men, began to play some of their best and most entertaining rugby. Farnham’s defence held strong – a feature of the season so far – until the ball was spun wide from a ruck to the Chichester No9 who scored in the left-hand corner.
Farnham immediately put pressure back on Chichester. They found themselves in a familiar position after another penalty with a lineout 15 metres from the Chichester line.
While the defence has been solid, speculative loop passes have cost Farnham – and for the second time in the match the interception allowed the Chichester full-back to sprint 70 metres to score.
There was no ref’s whistle to save Farnham this time and they trailed 31-27.
As the game entered the final quarter, Chichester’s pushed a penalty deep into the Farnham half. At the ensuing line out, they threw a quick ball to the front and fed their second row on the charge down the five-metre channel to score in the corner to edge further ahead, 36-27.
With 15 minutes left, Chichester were unfortunate to again be reduced to 13 men after the ref noticed a no-arms tackle.
The impetus switched to the visitors and Farnham were soon attacking the Chichester try line. From a goalline drop out, Farnham returned the ball to midfield 20 yards out from where the ball was quickly spun right to Tim Salmon who ran in 15 yards to score to reduce the score to 36-32.
Farnham went for the win and yet another penalty allowed them to set up a line out five metres out.
With the catch and drive, the forwards were able to take the ball over to score.
Prop Sam Woodhams emerged from the pile up to claim the try and Toby Salmon was certain with the extras as they edged 39-36 ahead.
To the Farnham faithful, the extra time provided by the referee seemed endless – but eventually they were awarded a scrum penalty from which Toby Salmon was able to clear to touch.
At last, the whistle was blown to announce the end of a bustling, hectic, well-contested game.
Report: Andrew Mortimore
Photos: Julian Frost