“The most entertaining and exciting three-point game I’ve ever seen. Credit to both teams for such a performance in awful conditions,” said Allan Bird, a long-time Farnham RUFC supporter.
Dave Ledbrook, one of the club’s original forwards, said: “Great gutsy performance from the boys – well done!”
Toby Salmon, Farnham’s first XV skipper, added: “It was a phenomenal team effort. Everyone fought hard for 80 minutes to secure the win.”
On a sodden pitch with a stiff breeze blowing from the town end, this was never going to be a spectacle of running rugby.
When the two sides met earlier in the season on a balmy autumn day on Horsham’s artificial pitch, the Sussex team ran away with the game by 43 points to nil.
Perhaps the conditions would level things up, and perhaps Horsham would find themselves guilty of some hubris generated by their earlier success.
That could explain why the first half was pointless even though Horsham, with the wind at their back, completely dominated territory.
Indeed, the Black and Whites only reached the Horsham half in the initial exchanges after Horsham kicked off – at which time skipper Toby Salmon left the field for a head injury assessment to be replaced by Jemi Akin-Olugbade.
When Horsham were awarded kickable penalties, they went for the corner to repeat the maul-over-the-line tactic that had brought them two early tries in the autumn fixture.
However, as all good teams do, the Black and Whites had learned their lesson and either disrupted the throw or successfully challenged the maul as it slithered over the mud.
On the occasions Horsham went close, they were repulsed by the steely defence of the Farnham men.
Andrew Mortimore, another club veteran, said: “The club has kept its muscle memory from our days at Wrecclesham.”
The club’s former ground at Wrecclesham often produced atrocious, muddy pitches, with many a close battle won by dogged work up front.
Horsham won another penalty, and this time they adopted the scrum. The slippery ball was spilled, gathered by the hard-running wrecking ball Tim Salmon who collided at full tilt with a Horsham second row forward. After some minutes’ treatment, the Horsham player was replaced.
On 25 minutes, Farnham’s morale was boosted further by the return of Toby Salmon having passed his head injury assessment and Farnham pressed the attack up to the halfway line. However, the ball was spilled, hacked through by Horsham and Farnham were backs to the wall again. If conditions were not bad enough, it began to teem with rain.
The Farnham defence held strong and a couple of breakouts from back rowers Jonny Vincent and Mike Mizzi gave the balcony something to cheer. On 35 minutes prop Jules Joris, who had completed a herculean shift in defence, was replaced by Sam Woodhams.
The penultimate play of the half saw Horsham kick for the corner. The rolling maul was held and ball spun out only to be knocked on after a series of crashing tackles by the Farnham backs. Farnham won the scrum penalty and cleared.
The referee blew for half time and 30 muddied men trotted into the changing room for some respite from the weather and to catch their breath after a scoreless but very hard fought and scintillating 40 minutes of rugby – albeit for the Wrecclesham purists.
The wind played its part in the second half with Farnham pinning Horsham into their own half, effectively neutralising their talented and powerful back line.
At last, on 51 minutes the scoreboard burst into action.
Farnham put in a ferocious counter ruck 30 metres out from the Horsham line, forcing their opponents to cough up the penalty. Toby Salmon stepped up to take the kick at goal and to a huge cheer from the balcony sent the ball sailing through the uprights.
Farnham’s closest opportunity to score a try came soon afterwards when a Horsham clearance was returned by Max Williams. He punted the ball forward and the ensuing chase by the Farnham backs forced the Horsham fullback to touch down for a goal-line drop out.
The drop out was charged down by the Farnham forwards to force another goal-line drop out. From here, Horsham were able to clear the ball towards the halfway line.
The home side had to wait until the 75th minute for their next chance.
Farnham caught and drove a line out from the ten-metre line, forcing Horsham to concede a penalty 15 metres in from the far touchline. However, Toby Salmon was unable to convert the difficult chance.
The final minutes saw Farnham continue to pin Horsham deep into their half, with excellent tactical kicking from the back three, led by Mike Salmon.
Horsham’s final attempt to run out resulted in a knock on, and the final whistle blew.
The home crowd celebrated the club’s first ever win over Horsham and Ali Chisholm’s first win over his older brother Ross – the respective coaches of the teams.
The coaching team also earned praise for instilling the defensive drills and a “never-say-die” attitude in the squad.
Next up for Farnham is a trip to play bottom-placed side KCS Old Boys.
Report: Andrew Mortimore
Photos: Julian Frost