Horsham sealed their most important win on Saturday in over 25 years with a comfortable 44-17 win over Farnham played in front of an all-time record crowd of in excess of 600. The game was a play-off between the two second placed sides in London 2 SE and London 2 SW to secure the remaining promotion place into London 1 South, a level Horsham have only briefly reached in their history before in the mid 1990’s.
When that strong side broke up containing such club legends as Andy Johnson, Richard Bell, Andy Jones and Barry Hillicks, some of whose sons are key players in the current side, the team suffered multiple relegations and it was a long way back starting with a play-off win out of Sussex 1 against Park House in 2007 back into London League rugby, and then becoming London 3 SE champions in 2015, culminating in a third promotion in thirteen seasons in 2019. It should be noted that the only player to feature in both play-off games spanning such a length of time is Nick Bell, which is a tribute to his commitment, resilience and loyalty.
Match report by Nathan Jervis
Well, that was good. The day had everything, hail, sun, beer tent, music, Barry. Droves of Horsham locals descended on Coolhurst to support the 1st XV in their promotion play-off. A win would mean moving up to London South 1, the highest placing Horsham have achieved in a generation. In terms of high stakes, these were stratospheric. The atmosphere was electric, the tension palpable, the beer plentiful, the weather inclement, Tim Smith vocal. After a stint as car park attendant, this reporter topped up his beer supply and made haste pitch side bound. With around 600 in attendance, a viewing spot was by no means guaranteed. This reporter however was able to secure one, and took up position for Horsham rugby clubs biggest ever game.
"Tentative" would most appropriately describe the first 5 minutes. Both sides visibly aware of the potential consequences of an unforced error. The momentum however seemed to be moving in Horsham's favour, slowly, but surely. As possession was retained, and ground gained, the stalemate was finally broken at the 5 minute mark. Good carries from multiple players sees Osgood gain possession out wide and he is able to put over to score in the corner. Tom Johnson eats pressure for breakfast, presumably with a lot of bacon, and is able to slot the ball over the posts for the extras. 7-0 then, a fine start.
Horsham do well in their own 22 from the reset and manage to turnover a line out allowing Johnny Whiting to break hard and gain valuable yardage. A magic little box kick from the wizard Aaron Linfield maintains Horsham's designed attack amidst Farnham's confusion stemming from the broken line out. Farnham spill the ball only to have Declan "Phenom" Nwachukwu pounce and gather having chased the kick to it's fruition. From there it was only a matter of time, and usually not much of it, before Declan scores. Tom Johnson converts to put Horsham up to 14-0, 10 minutes gone.
Farnham would look threatening at times. Quick ball handling and dangerous runners presented problems until the final whistle. This was demonstrated at 13 minutes as a spilled pass in Horsham's own 22 saw Farnham pounce from good positioning and dash the ball over the line for their first unconverted try. 14-5. A ripple of discourse ran through the previously merry Horsham crowd. Not for long however, an equally well positioned beer tent meant that merriment would swiftly return.
From the rest, strong lineout play sees Vince Everitt carry with his trademark farmer's strength and gain ground. Jordan Bell carries and executes a deftly disguised pass to Jack Osgood who finishes well under the posts for an easy conversion by Tom Johnson. This reporter would note that, on the conclusion of this match, Tom Johnson would have scored 301 points this season for Horsham. An incredible achievement. Consistency in Horsham's kicking has provided a string which has made their bow a powerful thing to behold. Enough gushing. A penalty is awarded shortly after to Horsham for Farnham not releasing which Tom Johnson again kicks over the posts to put the score to 24-5 and take the game to half time.
Of all the potential ailments which may afflict the Horsham supporters on Saturday, thirst would not be one of them. This reporter was naturally making sure his thirst remained suitably quenched as we began the second half.
Farnham make a statement immediately. Some jiggery-pokery on the ground in which Declan was held on to after the breakdown went unnoticed, however the score was over the other side of the pitch so how much influence this had is hard to tell. Either way, the net result was a Farnham score and subsequent conversion. 24-12.
The young Marcus Condon, sometimes referred to by another name which we shall not mention, finds the ball after a well worked scrum and utilises deftness in touch for a grubber which almost made this reporter fall over. Some might say that it was actually the beer. We will never know. The grubber finds its way to the imposing Sam Hampson in space and as such the result was very nearly inevitable. Hampson puts the ball over the line for what was possibly the last nail in Farnhams metaphorical coffin. As with all metaphors this is debatable, however the crowd's collective shoulders had now dropped and shed their tension. 31-12. A penalty is awarded shortly after gained through good, persistent, effective Horsham pressure. Johnson kicks over to increase Horsham's lead to 34-12.
Horsham were playing comfortably now, that was clear. The numbers had been crunched and the data processed resulting in effective Horsham defence against previously dangerous Farnham manoeuvres. A penalty is awarded Horsham's way to highlight this, kicked well by Johnson to put the score to 37-12. Shortly after Horsham display some champagne rugby which ultimately leads to their last score of the game. In the words of head coach Nick Stocker, who we shall hear from again shortly, "An attacking line out sees initial drive and then a rapier thrust from the backs with Joe Wilde running a sumptuous line off a delayed Tom Johnson pass to go in under the posts". The head coach waxing lyrical from the side-line displayed a level of comfort during play which could only have been dreamed of leading up to Saturday. 44-12.
Farnham do not roll over however, at the death of the game they steal back one last score which goes unconverted. Testament to their fortitude clearly needed to reach this point in their season. Final score, 44-17.
On the final whistle this reporter immediately left for the bar. Quite incredibly, despite having finished his last pint only minutes before, he was thirsty for another. Suitably refreshed, he went in search of head coach Nick Stocker for some words on this momentous game. With 600 people in attendance, the odds were high that some peddling of DVD's would be a temptation too delicious for him to resist. Curiously, this would not be the case. Instead, he would be found holding court in the beer tent surrounded by his fellow coaching staff; Richard Bell, and Adam Halsey. All three had manufactured a team this season which have achieved something not seen in many of the players lives. There would be no DVDs on this day. Only celebration.
"Today we saw the culmination of a fantastic run of form built on hard work from every member of the squad. This was most prominently displayed by the impact that our replacements all made on taking the field providing impetus and energy to ensure the lead built up in the first half was protected and built upon in the face of spirited opponents. A great day all round and the celebrations went on long into the night as you would imagine.
In terms of the performance, whilst delighted at the result, the collective feeling across the squad was that, we did not perform at the levels that we know we have achieved recently. Defensively, we were very strong with the likes of Dan Cass, Rich Tredgett and Nick Bell monumental whereas wider out, Jordan Bell was inspired, making very important tackles on dangerous runners throughout. Our attack however, despite scoring 5 tries was not quite at the heights that we have seen in recent weeks. We left several opportunities out there through taking contact when the pass would have been the better option, but given this was a big stage, mistakes are to be expected and ultimately a good win in front of a large crowd was achieved.
Our back three were once again excellent with powerful wingers Sam Hampson and Dec Nwachukwu to the fore. Jordan Bell and Aaron Linfield, displayed excellent control with a maturity beyond their years and with the field position and quality of ball earnt were able to get our runners going forward all afternoon. Jack Osgood was excellent and rewarded with two good tries whereas Rich Tredgett and Jamie Redmayne were instrumental in providing the experience in the early exchanges. Johnny Goward was simply huge when he came on with carries and lineout steals from the off and Vince Everitt was his usual rumbustious self - proving a real handful for the Farnham defence. With Tom Johnson delivering a perfect day from the kicking tee as well as influential passing and running, it took a fine performance from Johnny Whiting, in his own personal battle with Farnham's excellent number 8, to be awarded the man of the match.
We now take a small break before returning to prepare for the Bob Rogers cup final where we meet Hastings and Bexhill on the 27th April at East Grinstead RFC. It would be a great way to finish the already excellent season with a piece of silverware that we have become closely acquainted to over the last 5 years."
In the fateful words of George W Bush "Mission accomplished".