In a proper top of the table clash Dartfordians ran out eventual winners 13-10 at Horsham. The game was played with an intensity that neither side have faced so far this season with no quarter given.
Horsham’s crowd of 150 was largest seen at Coolhurst for several years, and with both sides putting their 100% records on the line, those watching arrived with a knowledge of what was at stake and an expectancy of a tough game.
Dartfordians are certainly a club on the rise and it is easy to forget that they were playing in Kent 1 as recently as five years ago. Under the capable stewardship of Jarrod Lawrence and Dave Phillips they have since had two promotions, finishing third in London 2 South East for the past two seasons and are favourites to win the league. This is all while they have built a substantial extension to their clubhouse with new changing rooms and a gym facility. They are a well-run ambitious club, fielding five senior sides each week, and look equipped to play at a higher level.
There is no disgrace in Horsham losing to such a well organised and tenacious side, who on the balance of play deserved their win. Horsham have now lost to Dartfordians four times in succession but this was the closest contest for some time and the only regret for the Green and Whites will be that they could not hold on to their lead for another six minutes. The result was in doubt until the final whistle with the visitors using their guile to run down the clock. A crumb of comfort for the hosts is that they leave with a losing bonus point.
Dartfordians had the edge in the set piece which was evident from the first scrum. Fly-half Jonny Regnier then put in a great diagonal kick for touch and when the visitors stole Horsham’s line-out ball the pattern for the game was set with the hosts struggling to win quality first phase possession. Horsham were penalised for not rolling away and Regnier slotted a straight-forward penalty. 0-3.
Both sides were fielding young 20 year old props but it was Dartfordians who had the upper-hand in the front row and when they won a scrum against the head it required brave and committed defence from Horsham as they battled hard to defend against the visitors pick and go tactic, and then when the Green and Whites finally won some possession they were penalised for not releasing on the floor. This time Regnier missed his kick at goal. Horsham were playing without the ball and a double tackle by Michael Tredgett and Dan Cass on Dartfordians No.8 Mark Randall was adjudged to be high by Tredgett which saw him yellow carded. Unfortunately Randall was forced to leave the field with concussion and did not return to the fray. Regnier kicked for the corner in an attempt to score a try with the extra man advantage but Horsham were resolute and somehow managed to defend against a succession of scrums. Then when Dartfordians spun the ball wide they spurned a try scoring opportunity as full back Kieran Ryan cut inside when his winger was free outside him.
Dartfordians were in the ascendancy, recycling the ball well and maintaining great continuity. Only the quality of the Horsham defence, laying bodies on the line, held the visitors out as they tried to take advantage of having the extra man. Mike Watts made a long clearance kick to the half way line to relieve the pressure and Tom Blewitt made a half-break but Dartfordians kept coming back and were let down by a couple of forward passes to break their momentum. Centre Ollie Edwards for Dartfordians then made a great line-break but lost control of the ball in the tackle and knocked it forward. Amazingly Horsham had got to the half hour mark with a negligible amount of possession, having been obliged to play the game in their own part of the pitch, and with 14 men for part of that period, without conceding any further points.
On 32 minutes Horsham finally made a successful break out of defence through Joe Wilde and it was great last ditch tackle on Declan Nwachukwu which prevented a likely try in the Green and Whites first visit to the opposition 22. For the first time in the game Horsham put together a succession of attacking phases and forced a penalty which was converted by Tom Johnson 3-3.
Frustratingly for Horsham, they soon conceded another penalty for being off their feet at the ruck which Regnier accepted. 3-6.
Horsham responded by putting together a good series of attacks but were met by some committed defence from the visitors and went into the break with a narrow deficit.
The second-half started in a replay of the first with Regnier pinning Horsham into the corners, the hosts under pressure at the set piece and some brilliant tackling from both sides shutting out the opposition attacks stopping the scoreboard ticking over. Horsham were going backwards in the scrum and could not secure their own line-out ball and the pressure was only relieved when Michael Tredgett ripped the ball to quell another attack and then Johnson made a long kick downfield to clear the danger.
As the half went on there was an improvement in Horsham’s performance but this was punctured by too many set piece errors preventing pressure building. This was symptomised when Dartfordians were penalised for crossing and Johnson found a good touch but then Horsham took a short throw to the front of the line-out which did not come off.
Horsham with pace to burn in their outside backs were finding little opportunity to set them loose as they were denied any space to work and realising this Wilde put in a huge downfield kick in the face of the onrushing defence and then followed up with the tackle. Horsham finally had an attacking position on 63 minutes. Great first phase possession was used to send Nwachukwu through the middle with an incisive break using his searing pace. When he was tackled the ball was taken on by Watts and from the recycle Nwachukwu was available as the first receiver to finish well under pressure and Johnson converted. 10-6.
The match entered a phase with both sides pounding each other relentlessly in the middle third of the field with both defences holding firm with great resilience and organisation to their midfield play, until on 74 minutes the Green and White tide of optimism was ended when Horsham made a mistake at their scrum. It was picked up against the wheel and kicked through, and from the chaos at the ensuing ruck Regnier hacked through and won the foot race to regather and touch down and score the winning try. The kick was adjudged to have been converted by Regnier, although most of the crowd thought it had sailed wide, but this would have had no effect on the final result. 10-13.
“A tough game befitting two teams who were undefeated going into this fixture,” Horsham head coach Nick Stocker said. “Our set piece did not function at all today which was disappointing - particularly in the lineout where we made too many basic mistakes and conceded possession too easily.
Without quality first phase our very dangerous backs could not get going. We showed the threat with the ball in the build up to Declan’s try but did not fashion enough against a well organised defensive side who make very few mistakes.
On the positive side, our defence was much improved and under real pressure in several stages stood firm with our physicality a notable step up compared to recent weeks. Things to work on and the boys will take the disappointment and be much better next time.”
Horsham now take a break from league action and next face Hampshire side Eastleigh at home on 14 October in the first round of the national Intermediate Cup.
Horsham: Watts; Nwachukwu, Blewitt, Wilde, Bell; Johnson (capt), Mills; Fairs, Lowe (Murphy), Cass; Clarkson (Maguire), Tredgett R; Brady, Tredgett M, Whiting