Match report by Nathan Jervis
The last time these sides met was in March 2013 when Maidstone thrashed Horsham 95-12 on the way to back to back promotions from London 3 SE into London 1 South and Intermediate Cup success at Twickenham, but this was a much-changed side. Horsham needed two points to finish second and secure a chance at promotion in a play-off against Farnham, and the team quite clearly had every intention of smashing that target.
Should Horsham beat Farnham, they will be promoted to London 1 South which is the highest level the club has ever achieved, and match the achievements of the strong side the club had in the early 1990's.
The game began and the spectators spectated with a palpable sense of urgency - the importance of todays match was undeniable. Sam Hampson however provided soothing remedy to the supporters with a comfortable try only 1 minute in, dashing in from out wide utilising his trademark pace to score. Tom Johnson converts well in what would prove to be challenging conditions. 7-0 and the game had barely begun. Tom Johnson finds himself looking up at the posts moments later as a penalty is awarded Horsham's way, the wind however denies him the kick and the score remains the same.
The young wizard Aaron Linfield fancied his name in lights next as he capitalises on a Maidstone mistake at the line out and dashes through from the half way line, dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging all the way to the try line. The kick goes wide however, and the score rises to 12-0. I can reliably inform the readers therefore that in my absence "Joe Wilde did a bit, sort of chucked it over to Dec, Dec was on the left and scored". Incredible scenes. Tom Johnson is able to convert putting the score line up to 19-0, with 16 minutes gone.
The next try was a cumulative team effort stemming from a strong scrum. I am reliably informed that Jonny Whiting was the scorer after a hard team drive across the line. The kick goes wide, the conditions did not favour a kicking game at all, and the score is set at 24-0, 25 minutes gone. At 34 minutes however something happened which made this reporter turn his attention away from his frothy nectar. After sustained pressure in Maidstone's 22, Giles Barber finds himself within stumbling distance of the line, and stumble he did. Tom Johnson converts well increasing the score to 31-0.
At the stroke of halftime Declan Nwachukwu once again finds the line after what George Howard reliably told me was a very well worked backs move following from a scrum. Tom Johnson kicks over the extras to see the first half out. 38-0.
Suitably refreshed, and IPA replenished, this reporter made his way back out to the field of play, or just next to it. It would be no exaggeration to say, and if you, the reader, would allow me some artistic licence for a moment, that what happened for the next 10 minutes was, if you will allow the phrase, some rugby. Jordan Bell continued Horsham's story with a well judged cross field kick gathered by Mike Watts in space, who scores. Tom Johnson converts, 45-0.
Joe Wilde was back to his intercepting ways this week as he dashes through the gain line, ball plucked out of the air and with only space in front of him. The result was inevitable, but spectacular nonetheless. Tom Johnson kicks the conversion to see the last of Horsham's points unanswered. Maidstone hit back following a good line out and recycling move which enabled them to score, an impressive feat in the face of 52 points and 52 minutes of Horsham momentum. 52-7. 4 minutes later at the 56 minute mark Maidstone strike again and find the line after a poor line out from Horsham, the conversion goes wide however and the score is set at 52-12.
Maidstone however would not find themselves on the scoresheet again. Mike Watts finds himself ball in hand after a well worked Horsham line out and glides over the line to score. Tom Johnson does well to convert from out wide and the score moves to 59-12 at the hour mark. Jordan Bell is next on the score sheet after he capitalises from broken Maidstone play and gathers the ball, running well to the line and on to the score board. Unconverted, 64-12.
Sam Hampson gets his second at the 72 minute mark after a quick tap and go, Tom Johnson converts. 71-12. Declan Nwachukwu takes his 35th try of the season - and he's missed three games - at the close of play. a huge Horsham scrum shoves back Maidstone's pack enabling Dec to find space and a nice, juicy, thirst quenching try at the end of it. Final score, 76-12.
Head Coach Nick Stocker reflected after the game: "Since December, following our loss away at Beckenham, we understood that we needed to win all our remaining games if we were to have a chance at a promotion playoff. This included tough away assignments to Charlton Park, Deal and Old Colfeians as well as tricky encounters at home against the likes of Hayward’s Heath. The team have been in scintillating form. 10 wins on the trot with 9 bonus points scoring 66 tries on the way speaks volumes. It doesn’t however do justice to the effort levels every player in the squad has put in and on which this run of form has been built. The consistency in availability and effort has allowed us to field strong teams despite injuries and test the squad throughout and eventually brought us to this position on the final day of the season.
Maidstone was another tricky assignment that needed managing to progress to next week and in all aspects of play, we were in control which ultimately meant for a comfortable win despite the early nerves. The back three were a threat as usual and the half backs were lively and controlled throughout. Combined with a dominant pack, epitomised by the final try that originated from a demolished opposition scrum, we are now one game away from realising the promotion aspiration.
Declan Nwachukwu won the man of the match award for another barnstorming performance with yet another hat trick and 35 for the season! An incredible feat but he will no doubt be hungry for more next week when we welcome Farnham to Horsham for the playoff match. With promotion to London 1 the prize, it promises to be a great game and busy day at the club and no doubt Farnham will be traveling in force. We would certainly appreciate even more vocal support of our own as the league campaign reaches its climax and all are welcome!"
The play-off game against Farnham is at Horsham's Coolhurst Ground on Hammerpond Road on Saturday 13th April with kick-off at 15:00.