Old Gs secure comfortable 8 try victory at Footscray
By Matt Holdstock
Footscray 14 Old Gravesendians 48
Old Gs continued their winning league run on Saturday, with a solid victory away at Footscray. They ran in 8 tries, 6 of which arrived in a dominant first half performance. Scores from Chris Johnson x2, Ryan Lockyer, Matt Thompson, James Hood, Andrew Kidd, Chris Daniels and Mark Fenton-Smith were enough to overcome their resolute opponents from South East London.
Footscray kicked off and Old Gs were immediately on the front foot. They piled forward with ball in hand, the returning Sam Baker leading the charge, ably supported in the pack by Ash Bourne, Andrew Kidd and Chris Daniels - well marshalled by scrum half Grant Roe. The pattern of play with backs and forwards combining saw them set up camp in the Footscray 22, space was created on the short side and Matt Holdstock and Chris Johnson combined to put Ryan Lockyer over the line. Matt Thompson converted 7-0.
It was clear that whilst Footscray may have had parity up front, Old Gs were far superior in the backline, making huge strides up field whenever they moved the ball out wide. With the forwards regularly securing a good platform at the set piece, with Joe Martin grabbing everything at the line out, they looked to use this dominance at every opportunity. Holdstock was getting an arm chair ride at fly-half with Mark Fenton-Smith and Matt Thompson combining well in the centres to release the ball 3 who were having a field day out wide.
A second score soon arrived. The backs combined to create space out wide for Chris Johnson. Whilst he had good support from James Hood, Johnson backed himself and barged over in the corner, taking 2 defenders with him to score his team’s second try of the contest. The conversion from Thompson hit the uprights. 12-0.
The forwards were not to be outdone by the backline though and were contributing to the open flowing style that Old Gs were putting in place. Frazer Barnes was getting himself in a pivot position, releasing forward comrades through holes as they piled forward in numbers. Despite Footscray looking to develop a foothold in the game, Old Gs refused to allow them the territory that they required, the boots of half backs Holdstock and Roe keeping them pinned back in their own half and the excellent work of Joe Martin preventing them from securing any solid possession at the line out.
This was frustrating their opponents who were looking to bring their forwards into play at the set scrum and work phases close to the breakdown to starve the dangerous Old Gs backs of possession. Up front though, Baker and Bourne were revelling in the roles of destructive twins – both with ball in hand and in defence. The prop combination of Brett Buckingham and Paul Mitchell were battling hard to lay the foundations against a tough powerful Footscray front row – and this foundation was all that the backs needed to strut their stuff once again. Holdstock and Fenton-Smith released full back Chris Johnson who blazed past the covering defence to double his own try tally. The conversion slipped wide but Old Gs led 17-0 after 20 minutes.
The same combination in the backline then released Ryan Lockyer up the touchline. Despite defenders tracking back, Lockyer drew his man, taking a big late hit for his troubles and shipped to Johnson who offloaded to the supporting Mark Fenton-Smith who coasted under the posts to secure the bonus point try. Thompson added the extras for a 24-0 advantage.
Straight from the restart, the energetic scrum half Grant Roe darted past two defenders and passed to the supporting Andrew Kidd, who showed impressive pace for a hooker come back row to ease past the covering fly half to dive over. Thompson couldn’t find the mark with the extras, 29-0.
Matt Thompson had been enjoying himself in midfield - deceptive footwork, great lines and constant support proving to be a thorn in the Footscray defence. It was fitting that he soon grabbed a try for himself. He glided on an outside arc to receive a pass from Holdstock, breezed pass his man and rounded the full back for an impressive solo score. He converted his own try on the half time whistle to cap an impressive 40 minutes of rugby from Old Gs as they led 36-0 at the break.
The second half almost started with a bang. Andrew Kidd received the kick off and shipped to Ash Bourne who hammered through 3 would be tacklers and ploughed up field. He found Kidd who nonchalantly waltzed over the line. Kidd unfortunately didn’t allow for the covering tackler though as he somewhat embarrassingly knocked on in the act of scoring. It was this kind of act that summed up a somewhat lethargic second half effort from the boys in blue, who seemed somewhat complacent at the thought of the job being done.
The first half performance from Old Gs was defined by energy, patience and work rate, which seemed to be lacking as the second half progressed. In truth this wasn’t helped by the now torrential conditions as the rain and wind swept across the pitch. Footscray to their credit though had no intention on rolling over and accepting their fate and they soon got themselves back in the game. They looked to develop the contest into a forward arm wrestle and soon enough barged over from close range for their opening score which they converted. 36-7.
Old Gs looked to get back on track and link together their full court pattern of play that has encompassed their recent good form. With conditions making this tricky though and the team looking to rush phases, with needless offloads and handling errors, they were struggling to increase their points tally.
When they did remain patient and play the required phases to break down their opponents defence, they were looking threatening. After Buckingham, Martin and Bourne had made the hard yards, Chris Daniels hit a direct line off the shoulder of Holdstock to fly under the sticks. Thompson converted for a 43-7 lead.
Scrappy is the word that would describe the next 15 minutes. Whilst Old Gs had the majority of territory and possession they huffed and puffed without quite blowing the Footscray house down. Admittedly the line speed of the home side defence has stepped up a level, but Old Gs were their own enemies as they struggled to retain possession at key moments. The boot of the Footscray fly half kept relieving the pressure and Old Gs had to build from deep once again.
With Mat Wilson, Ross Coleman and Richard Parish now into the game from the bench this injected a new lease of life into Old Gs, with Coleman working hard at scrum time, Wilson hammering into the Footscray rear-guard and Parish making strides out wide. Soon the phase play that they had been striving for arrived. Thompson found Wilson and despite the ball going to floor James Hood had come off his wing was on hand to hack forward and dive onto the ball in the corner for Old Gs 8th try. 48-7
Footscray are a proud outfit and surged back forward. Their scrum was now working overtime to push Old Gs back and they now had dominance in this area – a strength that belies their lowly league position. This was providing them with the foothold in the game to work their tight phases, with Old Gs defence now having to get to work. Bourne, Daniels and Martin were rising to this challenge, chopping down ball carriers with gusto. However the surges kept coming and they ploughed over the line, with only the excellent work from Sam Baker holding the ball up.
Footscray were undeterred though. From the resulting 5 metre scrum the pack surged towards the Old Gs line, with a defensive infringement seeing the match official, who was excellent all afternoon, award the home side a penalty try.
This was the final score of the afternoon, as despite Old Gs searched for final scores, determined Footscray defence kept them at bay.
Final score – Old Gravesendians 48 Footscray 14
This mood after this result sums up how far Old Gs have come this season and the standards that they now set for themselves - as despite the frustration in the second half performance they still managed to rack up near on a half century of points and a 30+ winning margin. What should be noted is the excellent first half performance, with the backline carving it up, and a 15 man game plan coming into effect, which their opponents had no answer to.
In victory, Joe Martin, Ash Bourne and Sam Baker were excellent up front – all a strong physical presence which enabled the backline the time and space to run in some great tries. In this backline both Matt Thompson and Chris Johnson were shining lights, but all in the backs come out of the game with credit due to impressive interplay and support work which highlights the confidence and swagger that this team is developing.
Note should be made to Footscray who played their full part in the contest, battling back in the second half to never let Old Gs settle and run away with the game. Old Gs wish them well for the rest of the season and hope that they retain their Kent 1 status.
Next week Old Gs have their final fixture before the festive period as they travel to Sheppey.