Tunbridge Wells 19-20 Tonbridge Juddians
By Nick Manser
An imperious run of 40 games without defeat for Tunbridge Wells ended on Saturday as local rivals Tonbridge Juddians staged a dramatic second-half revival in the Kent Cup at St Marks.
TJs, who are currently sitting in fourth place in the league above their opponents, produced an industrious display of forward power to eventually win by the narrowest of margins, 20-19.
The crowd of 600 was treated to a stunning finale to this cup encounter as TJs, recovering from a 19-point deficit, stole the show with a try in the dying moments, while holding off a valiant final charge from Wells.
However, the first half truly belonged to the hosts as they came out firing against an initially clumsy TJs side. Wells’ inside centre Ollie Lewis Donaldson was clinical in dotting down to draw first blood within five minutes.
Clearly stunned by Wells’ early surge, TJs restarted intent on flexing their muscles and restoring order amongst the loose play.
Yet, in what was to typify TJ’s first-half performance, lazy scrummaging led straight away to a penalty for the hosts.
Wells’ energetic attacking paid dividends, as it was Mike Hathaway who found himself as a makeshift forward and touched down from a lineout drive. Despite a missed conversion the home support was in fine voice after a near perfect start.
TJs failed to learn their lesson as play got underway again, giving away another penalty at the scrum. However, it was a well-worked backs’ move from Wells and a sniping finish from Donaldson that gifted the centre a brace of tries – Wells’ third made the score 19-0.
However, before the interval TJs No 8 Zain van Rensburg showed power to cross over by the posts, and the tide was to turn emphatically in the second half as TJs came out with renewed resolve and power. They applied pressure on the Wells defence, running penalties and making territory with every phase.
With TJs maintaining the lion’s share of possession and pressing towards Wells’ line, winger Guthrie Holliday performed a crucial try-saving tackle to deny the visitors.
However, the continued barrage of TJ pressure told as Wells lock Jake Mills was sent to the sin bin for hands in the ruck.
TJs closed the gap further with their resulting penalty kick making the score 19-10, and the momentum of the game had changed. Wells’ heroic defensive exploits had not only resigned them to 14 men, but also saw their talismanic No 8 Doherty suffer a recurring hamstring injury.
Second-half tries from Liam Prescott and Ryan Fuller – and five points from Prescott’s boot – edged TJs in front with 10 minutes left. For the decisive score, winger Fuller chased down a chip from stand-in fly-half Tom Simmonds.
The dramatic closing few minutes saw Wells attempt unsuccessfully to snatch the lead back from their buoyant visitors.
Matt Cook, Tunbridge Wells’ coach, said it had been a hard-fought encounter. “It was very close, but it was the weight of the attacks that were coming at us which took their toll and allowed TJs to sneak the result in the last 10 minutes,” he said.
“This was actually an exceptional result for us and showed that we have the quality to play against higher-league opponents.
“Our next game will be interesting against CS Rugby, who were relegated from National Three last year and are looking to return straight away.”