On a warm, spring-like day, Maidstone came up just short in this fluctuating battle against mid-table rivals, Chobham.
An 80th minute penalty gave the hosts a single point margin, 32-31, but even then, a last ditch opportunity fell to Maidstone, but Euan Caborn’s 40 yard penalty drifted just wide.
Once again, the pattern of this match was Maidstone’s forwards dominating in the tight and loose against a much sharper opposition three quarter line, who exploited Maidstone’s defensive frailties out wide. But with a ten point deficit at half time, Maidstone showed fighting qualities to get back into the game to lead 31-22 with ten minutes left on the clock, only to be denied at the last.
With Ben Brill fit again to start in the back row, the pack had a settled look about it, while Filip Perica started at inside centre after a good showing off the bench last week. Euan Caborn returned to full back after missing last week’s encounter, while the bench provided a range of options.
Unlike recent games, it was the hosts that started the quickest and they quickly pierced the Maidstone defence, with left wing, Edwards, touching down under the posts, to give fly half, Seers, an easy conversion. But this was Seers’ last meaningful contribution to the game as he sustained a leg injury and was replaced.
It took the whole of the first quarter of the game for Maidstone to get out of their own half, but once they did they quickly levelled the score. A Chobham scrum, deep in their own 22, provided Maidstone’s platform as they drove the host eight off the ball not once, but twice after the scrum was reset. The resulting penalty was punted to touch to set up the catch and drive and a deliberate infringement by the hosts resulted in a penalty try, with an easy conversion for Caborn to level the scores.
As the forty minute mark approached, a penalty to Maidstone in their own 22, which was punted to touch, was pulled back for an offside at the kick and gave Chobham the attacking platform, from which they took full advantage. A scrum on the Maidstone five metre mark saw the ball spread to the right, where full back, Williams provided the overlap to score in the corner.
A poor restart gave Chobham a scrum on the half way and they repeated the previous move, with Williams again providing the final touch, to increase their half time lead to 17-7.
Chobham started the second half knowing that a quick score could put them in a commanding position and a series of catch and drive moves near the Maidstone line provided the means to achieve this. But stout defence by the forwards resisted this early strategy and a break by Filip Perica, followed by a flowing move the length of the field saw Rory Beech touch down at the other end to reduce the deficit to 17-12.
A few minutes later, with the Maidstone pack now visibly dominating the proceedings and a Chobham player in the bin for persistent infringements, Ben Massey finished off a Maidstone catch and drive to level the scores in the right corner. This was repeated just past the quarter hour, with the same player getting the touch down and Caborn adding the conversion to establish a 24-17 lead.
But with Chobham restored to full complement, they showed their own comeback potential when an early push at the scrum allowed them to take a quick tap penalty and move play down into the Maidstone 22. A resultant penalty chance to the hosts drifted wide, allowing Maidstone back on to the front foot and a break by Rory Beech set up a move which Ben Brill finished off in the right corner. With Caborn slotting the difficult conversion, Maidstone posted a 31-22 lead with the half hour approaching.
It was clear that ball control was uppermost in Maidstone’s mind but a turnover provided a break out opportunity for the hosts, as they galloped from their own 22 with prop, Wakefield, getting the touchdown. Replacement kicker, Mays got this one on target to bring the differential down to two points.
A consequence of the defensive scramble to stop the try saw Maidstone prop, Nathan Hughes, yellow carded for side entry into a ruck: and this error was compounded a few minutes later when Lucian Morosan perpetrated a deliberate knock-on, to stop a Chobham move, after another quick tap penalty, generating a second yellow card, reducing the on-field complement to 13.
But the final coup-de-grace came on the forty minute mark when Mays was offered a simple penalty chance within the Maidstone 22. As this had been advanced ten metres for some back chat to the referee, there was an element of self-inflicted damage added to penalty award.
With barely two minutes of added time, Maidstone had only one chance to rectify the position they found themselves in and, unfortunately Caborn’s last ditch penalty attempt did not quite have the accuracy required to snatch the spoils at the last.
Maidstone did manage to bag two bonus points from this encounter and so, did not come away empty handed. But once again, an immense effort from the forwards, with man-of–the-match Ben Brill and Matt Iles, prominent, was not matched outside and allowed too many opportunities to the opposition to dictate.
Maidstone Ben Williams; Gary Beck; Nathan Simpson: Adam Knight; Ben Massey: Ben Knight; Ben Brill; Matt Iles: Lucian Morosan; Rory Beech: Matt Moore; Filip Perica; Ross Cooke; Shaun Woolford: Euan Caborn
Replacements: Danny Baker; Tom Chandler; Alex Clarke (All used)
Pictures supplied by Bob Hayton.