Old Gravsendians 27-24 Cranbrook
Old Gravsendians 27-24 Cranbrook

Old Gravesendians travelled away to old rivals Cranbrook for a tough opening Kent 1 fixture of the season.

Having been crowned Kent 2 champions last year Old Gs were hopeful of producing a good performance on their return to Kent 1 against a tough Cranbrook side who regularly appear in the upper echelons on the league table.

The Old Boys knew that they were in for a battling game and produced an excellent showing, ending up with a 27-24 bonus point victory with tries from James Hood x2, Matt Thompson and Ryan Lockyer.

Old Gs kicked off the game and the opening exchanges proved to be an even contest, both sides attacking the breakdown with vigour and looking to move the ball to create space out wide. Cranbrook had plenty of possession, looking to play a 15 man game and bring their strong ball carrying forwards into play. However Old Gs defence stood firm, fronting up in the tackle to repel the Cranbrook threat, with notable contributions from Chris Bassett around the fringes and Matt Thompson and Mike Hodge in midfield.

As per last season the Old Gs backline was looking threatening with ball in hand and when the pack secured good possession there was time and space out wide for Matt Thompson and Chris Johnson to bring wingers James Hood and Jamie Potter into play to pick off any mismatches against forwards in midfield

From one such example Old Gs took the lead, fly half Greg Humphreys combining with Thompson and Johnson to release flyer Hood, who needed no second invitation to scoot up the touchline and outstrip the covering defence to open his account for the season. The conversion slipped wide, 5-0.

As to be expected between two proud competitive sides looking to make their mark early in the season there were a few skirmishes off the ball in a physical game with referee Alistair Jolley looking to keep a lid on any disagreements.

In such a physical encounter Old Gs lost 2 players in the first half to injury, with Ryan Lockyer replacing Jamie Potter on the wing and Tom Hammerton replacing destructive flanker Mat Coomber. Both replacements rose to the test and had a strong impact on the game.

The Cranbrook threat was always there – as they looked to play a wide expansive game to find a foothold in the game. However, Old Gs were looking solid at the set piece, the front row of Brett Buckingham, Matt Johnson and Eric Roye attacking the Cranbrook scrum, with Andy Morris and Andy Kidd securing good line out possession.

Old Gs turned over a Cranbrook scrum, Bassett sniping off the base and combining with Humphreys. The back row cleared the breakdown, providing quick ball for Matt Thompson to assess the options, chip through and collect the ball on the bounce to cross for Old Gs second try. Again the conversion slipped wide buy Old Gs led 10-0.

Cranbrook were then their own worst enemy, looking to force the play out wide on every occasion without securing a solid platform. Old Gs defence was up in their faces, attempting to shut down the threat. A loose Cranbrook pass was collected by Hood who capitalised on the chance to outpace would be tacklers and score his second of the afternoon. Humphreys converted and the lead was out to 17-0.

Cranbrook then went back to basics, using their forward ball carriers to hammer into Old Gs lines.  A penalty was conceded, the only one by Old Gs in the first half, Cranbrook kicked to touch and set a powering rolling maul to reduce the deficit to 17-5.

Old Gs had no intention of rolling over and let the home side back into the game. The forwards roared into gear, with Phil Costley and Andy Kidd livewires in the back row, with Frazer Barnes and Eric Roye making the hard yards carrying up the middle. With Chris Bassett excellently marshalling the troops this saw Old Gs pressuring the home defence. As the clocked ticked towards half time this Old Gs pressure won a penalty in front of the posts, which Humphreys dispatched between the uprights to extend the advantage. Half time 20-5.

The half time message was clear from Andy Miller – keep up the high work-rate and defensive line speed whilst ensuring taking any opportunities that arose. Old Gs knew that the Cranbrook onslaught would come but looked to trust the defensive pattern and fall back on the hard work that has been put in during pre-season.

Old Gs were back on the front foot at the start of the second period, Hood in space out wide chipping ahead looking for his hatrick score and forcing an Old Gs 5m scrum. Bassett sniped at the base of this from scrum half and was held up over the line by great Cranbrook defence. Not many stop the Old Gs tank from such short range. From the resulting scrum Old Gs put the ball through the hands of the backline to the onrushing Ryan Lockyer who stepped inside his man and crashed over for Old Gs bonus point try. Humphreys added the extras and it was 27-5.

The Cranbrook fight back soon commenced, and their next score was a replica of their first, kicking to the corner and rumbling the driving maul over to reduce the deficit to 27-10. This left Old Gs with 20 minutes to see the game out and they began to battle hard in defence, with limited possession of their own.

At this point Matt Johnson had departed the fray with a serious shoulder injury, replaced by Kevin Spain who put his body on the line for the cause. The Old Gs work-rate didn’t let up, and despite chances arising for the home side all 15 Old Gs players were hammering into tackles to repel the danger with Bassett, Thompson and Phil Costley to the fore.

The Cranbrook pressure was now relentless, camped on the Old Gs line. Penalties became prevalent and Old Gs prop Brett Buckingham received a yellow card following persistent team infringement. Again Cranbrook kicked to the corner, and despite Old Gs stopping the maul, they recycled the ball through multiple phases and their hooker crashed over for the third try. The conversion made it 27-17.

The Cranbrook pressure continued as to their credit they kept searching for further scores. Keeping the ball in hand they worked their way towards the Old Gs line, spotted an opening on the short side and their centre went through a hole to register a bonus point try. The conversion was again successful and it was a three point game as Old Gs led 27-24.

Old Gs kept plugging away, the boots of Mike Hodge and Chris Bassett releasing the pressure, pushing Cranbrook back into their own half, challenging them to attack from deep to secure a match winning try. The Old Gs defence though had other ideas, keeping Cranbrook at bay and securing the ball as they looked to play the clock down. One final line out was secured by Morris, a penalty won as Cranbrook desperately looked to win the ball back, Old Gs kicked to touch and the game was done.

Final score Old Gravesendians 27 Cranbrook 24.

This was a fantastic performance from Old Gs, against one the sides tipped to be towards the top end of the league come the end of the season. This was a whole squad effort, as Old Gs defence withstood considerable Cranbrook pressure in the closing exchanges. Old Gs also scored some fantastic tries and looked dangerous whenever they had ball in hand – a trait that will stand them in good stead for the season.

Many players contributed to the success but standout efforts came from scrum half Chris Bassett, lively in attack an excellent in defence; skipper Frazer Barnes who led from the front throughout and stepped up to the front row when required; and Matt Thompson in midfield who was a thorn to Cranbrook both with ball in hand and destructive in the tackle.

Cranbrook secure two bonus points from the fixture, a deserved outcome from their big contribution to the entertaining game. Old Gs wish them well for the season ahead.

Next week Old Gs have their first home fixture of the campaign, at home to Beccehamians who themselves secured a good victory this week against Gillingham.