Brave Farnham lose out in war of attrition

Friday 7th February 2020 7:00 am
Farnham secure lineout ball. PICTURE: JULIAN FROST

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Farnham 3pts, Eastleigh 6pts

THIS is the match of the season for both Farnham and Eastleigh. Over the past six seasons the encounters have been brutal in their intensity, close in their results with always an element of needle in the confrontation. This battle was no different with Eastleigh easing out winners by 6-3.

The low score – unheard of in modern rugby – suggests a boring stalemate. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A cloying surface and a teasing cold breeze greeted the players and the exchange Australian referee. Standards were set from the off with both sides battling for the upper hand.

Eastleigh have a playing style which always seems to ruffle Farnham’s run-the-ball feathers. Over the years they have evolved their game plan into the rugby equivalent of roller ball – direct route one rugby down narrow channels. These brutal pick-and-drive tactics made the most of their bruisers, fly half Berry and centre Willoughby backed by two big second rowers Smith and Logo.

The resultant battles saw both defences hold sway throughout the match. The game was going to be decided by mistakes and there were those aplenty from both sides. Neither side could guarantee their own lineout ball. Turnovers were, therefore, the order of the day with the jackals working furiously for superiority at the breakdown: Paul Mitzi and hooker Jonny Davidson for Farnham and O’Donnell and Fudio for the visitors. The wind and greasy surface was never going to help so the knock-ons and forward passes began to mount.

Tackles and collisions in today’s high-speed game are full on. Eastleigh, close to the fringes of their own scrums and driving mauls, were content and determined to smash the ball forward yard by yard. The Farnham defence was fearless in response, with the line held by forwards Jules Joris, Marco Azevado, Ben Adams and Steve Simmons and spearheaded by No8 Liam Welch. Flankers Toby Comley and Mitzi dug for turnover scraps.

When Farnham won ball they shipped it wide to wingers Stennett and Weeks, but the Eastleigh defence was as determined and committed as the Black and Whites’. Moves broke down and the game returned to a slug fest.

Something had to give. Eastleigh drove under the posts and a penalty awarded was against Mitzi for not rolling away in the tackle. Visiting full back Lovell kicked the points for a 3-0 lead.

The restart saw no change to the shape of the game plan but if anything the pace and intensity ramped up as half-time approached. Farnham launched a sweeping attack through centres James Corlett and Mike Salmon to free up Toby Salmon at pace. With almost a carbon copy of last week’s try, Salmon checked the defence to put Ed Weeks through a gap on the visitors’ 22, but this time there was no score as the winger was hauled down shy of the line.

Farnham were in the ascendancy and with the next attack won a penalty under the posts. It was easy for Toby Salmon and the players went down the tunnel for half time at 3-3.

The second half was more of the same. The teasing breeze which had been in Eastleigh’s favour in the first half became even more teasing as it swung round to be slightly in their favour again. Whether it was this added bonus that upped their game or the opportunity to beat the league leaders, it certainly spurred them on. Eastleigh were on the front foot for most of the second period, demanding monumental defence from Farnham under their own posts. Twice they crossed the line only to be pulled back for infringements.

Farnham manned the trenches valiantly and a draw was looking the most likely outcome, as wave after wave crashed and broke on the Farnham line. The home supporters enjoyed sporadic Farnham breakouts when the relentless Eastleigh pressure occasionally fell away.

With ten minutes to go another Eastleigh attack was pushed back – illegally deemed the referee and an easy front-of-the-posts penalty for Lovell proved the match clincher.

This match up was a tribute to both squads of players, played at a lung-bursting pace with both defences putting their bodies on the line. Eastleigh managed to dictate tactics to a greater degree, nullifying Farnham’s aspiration to run the ball. In short, Farnham were sucked into a game plan that they didn’t want to play.

On Saturday, Farnham make the trip round the South Circular to Old Colfeians for the regional semi-final of the RFU Intermediate Cup.

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