Farnham battled hard for a narrow 17-7 win at home to Chichester in Regional 2 South East on Saturday afternoon.
Unlike the initial game that was postponed at the last minute because of a frozen pitch, Farnham confronted Chichester on a perfect day for rugby.
The home side received the kick off playing from the School End, and after a couple of phases Matt Farnes spotted space out wide – and an accurate crossfield kick put Reece Stennett away. The Chichester scramble defence pulled him down and Farnham put in a couple more good phases before the attack petered out with a knock on.
While Farnham’s pack did well in open play and at the line-out, they had a torrid afternoon at the set scrum. Despite this, Farnham were never out of the game.
The game ebbed and flowed for the next half an hour. For as long as there was no set scrum, Farnham would pin back Chichester. However, a knock on or a crooked lineout would set the scrum from which Chichester invariably won a penalty to pin Farnham back.
The stalemate was broken when Chichester’s Tyrese Makasi broke through the first line of defence to be bundled into touch just shy of the line. From the lineout Harry West cleared, but only to the 22 for a Chichester lineout at which Farnham knocked on.
Chichester took the inevitable scrum penalty with another scrummage which collapsed, and Matt Chapman was carded to sit out the last ten minutes of the half.
Replacement prop Sam Woodhams came on, and winger Nathan Phillimore left the field. At the next scrummage Chichester converted their dominance with a mighty shove that sent Farnham back to their line, where Chichester’s Tom Whitehouse picked up from the base and ploughed over. Chichester skipper Rhys Thompson was successful with the tricky conversion and the visitors led 7-0.
The Farnham chase from the restart was good and put Chichester under pressure. They conceded a penalty and Farnham, spurning the chance for a set piece, tapped and made more ground in midfield. Defence dominated this low-scoring game and Chichester held until the referee spotted some skulduggery on the floor and Farnham were awarded a penalty in front of the posts which Toby Salmon gratefully converted to make the score 7-3 at half time.
The Farnham coaches reshuffled the pack for the second half. The bulkier Jonny Vincent replaced Ben Brown at hooker, Sam Woodhams came on at prop, while Chapman moved to the row with Oscar Henderson back to his accustomed position at number eight. Toby Comley and Jack Bemelmans retained their slots on the flank.
The game settled into a similar pattern as the first half – although Farnham were grateful for the fact there were precious few set scrums. Furthermore, Farnham were starting to threaten, led by their relatively lightweight but fast and highly-skilled pack of back-row forwards. But for the final pass going astray, Henderson could well have been on the scoresheet.
Chichester also had their chances. The mercurial and busy Josef Amin often broke the line. Fifteen minutes into the half the referee spotted a Farnham high tackle and Thompson shot for goal, but it faded past the right-hand post. Toby Salmon cleared to the Farnham 22, from where Chichester launched a series of attacks that tested Farnham’s defence to the limit. The defence held firm and Farnham edged back to a position from which they could now attack.
Farnham were awarded a penalty and Chichester were marched back a further ten metres. Toby Salmon was inch perfect with the kick to the corner. The Farnham lineout was immaculate – as it had been all afternoon. The pack vehemently pounded the Chichester line until Rob Mitchell spotted a gap and plunged over. Toby Salmon added the conversion, and Farnham led 10-7 with ten minutes to go.
Toby Salmon’s next touch had a significant impact on the match. He received the restart and with trademark pace and step he broke through the Chichester chasers deep into their half and put a grubber kick behind the back three.
Chichester could only clear to their 22, where another slick Farnham lineout launched the backs. Chichester made a high tackle in that attack and Farnham had an attacking lineout.
This time they opted for open play and Bemelmans made the most of it with an incisive run and a deft offload to Mitchell, who went over for his second try. Toby Salmon made the conversion and Farnham were two scores ahead at 17-7 as the game headed toward its conclusion.
The coaches brought on fresh legs in the form of debutant Oban Baird at flanker and Alex Chalker on the wing. Baird, a talented youngster who is set to join Manley Rugby Club in Australia this summer, did his job well, while the final play of the game saw Chalker bundled into touch after a strong gallop down the wing.
This was another closely- fought battle edged by the Black and Whites that puts them second in the league with two games in hand.
League leaders Horsham lost their game at Battersea Ironsides, and while they appear out of sight at 14 points clear, Farnham can still harbour hopes of league honours.
Farnham director of rugby Gary Stennett said: “That was another all-team effort – there are no superstars here. They all work for one another – that’s been the backbone of our success this season.”
Farnham entertain Lewisham-based Old Colfeians – one of three teams to have beaten Farnham this season – at Monkton Lane on Saturday (2.30pm).
Report: Mark Weeks
Photos: Julian Frost