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Westcombe Park 38-20 Gravesend
Anyone looking at the score line of this week’s encounter at could be forgiven for thinking this was a one way affair, but they would be wrong.
Westcombe Park on their home turf for the first game of 2013, were up to the mark with their clinical passing and backing up during the first half, but were made to fight all the way to secure the result as Gravesend fought back bravely in the second forty.
A bright beginning as Gs chased down the kick-off and having turned over possession some close passing in the forwards was rewarded when Charlie Cutting forced his way down for the try.
Dave McMurtrie was unsuccessful from the tee, but Gs took an early 5-0 lead.
The welcome return of Marc Klus and Dave Riley in the back-row was noticeable as the Gravesend pack showed their dominance in the set scrummage and with Nathan Moorey making his senior debut at hooker, things were looking more positive than of late.
Despite this overall superiority in the battle of the packs, it was the clinical excellence of the backing up from the home three-quarters that was paying dividends as they spread the ball along the line.
When Gs looked to have closed down an attack out wide, it was the home flanker Mark Nimmo who appeared to take the final pass before crossing for a well worked try.
Fly-half Luke Giles added the extras to ease Combe in front after eleven minutes.
Gravesend’s ability to lose hard fought for possession when the ball is released to the backs, was taking its toll and reducing the visitor’s opportunities, while Combe on the other hand made the most of their chances.
As the first quarter neared its end, another fine passing move was finished off as wing three-quarter Niki Davies crossed for the first of his brace of tries. Giles slotted over the conversion for 14-5.
This was the only score that Combe managed while Gs were down to fourteen players following the yellow carding of Scott Curley.
With the clock running down to half-time, and both XVs having spurned their chances, it was the alertness of the home players that sent them in at the break 21-5 to the good, after front row Graeme Carson forced his way over.
Giles was again on target from the tee.
After the break Gs slipped further adrift as an early break and movement along the home line found full-back Toby May flying in to score out wide.
Gravesend’s forwards were not in the mood to roll over, and some fine charging runs and inter-passing was keeping the encounter closer than the score suggested.
When Dave Riley burst through following a lost ball by the Combe attack, the advantage went Gs way as he first made the ground before sending Adam Bishop on a scintillating run down the wing and then ran round to touch down.
McMurtrie’s kick came back off the upright bur the score had moved up another five points to 26-10.
Three minutes later and Klus was sent to the sin bin for what looked like a completely accidental late hit as the number eight was committed to the tackle.
From the resulting penalty Combe were back on the scoreboard as Davies raced in for his second of the afternoon. Giles again off target but the score opened to 31-10.
A constant fight back from Gs as the young Moorey was finding his jumpers at the line-out, with both Dave Irvine and Riley securing their ball.
The front five were taking the game to the home pack, and despite being reduced to seven men, had the advantage for most of the second period.
Pressure from Gs, inside the home twenty-two, saw a desperate defence start to give away penalties that kept Gs in control.
Just reward came to the visiting forwards as Ziggy Stevens secured the touch-down to close the scores to 31-15.
A change around in the Gravesend backs brought Gary Gray on for the last quarter, with Tony Nolan moving to the nine position, this added a greater sense of urgency to Gs play, as Gray made good use of the kicking option over the advancing home defence.
It was again the forwards that were the dominant force in the Gs game, and numerous pick and drives firstly saw Riley held-up over the line, Forsyth stopped short of the chalk line, then Tony Nolan lose the ball over the line.
Eventually it was replacement prop Nathan Lines who finished off a driving maul to touch down.
McMurtrie added yet another miss, eleven points in all, but Gs were back in contention at 31-20 (with the kicks it would have been all level).
A final score in the dying moments gave Combe a flattering 38-20 margin at the final whistle.
Gravesend should have gone home with their heads held high, for if they repeat this sort of form over the next few games they should secure their place in the league for next season.
Team: Ashley Moorey (C), Scott Curley, Chris Meddings, Adam Bishop, David McMurtrie, Louis Muncey, Charlie Cutting, Nathan Moorey, Jamie Forsyth, James Newman, Dave Irvine, Ziggy Stevens, Dave Riley, Marc Klus. Rep: Nathan Lines, Gary Gray, Tomas Ford.