A brave effort but a match too far...
Chester travelled to the Garden of England and experienced all four seasons in one afternoon as their attempt to reach the 3rd tier of rugby in England proved to be one match too far. The most successful season for the 1st XV wouldn’t have a fairy tale finish as Canterbury RFC proved that little bit too strong at the Marine Travel Ground.
Chester began brightly against a physically imposing side with ex-Wasps second-row Matt Corker in its’ ranks. Into a punishing wind, Chester had the slope in their favour during the first 40 but struggled to replicate the accurate error free rugby that has been so effective this season. Centre Macca Van Sertima was the principle attack weapon in this period, but he received little change from his opposite number whose tackling was solid all game. As a cagey opening quarter came to an end with Chester’s forwards having a foothold in the game, and surprising the home crowd by going toe-to-toe with a pack used to dismantling visiting teams in National 2 South, the deadlock was broken. Trademark pick and go rucking provided flanker Mike Craven with the space he needed to burrow over in the corner. James Robins was unable to land a difficult conversion into the gale.
That gale was to prove useful as Chester tested the patience of referee Gayther and penalties began to add up. Accurate kicks to the corner put Canterbury very much on the front foot. Eventually just prior to half time, home scrum half Dan Smart, this correspondents Man of the Match, scampered over from the base of a ruck close to the line. Fly half Harvey Young added the extras and the half ended 5-7.
A hail storm during the half time interval added to the games ingredients as the ball and underfoot conditions became slippery. Too often at the beginning of the second half, good work was halted and momentum ended with a dropped or misplaced pass. The weather gods also ensured that the wind, so useful to Canterbury in the first period dropped to a whisper. With Rhodri Parry in the sin bin, Chester were still able to scramble well in defence, turnover ball and take the game to their hosts. Unfortunately, when there was no need to chase the game so early, a speculative pass in midfield was picked off by Canterbury wing JJ Murray who raced half the length of the pitch to dot down under the posts. This score was converted and proved to be the pivotal point in the match. Canterbury’s tails were up and prompted by replacement Aiden Moss, a move down the right saw flanker Sam Rogers score a third try, this time unconverted. At 5-19 down, Chester required three scores to win and to be honest it never looked likely. The driving rain and hail made expansive play treacherous and despite lively promptings from replacement scrum half Josh Morris and a muscular performance from Josh Woods, the last 15 minutes felt like a little bit of an anti-climax. Sean Green squeezed in the corner on the last play of the game to give the scoreboard a more accurate feel, but in the end, Canterbury fully deserved their victory. They defended well and always looked dangerous when their outside backs had the ball. They didn’t dominate up front, as their size suggested they might and, on another day, the score could easily have been reversed.
National 2 North sides have struggled perennially in this fixture. What Colin Campbell’s team showed on Saturday is that the perceived gap in quality between North and South is not that great. They, along with Jan and his coaching team and support staff, acquitted themselves admirably and the whole club should be proud at the end of a very successful 2018/19 season.
Updated 08:47 - 6 May 2019 by Tim Carty