Faversham's run of wins came to an end on Saturday as local rivals Sittingbourne claimed the bragging rights and 2nd place in the league table. With league leaders Cliffe Crusaders suffering defeat at victory would have seen Faversham claim top spot, but it was not to be as failure to capitalise on 2nd half possession allowed the opposition to claim the narrowest of victories and leave Faversham with only the consolation of a losing bonus point and the determination to kick on again in the 2nd half of the season.
With strong support in attendance for the home and away teams, both clubs clearly came in to the match believing they could claim the victory in the battle for a top 2 spot in the league. The early stages saw both teams trying to gain the ascendancy; playing with the conditions and slope Sittingbourne started using a powerful pack to pressurise Faversham in the scrums and with strong drives around the breakdown. Faversham on the other hand were making more progress in the wider areas with breaks and good tactical kicks from Simon Jaynes, as well as further breaks from Aaron Mills and Bertie Sanders Champney causing problems for the away sides defence.
It was Sittingbourne that would gain the first points of the match, when they were awarded a scrum and with Faversham expecting the stronger pack to go for the push over try, the visitors attacked on the blindside and took advantage of Faversham's defence being too narrow to score out wide. The try was converted to give the away side a 0-7 lead. Things got worse for Faverhsma shortly after as handling errors in their own 22 allowed Sittingbourne to capitalise and score another converted try to go 14-0 ahead, and put the home side under real scoreboard pressure.
This seemed to spur the home team into life again and renewed vigour in attack a few minutes later saw Sanders Champney powering into the 22 on a strong line, pulling a number of defenders with him. Although held up 10 metres out, good recycling work at the breakdown saw the ball shipped to Luke Garnham who gained further ground before good hands saw the ball passed out for captain Rhys McDermott to power over for a try and get Faversham on the scoreboard not long before half time.
Unfortunately for Faversham , 2 minutes before the half time, fly half Ollie Jaynes was perhaps harshly yellow carded for a high tackle, meaning the team would be without their play maker for the early stages of the 2nd half. Despite this turning round at half time 5-14 down, Faversham were confident they had the ability to claim the victory, having been strong performers in the 2nd half of matches so far this season. Even Sittingbourne's coach admitted after the match that he was unsure the gap would be enough to keep Faversham at bay as the sides swapped ends handing Faversham the slope and the wind at their backs.
Sure enough the home side opened the half showing they meant business and attacked with purpose in the early stages. The scrum which had struggled in the 1st half was now holding its own and strong carries from Garnham and others allowed them to gain territory. Their 1st chance for a reward for their efforts came soon into the half as they were awarded a penalty. Although some distance out in difficult conditions, Faversham elected to kick for the posts, and stand in kicker Billy Egleton was unlucky to see his kick fade wide of the posts handing the home side a 22 metre drop out.
In a harsh decision on both sides, each team received a yellow card moments later for what seemed like minor case of pushing and shoving between scrum half Dave Tabor and one of the Sittingbourne front row, as both players seemed surprised the incident had even been seen let alone penalised. This left Faversham momentarily down to 13 until Jaynes returned from his card, and Sittingbourne also reduced to 14.
Play edged backwards and forwards as Sittingbourne resolutely defended and pushed back for territory whenever they could, using good tactical kicking to turn the home side around on a number of occasions. Faversham were at this point the team in the ascendancy though and looking to score some much needed points. This nearly materialised as an almost inch perfect kick from Jaynes was chased by Jack Meadows, on for Billy Egleton, putting the Sittingbourne full back under serious pressure only for the ball to just roll agonisingly out of play to return the teams back upfield for a scrum.
Jaynes had Faversham on the board again a few moments later, as Faversham were mystifyingly awarded a penalty in front of the posts despite 2 players being clear on the right to run in what looked like a certain try. Jaynes duly knocked the ball over and brought Faversham within a score and leaving both teams feeling the pressure with 15 minutes left to play.
Faversham repeatedly attempted to launch attacks but a combination of sometimes losing possession in the tackle in good positions, and strong, organised defence from Sittingbourne meant Faversham were repelled time and again. As the clock ticked on Faversham were frustrated as Sittingbourne used their forwards to try to wind down the clock with drives around the breakdown, and hold on for the win. A line out near the 10 metre line appeared to be Faversham's last chance to launch a meaningful attack but possession was turned over and the teams last chance to snatch a win seemed to have passed. However a last ditch defensive effort gained Faversham a line out on the Sittingbourne 22 and with the referee calling last play Faversham new it was now or never to gain a converted try for the win.
Time and again the home side attacked, repeatedly trying to approach the posts to make any potential kick easier, with McDermott, Mills and Garnham all making good drives, and Ollie Jaynes attempting to orchestrate gaps in the opposition defence. Sittingbourne though were equally determined to earn the win so repelled Faversham again and again. With the risk of any stoppage ending the game Faversham pushed and pushed, and finally found a gap in the Sittingbourne defence for Eddie Stott to crash over, however the score was in a far from ideal position, out near the right hand touchline making it an extremely hard kick for Ollie Jaynes, especially given the conditions on the day. Despite a great attempt to slot the kick the ball ultimately fell wide and Sittingbourne celebrated as they held on for the win and ended Faversham's 6 match unbeaten streak, creeping above them in the table on points difference.
As coach Rob Dengate pointed out, the game was in reality not lost due to the final kick, missed chances and sometimes inaccurate execution to the game plan had ultimately cost Faversham the win. The effort was there for all to see with both sides having given everything for the win. Despite the disappointment, Dengate praised how far the side have come since the start of the season, when many would not have expected the side to be in the position they are or even competing with Sittingbourne for the win. The key now is to use the gap until the next league game to work hard, tweak some areas and perfect others ahead of the 2nd half of the campaign in which the team have a real chance to fight for one of the top 2 spots in the league, and look to put right their only 2 losses so far in the league with the return fixtures against Sittingbourne and Cliffe in the final 2 matches of the season.
Luke Garnham was awarded man of the match for another typical all action display in both attack and defence.