Sat 26
Gillingham Anchorians
1st XV


By trevor newnham
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Rain and wind swept Dartford Avenue, home to Gillingham Anchorians,and then Vigo swept the home team away too. Well, for a while. After opening up a more than useful lead, either Vigo relaxed or Anchorians regathered their focus, and Vigo endured a very uncomfortable half hour or so. Ultimately, they held on to continue their revival.
It was immediately obvious that the climactic conditions were going to play a big part in proceedings, the wind generally favouring the Villagers in the first half. The constant rain, too, would mean that passes would have to be short and precise. This actually helped Vigo whose short inter-passing between forwards and backs is such a big part of their game plan. Thus, Vigo were able to quickly move onto the front foot. Anchorians were initially forced back but fought hard to repel the initial charge. Winning a scrum, the home side explored the blind side but lost the ball in contact and Vigo quickly counter-attacked. Liam Byrne-Stevens received the ball on about the halfway line and simply blasted through for a superb individual try. Tony Whitehead’s conversion was beautifully judged using the wind to guide the ball through the posts from the touch line.
Vigo ignored the weather and, buoyed by the early score, went on the offensive, punishing their hosts in the scrums. Winning a penalty, Vigo opted for another scrum while the adrenalin was still pumping. Comfortably winning the ball, they moved the ball out, Byrne-Stevens and Jamie Clemmence freeing Tony Whitehead to crash over, converting his own try. The connections between the Whitehead family – not Tony, but coaches John and Craig – run deep, and Craig seemed to be on a one man mission to prove the Theory of The Immutable Law of the Ex , i.e. an ex-player will always score against his old club. And Craig was doing everything he could, whether tackling, making sharp breaks and generally bossing the Vigo pack to do what he wanted. So, perhaps it was inevitable that Craig would score. Vigo had been making better use of the conditions than their hosts, and with their back row of Mickleburgh, Johnson and Moorhouse in fine form, they kept the pressure on the home side. Forcing another scrum, Vigo safely won the ball, Moorhouse expertly controlling the ball as the pack shunted Anchorians back yards. Scrum half Craig Whitehead piloted the scrum forward before Moorhouse picked up and Whitehead waltzed through a defence in some disarray to score. Namesake – and no relation – Tony again converted.
Anchorians had previously lost just once to league leaders Folkestone, but were reeling from Vigo’s compelling first half hour. But the Vigo storm began to subside and Anchorians began to work their way into the game. The Villagers’ energy levels began to dip alarmingly. As the first half began to peter out, Vigo started to fret and fume about perceived injustices, giving away several penalties. Anchorians moved inexorably down the field, and although some great defensive work by Struan Kerr held them up initially, Anchorians kept the ball tight, smashing into Vigo’s defence, Dan Perry eventually trundling over the line to open the home side’s account.
Anchorians had barely visited the Vigo’s territory for much of the first half, but they soon made up for it in the second period. They piled into Vigo with vim and vigour. The Villagers again seemed to be fretting about the referee and their attention began to drift, Anchorians sensing that there was a chance to be taken. With the wind aiding their kicking game, they attacked. Vigo fell back and Jamie Perry was on the end of a decent threequarter movement to score, Brad Ford adding the extras. Then disaster befell Vigo. Falling back to their own line, Byrne-Stevens was adjudged to have not retreated the full ten metres from a penalty – which was five metres from the try line. So his flabber was well and truly gasted when he was shown a yellow, and Vigo were down to fourteen men. Now Anchorians had even more impetus and attacked strongly. Vigo were falling into some disarray so it was no surprise when John Mann scored to bring the deficit to just four points.
Anchorians were firm favourites now, the wind in their sails – literally - every decision seemingly going their way. Craig Whitehead took a nasty blow off the ball, unseen and unpunished and the Villagers seemed were bewitched, bothered and bewildered, but Vigo are never more cantankerous when all seems to be lost. With the coach John Whitehead glowering, pacing the touchline and offering some pithy and earthy advice to all and sundry, Vigo began to regain some control. Perhaps angered by perceived injustices, perhaps fearful of the welcome they would receive in the changing rooms, they hauled themselves off the floor and threw off the suffocating Anchorians blanket. Suddenly, they began to win some penalties. Byrne-Stevens, back in the action, broke strongly only to be beheaded in a tackle. Tony Whitehead pumped the ball into the corner. Vigo penned their hosts back deep in their territory before the inevitable penalty as Anchorians defended too desperately. Tony Whitehead, back in top form, made no mistake with the last kick of the game.
Star Man : Craig Whitehead.
Scorers. Anchorians. Tries: Dan Perry (40+5’), Jamie Perry (57’), Mann (67’). Cons: Ford (1)
Vigo. Tries: Byrne-Stevens (6’), Tony Whitehead (16’), Craig Whitehead (26’). Cons: T.Whitehead (3) . Pens: T.Whitehead (1)
Vigo Team: J.Clemmence; S.Kerr, L.Byrne-Stevens, O.Stringer (rep: D.Winstone), A.Fitzgerald; T.Whitehead, C.Whitehead; W.James, H.Wilson, G.Rawlings; L.Wiltshire, J.french; D.Mickleburgh, C.Johnson; B.Moorhouse
Reps (not used) W.Castle, O.McSweeney-Atkins

MOG’s view: Vigo nearly threw this away, after putting Anchorians to the sword. Fitness and energy went for a while but they dredged something from deep to see out the match. You can never write off this team, they will always find something to keep their long suffering travelling support on tenterhooks. But they must improve their collective fitness levels if they wish to once again challenge for promotion.

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Match details

Match date

Sat 26, Oct 2019




London 3 South East

League position

Gillingham Anchorians