Horsham put in a powerful forward display to dispatch fellow promotion contenders Folkestone 19-3 and climb to third place in the table in the closest title race in years.
This match was technically a Folkestone home game. When it was cancelled on November 9, Folkestone had not followed RFU procedures and their punishment was to play the rearranged fixture at Horsham.
As it turned out the weather was worse than when the earlier game was cancelled, with drizzling rain and strong winds all day.
The game was played on the third team pitch, which had a big slope, because of the standing water on the first team pitch.
Credit should be given to the referee for allowing the game to go ahead, which proved to be the correct decision, although both sides were forced to adapt their playing styles in the unfamiliar conditions.
Horsham coach Nick Stocker said “I am extremely pleased with the result. I felt that there was an element of our young side maturing today and learning to cope with the difficult conditions. It was clearly a day for nine man rugby.”
Horsham played with the slope in the first half but into the wind, and forced a knock on straight from the kick off with a grubber kick along the ground in difficult handling conditions.
This set the pattern of the game with Horsham able to exert their dominance in the scrum and shunt Folkestone backwards irrespective of the put in.
The Green and Whites then ran through the phases followed by probing kicks from fly half Aled Price to keep Folkestone penned back in their own 22 for long periods, and when they did try to break out the difficult conditions did not allow them to use their much vaunted back line to full effect.
When Folkestone did enter the Horsham half a long kick by Will Johnson relieved the pressure for a succession of scrums on the Folkestone line, and finally after eight minutes a controlled drive by the Green and White scrum allowed Number 8 Jonny Ordidge to ground the ball to open the scoring.
Shortly afterwards Jamie Gibbs went on an arcing run down the right wing and kicked the ball through to nearly score but was tackled into touch.
Horsham ramped up the pressure with a series of scrums on the Folkestone line and scrum half Ben Rush was first to put downward pressure on the ball from the pushover on 32 minutes. Jonny Whiting ran the ball back hard from the restart, and then on the stroke of half time Ordidge grounded for a carbon copy of his first try, but by this time the referee had lost patience with Folkestone’s repeated infringements and a penalty try was awarded with both kicks converted by Price, and Horsham entered the break 19-0 in front.
Horsham were chasing the fourth try for the winning the bonus point but a strong side like Folkestone was never going to roll over.
Horsham were soon disrupted by injuries with hooker Matt Stone leaving the field which lead to a loss of control of line out possession, and Horsham’s scrum became more underpowered when Paul Talbot, their captain and most destructive scrummager went to hooker.
The replacements however offered different attributes with Finlay Hillicks making an outstanding turnover and strong carries from the base of the scrum, now that Ordidge had gone into the centres.
Jonny Goward, too used his devastating speed for a second row to regather Sam Bell’s long kick, and pass off the ground to Gibbs in support who cut inside his man but the Folkestone defence was excellent and he was tackled when a try looked certain.
Folkestone pegged Horsham back with penalty without ever threatening a serious comeback, whereas frustratingly for Horsham they were not able to build any kind of attacking platform as a result of conceding a number of scrum penalties.
Stocker added: “We generated a lot of ball creating patterns, and Folkestone didn’t look like scoring. I thought our forwards dismantled the opposition but we were disrupted by injuries in the second half and I am disappointed that we didn’t get that fourth try.
“Aled has a stinger but it is not too serious and Matt Stone will be out for a few weeks so the Christmas break has come at the right time.
“The backs did well to maintain their concentration as there were long periods when they were without the ball however we were guilty on occasions of trying to play wider than we should have in poor conditions.
“Ryan Grover was my man of the match for his work at close quarters, and his clearing out at rucks which allowed Ben to have cleaner ball. Jordan Smith had a good game on the blind side, Finlay Hillicks showed what he could do as an impact player, Jonny Whiting carried well, and the front row union deserve the praise for their three tries for their work in the tight.”
Horsham’s next game is away to Beccehamians on Saturday January 4.
Horsham: Talbot, Stone (Day 50), Barber; Johnny Whiting, Grover; Smith, Nick Bell, Ordidge; Rush, Price (Goward 55); James Whiting, Taylor, Gibbs, Sam Bell; Johnson (Hillicks 55)