The climax to the season grows ever closer and this week Raiders travelled to Tonbridge Juddians to continue the battle to avoid relegation.
The home side on the other hand are still in the mix to win the play-off place.
Injuries still plague the visitors with three locks, Jack Lake, Michael Dingle and George Hammond, out injured. Rob Cuffe moved from blind-side to play alongside Jack Lee in the second row. Harry Barlow was also unavailable so Tom Miller started in the centre and Tom Gwyther joined the squad on the bench.
TJs kicked off and Raiders were quickly on the attack and looking confident. The home side didn’t have any meaningful use of the ball until ten minutes into the game and then they managed to kick a penalty and shortly after scored an unconverted try to go 8-0 up.
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Raiders were having an equal share of possession and territory and came close to scoring in the left hand corner but for a deliberate knock-on by a defender who received a yellow card for his actions. Raiders were unable to score a try from the resulting penalty.
Matt Walsh was leading from the front both with ball in hand and with his aggressive tackling.
The game moved about the pitch with great speed but no further scores came until nearly half an hour had been played. Unfortunately for Raiders it was the home side that scored a try from a catch and drive near the try line. With the conversion they stretched the lead to 15-0.
The game continued to be very even in terms of possession and Raiders looked capable of getting back into the game each time they attacked. The visitors did score next, after thirty four minutes. From a penalty in centre-field they found an excellent touch deep in TJs’ twenty two metre area. From the line out the visitors went through a couple of phases before being awarded another penalty. A quick tap was opted for and eventually Kiba Richards crossed the line to score, with Matt McLean converting. (15-7)
Within a few minutes the home side scored another unconverted try to stretch out to 20-7.
As halftime approached the visitors were having plenty of ball in attacking areas and when Kiba Richards picked up from the base of the scrum he was able to make ground and set up a ruck which produced quick ball. Matt Walsh fed Matt McLean who broke through a couple of tackles and scored under the posts. Converting his own try narrowed the gap to 20-14 as the halftime whistle went.
As the second half started it was clear that Raiders were up to the challenge and looked very capable of scoring more points. This they did after ten minutes when Tom Miller sold a dummy and carved his way through the defence to score and outstanding individual try from forty metres. Matt again converted and the visitors now took the lead at 20-21.
Now thoughts were on a possible victory but thirty minutes still remained, and when Rob Cuffe received a yellow card for an infringement in front of the posts, the home side kicked the penalty to retake the lead 23-21. They followed this with another catch and drive try that wasn’t converted and they moved on to a 28-21 lead. A further penalty made the gap ten points with the score at 31-21.
Raiders were still looking to pick up at least a try bonus point and when Jack Forrest made a classy, sidestepping break the fourth try was achieved as he passed it to Matt McLean who sprinted through desperate tackles to touch down. Again he converted and the gap was back to three points at 31-28.
So with five minutes to play the visitors had two bonus points if they didn’t concede again, and still had the chance to win if they could get a fifth try. At this point several outcomes were possible and it was a nail-biting climax but in the end Raiders had to settle for two bonus points.
This had been a very good performance on the road against one of the promotion candidates and although not a win, it should give the squad a real confidence boost.
There were many high quality performances from the visitors but Kiba Richards, Tom Miller and Matt Walsh had particularly good games.
Next Saturday at home to Old Redcliffians is a massive encounter and we hope the Raiders Faithful will be out in great numbers to give noisy support to the team.
The travelling support was excellent at TJs – it was greatly appreciated by the players.
Referee: Samuel Phillips
Scorers: Tries: Richards, McLean x2, Miller,
Cons: Matt McLean x 4
Team: 15. Harry Forrest 14. Jack Maslen 13. Jack Forrest (Gwyther 53 mins) 12. Tom Miller 11. Curtis Barnes 10. Matt McLean 9. Matt Walsh – Captain 1. Henry Birch 2. Will Grief (Luke 64 mins) 3. Rhys Litterick 4. Jack Lee 5. Rob Cuffe 6. Ryan Maguire (Whittall 64 mins) 7. George Harris 8. Kiba Richards (Maguire 73 mins)
Bench: 16. Elliott Luke 17. Grant Gatford 18. Jon Whittall 19. Ben Holt 20. Tom Gwyther