Guildford 19 Farnham 27: The sizeable troupe of faithful supporters who made the trip along the Hogs Back to Guildford’s Broadwater ground were hoping for a response from the Black and Whites after last week’s crushing defeat at Battersea.
Their hopes were more than fulfilled.
On a dull day, a chilly northerly breeze blew across the pitch offering little to either side. The only slight advantage would be to the team playing down the slope toward the Godalming road. Farnham had that advantage as they kicked off.
The Farnham chasers were up quickly to force a Guildford knock on. From the set scrum, Ollie Brown zipped the ball to Toby Salmon on the loop to the blind side. Breaking the first line of defence, he released flying winger Reece Stennett who scorched down the right touchline to score out wide.
Toby Salmon completed an excellent conversion and Farnham were up 7-0 before the spectators were settled.
There had been a similar start to last week’s game so Farnham could not be complacent. And rightly so – Guildford struck back almost immediately.
Their kick chase was good and Farnham knocked on. At the set scrum Guildford dominated – as they did in this area for the first 30 minutes – and the referee awarded the home side a penalty and the ball was pinged to the corner.
The maul from the line out is always a tricky play to defend and so it proved with Guildford’s talisman No8 powering over. The conversion from out wide was missed to leave the score 7-5 after just five minutes.
The game then settled into a staccato pattern with both sides keen to attack with ball in hand, but both seemed in too much of a hurry.
The Farnham attacks were invariably launched with first phase carries by the forwards. Leading that charge were Harrison Horner, Marco Azevedo and Matt Chapman – who also put in a noble shift at the unfamiliar role of prop.
Oscar Henderson at No8 did well to clean up at the base of a set scrum, going backwards and then taking the ball forward with strong runs.
Hooker Ben Brown was accurate at the line out, hitting jumpers Toby Comley and the towering Ben Adams with unerring accuracy. Adams also managed to pinch a couple of Guildford throw-ins while Brown had a good game, doing his job at the scrum, harrying the Guildford half backs and having more than a few good carries.
Flanker Jonny Vincent continued this season’s excellent form with turnovers at critical moments mixed with yard-eating breaks with ball in hand.
It was one of those that set up Farnham’s next score as he took the ball down the slope into Guildford territory. Farnham then put in the phases and this time the ball stuck.
Strong carries in midfield by Salmon brothers Toby and Tim at centre were quickly recycled and No10 Ben Jones switched the point of attack to the left. Oscar Henderson barrelled through the first line of defence and the pack followed up to secure the ball. Ollie Brown passed to winger Max Williams who lit up the left touchline and, as the cover defence arrived, offloaded to Oscar Henderson to dot down.
The difficult conversion was missed to leave the score 12-5 and a quarter of the match gone.
The game then ebbed and flowed, with no quarter given or asked. A breakout by the Guildford No8 was curtailed by full back Mike Salmon who made his tackles throughout the match, added a gnarly dimension to the attack and often pushed Guildford back with siege gun kicks out of the back field.
On 30 minutes the commitment from both sides started to take its toll. Henderson went down, but after some minutes’ treatment returned to the fray.
Guildford’s 13 was not so lucky nor was their No8, who failed an HIA. This disruption to the Guildford line-up was perhaps a turning point in the game – but only temporarily so as later in the game Farnham had to reshuffle resources made meagre by the restriction of just three players allowed on the bench at this level.
The sparring continued for the next ten minutes until Toby Salmon speared a penalty kick into the Guildford 22. A flowing attack by the Farnham backs was halted by a Guildford deliberate knock on and the yellow card was shown.
Toby Salmon kicked to the corner once more and the forwards took control and mauled the ball over the line with the scorer undecided between Sam Woodhams – on at prop for Chapman – and the omnipresent Henderson.
Toby Salmon scuffed the conversion attempt but with sufficient power and accuracy for it to scrape over the bar to put his side 19-5 ahead at the interval.
Ten minutes into the second half, the earlier injury to Henderson got the better of him and on came Farnham’s ultimate utility player Jemi Akin-Olugbade, to the flank with Comley moving to No8.
Without Guildford’s bulky No8 and Woodhams shoring up the Farnham front row, the set scrum was now at parity.
The next score was Max Williams’ on two counts. First his break out from the Farnham 22, followed by an inch-perfect clearance down the touchline, gave Farnham field position.
Guildford infringed at the line out and Toby Salmon nudged the penalty to the corner. Guildford retrieved the ball but knocked on as they strove to break out.
They attacked the Farnham set scrum which stepped backwards, creating a scrap at the base. Nevertheless, Ollie Brown kept his nerve, shipped the ball to Jones who flung a long miss pass to Williams who dived over out wide. The conversion was missed but at 24-5, the visitors were pulling away.
But not for long. Guildford came flying out of the blocks from the kick off, put the pressure on the Farnham defence and followed up a series of unstoppable picks and drives by going over under the posts.
The conversion was a formality and at 24-12 the game was once more in the balance with ten minutes to go.
Marco Azevedo picked up an injury and on came Matt Farnes, Farnham’s last fit substitute. This gave Olugbade the opportunity to show his range of skills by moving from the flank to take Marco’s place at prop. Stennett was called in from the wing to play at flanker, Jones went out wide and Farnes slotted in at 10, his preferred position.
Guildford sensed their opportunity and launched a series of strong attacks. However, the Farnham “D” responded and earned Toby a penalty shot at goal which he took with aplomb to put his side 27-12 ahead.
As the gloom descended and the clock wound down, the win looked secure – or was it?
Once more Guildford flooded down the hill from the kick off and pinned Farnham into the corner. Desperate defence kept them at bay until the referee judged Olugbade to have been cynical at the breakdown and he was shown a yellow card.
Spurning the chance to take the points, Guildford took a tap penalty, flung the ball out to the right and their winger went over.
Despite having to take the attempt hurriedly from out wide, the Guildford 10 slotted the conversion and at 27-19 some tense minutes remained.
Toby Salmon sent the restart high, long and handsome and the Farnham chasers forced the knock on and, subsequently, a penalty. This pulsating, hard-fought game came to an end with Farnham encamped deep in Guildford territory.
Fly half Ben Jones said: “It felt good right from the start – even before the start at the warm-up, the boys were up for this. We wanted to make amends for last week and it was very rewarding to do so.”
On Saturday, Farnham welcome eighth-placed Chichester for the last home game of the calendar year (2pm).
Back in September, Farnham pipped them 39-36 at their place and will be hoping home field advantage and plenty of noise from a packed balcony will see them improve on this margin of victory. The match kicks off at 2pm.
Report: Mark Weeks
Photos: Julian Frost