Farnham Rugby Club’s first team finished their Regional 2 South East campaign in style with a comprehensive 50-12 win against Gravesend at Monkton Lane.
The weather was spring-like but the morning’s heavy rain produced a greasy surface.
This troubled both sides in the season-closing clash.
However, the Farnham boys were determined to bring a festival feel to the match given three senior players had declared it their last first team game; that the skipper, Toby Salmon, was celebrating his 150th cap; and that the team had secured second place in the league.
Led by Tim Salmon’s hat-trick of tries, they did not disappoint.
Slow starters as usual, Farnham were five points down in the first two minutes. Playing in their black and yellow change strip, they conceded a penalty from the kick-off.
Gravesend kicked to the corner, and their burly prop peeled off the back of the lineout maul to trundle over scrum half Ollie Brown and dot down. The conversion out wide was missed.
The game ebbed and flowed. Despite missing some key players, Gravesend had come to play. However, the signs from Farnham were ominous.
Flowing back line assaults launched by half backs Brown and Matt Farnes came unstuck with a final pass spilt or a last-ditch tackle made.
Gravesend were on the counter when Tim Salmon won a brilliant turnover. A couple of phases later the Farnham backs broke out and Tim Salmon cracked the defensive line. He off-loaded to brother Mike who sped in from 20 metres out to touch down out wide. The conversion was missed and it was 5-5 after ten minutes.
Farnham squandered a couple more chances to score as they tried just a little too hard to entertain. Then the ball stuck. Lovely interplay between winger Reece Stennett and Toby Salmon released Farnes to scamper down the touchline and score. The conversion was missed.
Within minutes another break by the backs put second row Ben Adams into space and he went over in front of the posts. Tim Salmon completed the simple conversion and Farnham led 17-5 on 30 minutes.
The Gravesend restart did not carry the required ten metres and, from the set scrum, a training-ground move down the left side, with Brown on the loop, put Stennett in space. He offloaded to Toby Salmon, who rounded the defence to dot down under the posts. Brother Tim converted to make it 24-5 on 32 minutes.
Gravesend did not lie down. Stennett was called upon to put in a try-saving tackle and Farnham then infringed at the breakdown.
Gravesend pounded the Farnham line, sucking in defenders until there was space on the left through which they burst to score. The tricky conversion was good, and with minutes left in the half the visitors had a foothold in the game at 24-12.
Gravesend came out fighting for the second period.
Had it not been for some excellent work by Adams to disrupt their maul, they could well have scored again. As it happened, from the ensuing Farnham set scrum, the ball was spun out to Tim Salmon who had two players outside him on the overlap. Tim took it upon himself to shrug off the cover tackles and muscle over. He converted his own try and Farnham led 31-12 with ten minutes of the half gone.
Farnham ran the ball back from the restart, and having no fellow attackers left to pass to, Tim Salmon put in a huge crossfield kick that sneaked into touch just shy of the Gravesend try line.
Farnham pressured the Gravesend lineout and won a scrum from which the ball was quickly released and there was Tim Salmon to bullock over the line and convert his own try to make it 38-12.
Within minutes, Tim Salmon was on the scoresheet again. From a Farnham scrum on the Gravesend 22, Harrison Horner picked from the base and punched a sizeable hole in the Gravesend defence. The ball was quickly recycled, and there was Tim Salmon to barge over out wide. The missed conversion meant it was 43-12.
To their credit, Gravesend kept playing and but for a flying cover tackle by Stennett and superb work over the ball by Brown, they would have scored a consolation try.
As it was, despite the comfort of a big lead, the Farnham defence remained strong. Jack Haylett, in only his third game for the first team at flanker, led the way and ably demonstrated the work rate and commitment of those coming through the ranks.
Jake’s brother George, in only his second game at prop, made sure of Farnham’s ball at the set piece and was a nuisance in open play. Indeed, it was his turnover in the dying seconds that got the ball to brother Jake in space to gallop over to score. Farnes was given the honour of making the conversion.
This final match of the season also marked the final game in a first team shirt for Mike Salmon, Ben Adams and, possibly, Toby Comley.
Mike Salmon is held in high regard at the club for being the skipper who in 2017 took the club to the league and cup double with a memorable day at Twickenham.
Adams has been a stalwart of the Farnham pack with more than 100 appearances and is recognised as the finest lineout specialist the club have ever had.
Comley, the current club captain, and the leader of the side that dragged the club out of the lower divisions, also stated he would retire after some 200 appearances. However, after the match he mentioned to a former player he might just keep going...
Report: Mark Weeks
Photo: Julian Frost