FARNHAM Rugby Club’s first team narrowly lost 14-9 at home to Cobham in their debut game in London 1 South – the sixth tier of English rugby.
The game kicked off at Monkton Lane in perfect conditions with just a slight swirling breeze at Farnham’s back.
Farnham had not played Cobham in a league match for 20 years. Cobham had finished fifth in this division when the season was last played.
A good start by Farnham would set the tone for the season and the team delivered.
Multi-phase rugby and dominance in the scrums kept the visitors penned in their own half for the first ten minutes.
Farnham won a penalty and fly-half Toby Salmon opted for the corner. The catch and drive from the line out inched agonisingly forward – but the recurring issue of players getting isolated turned the effort into a penalty for Cobham, who cleared their lines through the boot of their full back Farelly.
The game was starting to get a bit spicy at the breakdown, requiring the referee to call the captains together for the first pep talk of the afternoon.
Then there was the first use of one of many new laws designed to open up the game.
Farnham dropped the ball going forward but at the resulting scrum, Farnham drove the heavier Cobham pack back. The front row of Marco Azevedo, Jules Joris and debutant Ben Edward enjoyed the fruits of their pre-season hard work and well tuned technique. This led to Cobham dotting down in the dead ball area, which now results in a drop out from under the posts returning the ball in open play to the attacking side.
Mike Mizzi and Ben Brown on the Farnham flanks enjoyed a period of dominance at the ruck with the experienced Comley steering the ship.
After a turnover and quick hands, Cobham were offside just inside their own half. With a breeze swirling Toby Salmon just pulled the kick wide.
Almost immediately Farnham conceded a penalty but some back chat from the Cobham scrum-half Saunders reversed the decision and Tim Salmon slotted the kick to open up Farnham’s account for the season and make it 3-0.
Farnham were on top, dominating the scrums and the driving mauls, but after a series of powerful pick and drives, perhaps one or two too many, the ball was turned over and Cobham released their pacey left winger Macdonald who, despite the desperate chasing from Salmon and Chalker, touched down by the Farnham corner flag.
Farelly added the conversion to give the visitors a 7-3 lead.
With half time approaching Farnham drove again and again into the Cobham half.
Centres Michael Salmon and Alex Chalker chased every attack down, and two penalties for Toby Salmon in the last five minutes of the half gave Farnham a 9-7 lead at the interval.
The second half proved to be a good old-fashioned battle with first one side dominating and then the other playing their hand.
Cobham attacked, and at this level tackles win matches. If they are missed, space is available. The Farnham defence was breached and any one of three Cobham players could have walked over for the try. Macdonald dotted down and a tremendous conversion kick from Farelly gave Cobham a slender 14-9 lead.
Farnham would not lie down and drove at the visitors’ line – Cobham conceded penalty after penalty.
For the last 15 minutes Cobham were hanging on. Time after time the Farnham pack drove for the line, but their drive was repelled.
The large crowd of the Farnham faithful willed their boys on, but it was not to be as Cobham held on for the win.
Nevertheless, it was an enthralling and encouraging return to rugby.
Farnham fielded three men’s teams and their Falcons women’s side in a feast of rugby on Saturday, September 4 as the club kicked off the new season in style.
The second and third teams met local rivals Alton and the newly formed Hook and Odiham respectively in pre-season encounters.
The second team put up a doughty but ultimately losing effort against the first team of a club that is rising up the leagues and currently playing in London 3 South West.
The third team enjoyed extending their unbeaten run, albeit with a season’s gap. The Falcons’ match against Barnes introduced many of their players to full 15-a-side contact rugby for the first time.
With hundreds of children back on the grounds on Sunday, September 5 the club is looking forward to the rugby season with eager anticipation.