Alex Lambe reports on a magnificent victory that puts Farnham firmly in contention for the title.
A late wonder try by prop Andrew Naisbitt snatched a dramatic victory for Farnham against Old Cranleighans at the weekend. It put the home side in second place, level on points with Eastleigh. The pair have now opened up a nine-point gap between them and the rest of the chasing pack, with Old Cranleighans in third
This was billed by many as an epic top of the table clash, as two of the divisions’ heavyweights locked horns. This would also no doubt prove to be a key fixture in the context of the season.
A 300-strong crowd saw Old Cranleighans race into a 17-0 lead after 28 minutes. But Farnham responded, as their pack dominated the game, controlling proceedings. This was said to be their biggest pack in the years, and this proved to be the difference in the end.
However, during the first quarter of the game it almost became their undoing, as Farnham opted to go with an aerial game plan, hoisting up a series of up and unders towards the opposition.
After scrapping that game plan for a simpler one, by keeping the ball in hand and taking it on through the forwards, the dynamics of the game changed completely.
First Toby Salmon continued his fine form this season with a try, after being set up brilliantly by the barnstorming Pete Daly who laid the ball on a plate for Dan Williams to provide Salmon with the offload, the conversion missed. The mercurial fly-half added a penalty soon after for a 17-8 score line in favour of Old Cranleighans.
Soon Farnham’s pack begin to click into gear, as a powerful drive lead to the referee awarding the home side a penalty try. Farnham trailed 17-15 at the break.
After the interval Salmon and Old Cranleighans exchanged penalties to leave the visitors leading 20-18.
Farnham upped the ante towards the end and battered Old Cranleighans. With seconds remaining of the match the home side snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, thanks to a stunning effort from Naisbitt.
It was a wonderful team effort, started by Salmon and one in which Ben Jones and Tom O’Connor both featured. Dan Williams and Daly provided the key charge to allow an 80 metre burst and Naisbitt saw the space in front of him and charged over to win the match. The conversion was missed, but it didn’t matter. Farnham thus marched on, winning 23-20.
Despite the win Farnham drop to second, level on points with Eastleigh, who remain unbeaten this season with 10 wins from 10. A major points gap is beginning to take shape between the top two and 3rd placed Old Cranleighans.
Could this be a potential fight to the death, right until the end of the season between Farnham and Eastleigh? The return fixture between the two sides at Monkton Lane in February will have the feel of a winner takes all clash, if both teams maintain the form they’re currently in. Eastleigh won the first fixture 19-17, but the return fixture promises to be even more of an epic battle.