Dorking Colts v Tonbridge Juddians Academy match report 19/11/23
Dorking Colts continued their National Cup campaign with a trip to Tonbridge Juddians on Sunday. Having beaten the Kent cup and league champions (Sevenoaks) in the last round, things got even harder with a trip to The Slade to face the defending national cup champions. TJs had won the competition in 2015, 2017 and 2023 (as the sign at the clubhouse helpfully reminded the Dorking boys) and had lost in the final the season before last. Dorking had hosted TJs in March in a friendly and knew just how tough this fixture would be.
A close game was expected and so it proved to be. On a boggy pitch and with a strong cross-wind slightly favouring them, Dorking began brightly, fielding the kick off and drawing a penalty. The opening exchanges were tight but Dorking felt they had a slight edge in the scrums. However, despite a strong shove from the Dorking 8, TJs moved the ball wide from a scrum in their own half. With the Dorking defence focusing on a strong dummy run from the powerful TJs centre, space opened up out wide and the TJs winger strolled over the line for first blood. 5-0
Dorking responded quickly, forcing TJs back into their own 22. After a couple of half breaks from Dorking, TJs infringed close to their own line. Quick thinking from captain Alex Power saw him tap the penalty and force his way over despite the attentions of 2 TJs defenders. Charlie Nichol missed the kick from wide right to keep the score at 5-5.
Momentum was swinging from one side to the other. An incredible defensive set from Dorking saw winger Will Simpson twice haul his opposite number down 5 metres from the Dorking line to alleviate the pressure. Calum Maddick, in a man of the match performance, was also flying into tackles and carrying hard.
The game had entered a period of stalemate and the referee blew for half time with neither side really on top. This was the stiffest test that Dorking had faced this season but the boys knew there was plenty more to come in the second half – both from them and their opponents.
TJs had retired to the changing room at the break and came out firing in the second half. They opted for more of a ‘route one’ approach, sending waves of forward runners at the Dorking defence, with the replacement scrum half looking for space around the breakdown. Dorking, however, held firm, with even more resolute defence.
Dorking were looking to break at every opportunity and felt they had the beating of TJs out wide. From one such break, replacement wing Charlie Aldridge looked about to score in the left-hand corner, only for a desperate, last-ditch tackle (which the referee deemed legal) bundling him into touch.
The game remained on a knife-edge and the momentum finally swung back Dorking’s way with a clever line-out move that saw prop Duncan Stott pass the ball straight back to hooker Lewis Gover, whose barnstorming run left TJs defenders in his wake.
The breakthrough finally came from another strong Dorking scrum. The Dorking backs ran a lovely set play putting full-back Charlie Nichol into space. A blistering run saw him halted 5 metres short of the line, but a clever offload saw Charlie Aldridge power past his opposite wing and score out wide. Nichol then added the extras with a lovely strike to put Dorking 12-5 up.
TJs were not done yet and kept the pressure up. Dorking continued the pattern of the first half, defending as if their lives depended on it. With time running out, a Dorking late tackle gave TJs a penalty in front of the posts, 30 metres out. Surprisingly, TJs opted for the shot at goal when Dorking were expecting a kick to the corner. The penalty sailed wide of the posts and Dorking knew they were almost home. Another Dorking turnover from a TJs lineout saw the outstanding Dan Gale clear to touch with time called.
Dorking had won the tightest of games, which was always in the balance. TJs must have been extremely disappointed given their pedigree in the competition, but were very gracious in defeat. Dorking had been severely tested for the first time this season, and in difficult playing conditions. The resilience shown by the full 22-man squad was hugely impressive and will stand them in good stead for future challenges.
Dorking advance to the last 16 with a home draw against Winchester Academy in January, in a last-16 clash. With their own pedigree in the competition, and having beaten last year’s winners, Dorking must now be viewed as one of the favourites for the cup. The games won’t get any easier but the adventure, for now, continues.