Horsham recorded one of their best ever victories 27-25 away at Beckenham on Saturday to lead London 2 South East after four rounds, writes Richard Ordidge.
Despite their recent good form, the Green and Whites arrived at Balmoral Avenue as underdogs, facing a bigger club with deeper playing resources and not having won there for over twenty years.
Of the two clubs, Beckenham have had the more difficult start to the season suffering two narrow defeats against sides expected to be fellow promotion contenders and Horsham knew they were facing their most formidable game of the season to date.
Although the true test of Horsham’s pedigree will come next week when they face title favourites Dartfordians, the only other side currently with a 100% record.
With nine changes in the squad due to injury and unavailability since last week, Horsham were again obliged to dig deep into their resources.
In dry conditions, despite Horsham playing with a brisk wind at their backs, it was Beckenham No.8 Eb Ikediashi who made the first inroads into the Horsham defence requiring a great tackle by Joe Wilde to clear the danger. Tom Johnson used the wind to make the first of a series of long clearance kicks chased hard by Declan Nwachukwu and Rob Grant to relieve the pressure. Horsham then had a period of pressure when they were camped deep in the Beckenham half but were penalised for not releasing in the tackle, or breaking their binding early at the scrum, and could not turn their pressure into points.
Adam Clarkson and Richard Tredgett were providing a plentiful supply of line-out possession whilst the young front row of Cass, Lowe and Fairs were holding their own against more experienced opponents in the scrum.
Finally the pressure told when the ball was moved left and Kyle Fairs showed great hands to hold a low pass, found the supporting Nwachukwu who released Jake Lowe to scamper clear over the line. 0-5.
Beckenham responded immediately with a try from Mike Furness after a great multi- phase attack, which was converted by former Horsham junior player, Leon Driscoll. 7-5.
Horsham were being obliged to absorb a lot of pressure from the home side, missing tackles and conceding penalties leading to a team warning from the referee. The Green and Whites were finally made to pay when an ambitious Johnson cut-out pass in the face of an on-rushing defence was intercepted by Beckenham fly-half Louis Richards deep in his own half. With Horsham’s defence committed in the failed attack it looked as if he only had to open his legs to run in for an easy score, but he was overhauled by Lowe, showing a surprising turn of pace for a hooker, and in his attempt to prevent a certain try the referee adjudged that he had made a high tackle and was yellow carded.
Beckenham used their numerical superiority to break down the Horsham defence and after going through multiple phases scored a well worked try from Luke O’Reilly. Ever alert to the situation Mike Watts sprinted out to close down the attempted conversion by Driscoll, which appeared to put him off his stride and the kick hit the posts and bounce back to miss which was to prove crucial in the final reckoning. 12-5.
Horsham bounced back immediately to win a penalty in front of the Beckenham posts which Johnson slotted. 12-8.
The visitors then took the lead when Johnson made another long pass which Nwachukwu struggled to control but this only served to confuse the defence as he spun, rounded his man, outpaced the cover defence to score in the corner. 12-13.
As the game ebbed and flowed Johnson was kicking Beckenham into the corners and Michael Tredgett and Johnny Ordidge were making surging runs in midfield but it was the hosts who regained the lead with a good period of continuity to score their third try through prop James Cleverly. Watts again saw Driscoll taking his time over the kick to charge it down and force the miss going into half-time. 17-13.
Beckenham started the second half strongly when Ikedashi broke several tackles to score after a powerful run and it looked at this stage as if the hosts would pull away but it was Horsham who refused to be cowed. 22-13.
Horsham won a five metre scrum after a multi-phase attack then Watts on the charge was penalised for not releasing in the tackle. Michael Tredgett then made a powerful burst, linked with his brother Richard and then Andy Carvell was hauled down and Horsham won another attacking scrum. Dan Cass made a strong run but the ball was knocked out of his hands when a try looked certain. Jonny Whiting made a powerful break and then Michael Tredgett made a surging blind-side break but was stopped just short and when Watts took a quick tap Beckenham scrum-half Jamie McDowall was yellow carded for impeding him in the red zone.
Horsham took advantage of the extra man at the scrum and spread the ball wide, Nwachukwu cut back inside and the ball found its way to Fairs who leapt through the tackle and over the line to score. Johnson converted and Horsham had narrowed the deficit to 22-20.
Driscoll then slotted a penalty to extend Beckenham’s lead to 25-20.
Joe Wilde made a great break out of defence which was carried on by Nwachukwu forcing Beckenham to concede a penalty but the kick was missed by Johnson. Great pressure by Lowe forced a Beckenham mistake and initiated a counter-attack until Fairs spilled the ball under pressure.
On the hour mark Horsham decided to use their bench with the fresh legs of Ryan Maguire and Ben Murphy to inject some energy and pace as the visitors went seeking a win. Beckenham incurred another yellow card when their full back made a high tackle in an act of desperate defence but rather than going for goal to get within three points for the finale, Johnson kicked for touch as Horsham ambitiously went for a try. Unfortunately for Horsham they were penalised for holding on in the tackle but secured a penalty from the next attack. This time Johnson went for goal but the three points went begging.
Beckenham’s discipline continued to let them down as one of their centres was yellow carded for a high tackle on Murphy after he had made a surging run, and Beckenham were briefly down to thirteen players.
With five minutes remaining Nwachukwu then scored the winning try with some individual brilliance. Horsham spun the ball wide to Nwachukwu to exploit their numerical superiority who rounded his man, then rather than take the easy option of heading for the corner, knowing he needed to score under the posts to present an easy conversion to regain the lead, he cut inside running across the field through the disorganised defence before straightening up to score his second try which Johnson converted. 25-27.
There was still time for Beckenham to win the game when their full back, who had come back on having served his time in the sin bin, made a great break and passed to his supporting left winger in front of the massed ranks of home supporters, but he dropped the ball when a certain try looked inevitable and the referee blew his whistle to bring an end to a dramatic and thrilling end to end game in which the lead changed hands several times.
A delighted acting head coach on the day, Richard Bell had plenty to applaud after this hard fought victory: “I am really pleased with the result. We played well in patches but we dropped off too many tackles and allowed them to run at us. We scored some good team tries and Declan’s second try was outstanding. It was a real gutsy performance. I thought the scrum went well and the line-out was good. In the end I thought we wanted it more. To have four wins out of four is really positive.”
When asked to single out a few players Bell said: “Dan Cass was outstanding for his first start at loose-head, but then the whole pack were excellent. I have to give man of the match to Declan. I thought his finishing was outstanding and the service from Josh Mills was very good. All in all it was a great team performance.”
Horsham next face Dartfordians at home on 7 October the only other side to have won all of their games in London 2 South East so far. Dartfordians will arrive as favourites having already won two games against their title challengers Beckenham and Charlton Park, and done the double over the Green and Whites last season so it will a be real test for this young Horsham side.
Horsham: Watts; Nwachukwu, Ordidge, Wilde, Grant (Murphy); Johnson (capt), Mills; Fairs, Lowe (Pirt), Cass; Clarkson (Maguire), Tredgett R; Carvell, Tredgett M, Whiting