Guildford 31, Hertford 41
Guildford hosted 4th placed Hertford at Broadwater on a bright, sunny Saturday for the final league game of the season looking to secure their future in the London and South East Premiere Division. Heading into the game Guildford knew that they just needed to get a better result in their game than Westcombe Park, who were hosting third placed Tring, did in theirs. Coach Dave Ward was able to name the same strong as the previous Saturday, with only Freddy Hooper dropping from the bench after failing a fitness test just before the game from a knock he took in training. Hooper was replaced by Jordan Gomez who rushed back from the second team fixture in Richmond and arrived after kick off.
With a clear goal, great conditions for rugby, a large raucous crowd and constant updates from the rival match on social media it promised to be an exciting encounter.
The game started with the visitors kicking off to the road and Guildford were quickly on the back foot, Hertford returning a clearance kick the length of the field off multiple phases to cross in the corner for the opening score. Following the restart, Guildford pushed the ball wide from a lineout and skipper Joe Garner, who carried prominently all afternoon, made a strong break through the midfield to take the ball in the Hertford half. Following a tackle, a loose ball was hacked through and a Hertford player was able to run onto an awkward bounce and despite some scrambled defence, the visitors found the support runners to cross under the sticks for a converted score. With barely 5 minutes on the clock, there were nervous faces on the touch line.
When at full strength, however, Garner’s side has shown the resilience and clear heads to rise to the challenge and shortly after game restarted, Luke Rust anticipated a Hertford backs move to intercept the ball and sprint in from the half way line and touch down under the posts. Ali Chisholm converted to make it 7-12.
Guildford continued to push hard, with scrum half Bradley Smith clearing the ball from the Guildford half and the pack winning a penalty after a good kick chase which Chisholm pushed into the corner to give Guildford an attacking lineout on the opposition 22. Hooker Tom Hickey hit his man in the lineout and the forwards drove the ensuing maul a full twenty yards before a pile of bodies crashed over the line and the referee awarded the try. When every made it to their feet, Hickey and his distinctive red scrum cap was clutching the ball, chalk another one up for the front row union. Chisholm converted to make the score 12-14 to Guildford on the quarter hour.
Chisholm was soon lining up another kick at goal after Hertford conceded a penalty for offside which he converted to put Guildford 17-12 in the lead. The ferocious pace continued but was also taking its toll, with Gomez replacing Paddy MacEnri who was forced to leave the field with a dislocated shoulder.
As the half wore on, Hertford showed their class with some slick hands and constant pressure, which eventually result in a try wide out on the left to bring the scores level. Hertford followed this up with a move for the purists, their centres cutting clever lines to open a gap in the Guildford defence from which their 13 went through and beat the cover defence to the line for a converted try, 17-24.
The scores remained this way until half time when a check of the phones showed Westcombe Park were leading Tring 9-6 at the equivalent stage in their game. Had those scores stayed the same, Guildford would have been relegated. There was a lot of rugby to be played, though.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first with a quick Hertford score, converted to make it 17-31. Ten minutes in the second half, with Guildford pressing into Hertford territory, Chisholm went down with a loud crack and the game was stopped with the home full back in obvious pain. An ambulance was called and Chisholm was made comfortable but could not be moved and after 20 minutes the game was restarted on the North Field, behind the Guildford pavilion. Guildford had to reshuffle with Garner moving from number 8 into the centre and Oli Millward coming on the back row.
Millward was quickly into the game, cutting a great line off of 20-year-old fly half Johnny Burden who held the defence up with touch of class to create the gap for his blind side to power through on the Hertford 10 yard line. The field opened up and Millward raced for the line, eventually taking two covering defenders over with him for a score Burden converted to make it 24-31. The 7 point margin put Guildford in range of a losing bonus point and with Tring fighting back against Westcombe Park, the afternoon began to swing in Guildford’s favour.
Both sides continued to run the ball and it was Hertford who scored next, converting a penalty to open up a ten point gap which they then followed up with a try to make the score 24-41 to the visitors.
With the delay in the game, news started to filter through on the touch line that Westcombe Park had lost to Tring which meant Guildford’s place in the league was secure for next season, although this was kept from the players who continued to hammer into Hertford.
The final act of the game saw Guildford kick a penalty into the visitors 22, pushing for their fourth try and a guaranteed bonus point. The ensuing lineout was a carbon copy of the one in the first half, caught and driven with training ground position, Hickey again in control and taken over by his team mates to the delight of a noisy home support to take the score to 31-41, which was the final result when the referee blew time a few minutes later.
The crowd had witnessed a great afternoon of exciting rugby with the positive outcome the home side were looking for, Guildford showing that at full strength they are able to compete with the best sides in a tough league. Dave Ward and his squad will be able to put their feet up for a well-earned break this summer before they start to plan for next season. Meantime, we wish Ali Chisholm a speedy recovery after sustaining a horrendous tib/fib compound fracture during the game that necessitated him being transferred to St.
Georges Tooting in the early hours of Sunday morning for a lengthy but successful operation. Get Well Soon Ali from all at GRFC.