DROITWICH 15, FARNHAM 37
FARNHAM secured their first national trophy with a resounding victory over Droitwich in the RFU Senior Vase final on Saturday and so completed a superb double at the home of English rugby.
An appearance at Twickenham was the chance of a lifetime and Farnham took it with both hands, coming from behind to pull well clear with a scintillating second-half performance.
The final was a clash of league champions – Droitwich with a 100 per cent record in Midlands 3 West (South), Farnham beaten only once in London 3 South-West.
On the day, Farnham, with their extra pace and more clinical finishing, had the edge over the Midlands side who, just for a while late in the first half, threatened to take control with their uncompromising forward play.
Farnham also won the battle in the vast stadium – Twickenham has the biggest capacity in Europe – with an estimated 1000 supporters drowning out a similar number of Droitwich followers, especially when the Surrey side were running riot in the second half.
Who would have thought that the hallowed stadium would ring to World Cup-like chants of ‘Farn-ham, Farn-ham’?
Both Droitwich’s tries were pushover efforts, while three of Farnham’s four tries came from scorching counter-attacks from inside their own half.
Gabe Hills got the first after just six minutes. Ed Weeks picked up an ankle-high pass before offloading to Hills and the full-back, after dummying to the supporting Toby Comley, shook off a tackle and sped inside to score, leaving a simple conversion for Toby Salmon.
The fly-half was to contribute 17 of Farnham’s points with a near immaculate kicking display.
Soon after, a long-range penalty drifted wide, but that was the younger Salmon’s only miss of the afternoon. Seven times, his kicks bisected the posts.
With that score under their belts, Farnham streamed forward and Droitwich felt the full force of powerhouse No 8 Pete Daly, weighing in at over 20 stone. The scrums were running like clockwork and scrum-half Ollie Brown was already having a major influence on the game.
Luke Batten, a mere 19 stone, almost made it over for a second try, held up two metres short, before Droitwich regrouped and enjoyed some decent possession of their own.
Bobby Scott-Walker kicked a penalty to get them on the board after 21 minutes and a crucial phase of the game followed as Droitwich started to make inroads with their well-drilled driving mauls.
Farnham defended their line grimly, holding the ball up twice from a sustained lineout drive after Droitwich had eschewed an easy penalty and kicked for the corner.
The pressure was relentless, however, and Sam O’Brien eventually forced his way over. Scott-Walker converted and the signs were ominous for Farnham, now trailing 7-10.
Starving their opponents of the ball, Droitwich had the impetus as half-time approached, but then Farnham broke out. Mike Salmon was held, illegally, and Toby Salmon kicked the 30-metre penalty to level the scores with the last kick of the half.
On the restart, a series of Daly-led charges deep into Droitwich territory forced another penalty and Toby Salmon’s kick again split the posts to put Farnham back in front.
Another nailbiting passage of play followed as Farnham, for the third time in the game, and thanks to a prodigious effort by replacement Johnny Davidson, got hands under the ball after Droitwich had bulldozed their way over the line.
After more blood-and-guts defending near their line, Farnham turned the ball over, won a penalty, and clawed their way out of trouble.
That was the turning-point of the game. On 52 minutes, nothing seemed on when play broke down in midfield, but the quicksilver Hill ripped the ball clear and skimmed across the Twickenham turf, running right to left, to score his second spectacular try.
Toby Salmon, now brimming with confidence, converted from wide out and it was 20-10.
Farnham followed up with the try of the game on the hour-mark. The Salmons, in turn, made yardage up the centre and then Comley’s slick offload released wing Dave Hurley on a smoothly-accelerating run that took him all the way. Salmon duly converted and Farnham were out of sight at 27-10.
Well, not quite. Droitwich’s preferred method brought them a close-range try by Peter Knight and although the conversion was missed, they were never going to throw in the towel as they went in search of two converted tries.
But Farnham were gathering themselves for a grandstand finish. First, Droitwich were penalised for offside and Toby Salmon nailed the kick from near halfway to effectively put the game to bed.
Finally, the back-row battering rams carried a move on and Mike Salmon wrestled his way over for a captain’s try, with a helping shove from Dan Williams.
Needless to say, Salmon Jnr added the extras and with ‘Camp Farnham’ chanting down the final seconds, the ball was booted into touch and the party could begin as Farnham celebrated a historic national trophy.
Farnham: Hill, Hurley, M Salmon, Corlett, Weeks, T Salmon, Brown, Naisbitt, Jennings, Joris, I Williams, Batten, D Williams, Comley, Daly. Replacements: Trodden, Davidson, Crabb, Frost, Franklin, Akin-Olugbade, Jones (all used).
Droitwich: Young, Strutt, Handford, Barnes, Smith, Scott-Walker, Edwards, Shewell, R Poke, Wilkinson, Brown, O’Brien, Knight, Middleton, Horton. Replacements: Skinner, Turner, Mason, Godfrey-Djundja, S Poke, Saddington, Maginnis.
* Both teams made liberal use of the five rolling substitutes they were allowed from the seven replacements. Farnham lost Jules Joris (blood injury) and replacement Jason Crabb (head injury assessment) at different times, but both rejoined the fray. Jordan Frost gave hard-working lock Ian Williams a breather in the first half and had another good run in the last quarter.
At one stage, Farnham had just replaced Andy Naisbitt with James Trodden at prop when Joris was injured. Fortunately, they had Luke Batten (being given a breather by James Franklin) on the bench, who is a registered prop, although he started the match in the back row.