Marlow’s good form continued with three tries in a well-deserved victory over Maidenhead. In spite of 2 yellow cards in the first 10 minutes, Marlow was never behind and led from the 18th minute.
Maidenhead made the long journey from Braywick by coach as league leaders with 15 wins from 19 games, including a home victory by 17 – 5 against Marlow in October. After that game, the Marlow players were disappointed that, given the territory and possession they achieved, they didn’t score more points and win the match; so although Maidenhead came to Riverwoods as favourite, Marlow knew that a good performance could exact revenge in the home fixture. Ricky Khan, the visitors’ Head Coach was straight into action with a complaint about the size of the allocated dressing room, before he’d been into it – little did he know that this wasn’t to be the last embarrassment that he’d endure during the course of the afternoon. There were 5 changes to Marlow’s squad from the previous week’s big win over Olney, with prop Fe’ao Vunipola, second-row James Knight, centre Mark Grindrod, and full back Hugo Jafari returning; and wing Colin Hudson making his debut.
The rain of the morning relented and the match started under heavy grey skies. While the pitch was damp, the excellent drainage meant that it was firm under foot. After observing a minute’s silence in remembrance of Malcolm Tomas, past Hon. Secretary of Marlow RUFC and past Chairman of Bucks County RFU, Maidenhead kicked off, in front of a big crowd, with the benefit of what little breeze there was, and knocked on Marlow’s return kick to give away a scrum at its 10m line. The hosts showed immediately their positive intentions by attacking from the scrum and forced Maidenhead to concede another scrum close to its 5m line, but a kick to touch relieved the danger. Following the lineout, Mr Flakelar appeared to award Marlow a penalty, then spoke at length to both captains before awarding a penalty to Maidenhead and a yellow card to prop Richard Townsend for allegedly throwing a punch; although an aggrieved Townsend clearly felt as much sinned against as he was a sinner. So Marlow was down to 14 men after only 5 minutes and the visitors launched a series of attacks and, after 8 minutes, the hosts lost another man when second-row Ewan Jones pulled down a maul and also got a yellow card.
Marlow’s supporters were now apprehensive as their 13 men faced Maidenhead’s 15, but after a brief flurry from Maidenhead, the home side took the game to the visitors and after 18 minutes, outside-half Steve Pincott’s penalty kick gave Marlow the lead 3 – 0. From a scrum on half-way, full-back Hugo Jafari broke on the blind side and passed to wing Miles Noble, whose strong run took him through the defence and he touched down in the left-hand corner, but the Marlow touch judge had raised his flag for a foot in touch. The hosts continued to press and centre George Jafari broke through and prop Eddy Smyth set up a ruck at the visitors’ 22m line and won a penalty. So after 25 minutes, Marlow was now restored to full strength and had not only prevented Maidenhead from scoring, but Pincott’s second accurate kick had extended the lead to 6 – 0. During the next 10 minutes Marlow dominated in terms of territory and possession and at the scrummage. A penalty to the visitors was reversed giving Marlow the gift of a lineout on Maidenhead’s 5m line. A clean catch led to a driving maul, and the visitors’ pack was forced to scuttle backwards over its line and Smyth scored his second try in two games to extend Marlow’s lead to 11 – 0 after 40 minutes. Ten minutes later Marlow’s pressure led to a penalty 30 metres out and Pincott’s fine kick made the score 14 – 0 after 49 minutes. The first half ended after 52 minutes with an unsuccessful penalty kick at goal by Maidenhead from just inside Marlow’s half.
Maidenhead’s half-time talk was stern, and it had an effect as the visitors started the second half with intensity. The first attack failed when a cross-kick to the left wing was knocked on, but from a scrum close to the hosts’ 10m line, Maidenhead ran to the right and created an overlap allowing the outside centre to score wide on the right-hand side from a well executed move. The conversion kick was wide, so after only 2 minutes of the second half the score was 14 – 5 and Maidenhead was back in the game. Marlow’s restart kick sailed straight into touch giving the visitors a scrum on half-way and testing the nerve of both the home supporters and players alike. However, Maidenhead’s resurgence was short-lived, as after 6 minutes Mr Flakelar lost patience with its scrum-half, and he was awarded a yellow card for repeatedly barging his opposite number at scrums. Hugo Jafari caught a kick ahead from the visitors and launched a counter-attack and his brother George ran to Maidenhead’s 22 and Marlow won a penalty at the tackle. Marlow opted to kick to touch and from the 5 metre lineout no. 8 Harry Rodger set up a ruck and George Jafari was on hand to break through and drive over the line and score just to the left of the posts. Pincott had no difficulty adding the extra points for the conversion, and Marlow’s lead after 10 minutes was 21 – 5.
Maidenhead responded with a series of attacks, but each failed when in striking distance of Marlow’s line and in turn Marlow set up several good positions of its own. An attempted drop goal was charged down and the visitors broke away and got within a few yards of the try-line, only to concede a penalty and earn another yellow card after 23 minutes. For the next 10 minutes Maidenhead had the majority of possession, but couldn’t exploit it as Marlow’s defence was resolute, and this enabled Marlow to wrest the initiative from the visitors. Flanker Jonny Wolfe caught a long kick and ran back to Maidenhead’s 10m line, and then Marlow kicked to touch 15 metres from the try-line. The throw was not straight, giving the hosts a scrum, and then a free-kick. Rodger saw that Maidenhead was slow to react to the award of the free-kick, took it quickly and broke two tackles before scoring close to the posts and the conversion took Marlow’s lead to 28 – 5 after 36 minutes of the second half. Through a series of penalties, Maidenhead advanced to a lineout at Marlow’s 5m line, but Marlow stole the ball and so the visitors’ last serious attack of the game was repelled. For the next 15 minutes the vast majority of territory and possession was enjoyed by Marlow, but it was unable to complete a number of promising attacking moves. In turn, Maidenhead was unable to break out and the points’ deficit became too big to overcome in the time available. The visitors’ last move ended when a kick ahead from half-way was returned by Noble and a knock-on gave Marlow a scrum, and the game ended after 57 minutes with Marlow in possession just outside Maidenhead’s 22
A great game from Marlow, particularly given the two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes. As in the away match in October, all 18 players can take immense encouragement from a very good overall performance. 20-year old hooker Conor Mitchell had another very good game and outplayed his opposite number in the loose and tight, where he won 2 scrums against the head – so much so that the only obvious aspect of his opponent’s contribution was his continual squawking in the referee’s ear. The win keeps Marlow in 6th place on 54 points, 2 points behind Olney and 1 behind Reading, and 3 ahead of Swanage. Next week Marlow is away at Wallingford then at Wimborne on 5th March.
Team: E. Smyth, C. Mitchell, R. Townsend, P. Martin, E. Jones (Capt.) (J. Knight), B. Phillips, J. Wolfe (M. Laurie), H. Rodger; M Robertson, S. Pincott, M. Noble, G. Jafari, M. Grindrod, C. Hudson, H. Jafari.
Scorers: Tries: Smyth, G. Jafari, Rodger. Conversions: Pincott (2). Penalties: Pincott (3).
Referee: Sandy Flakelar (Oxford Society)
Match Report by Gwyn Stone