Maidstone Vets 17 Moles 31
Mud, sweat and tears sees Moles triumph on perennial foes' own patch
On a glorious day for rugby, the Moles moseyed on down into the centre of the garden of England, to take on perhaps their fiercest of foes, the Maidstone Vets.
Maidstone’s Mote Park ground often resembles a bog at the height of summer when the adjacent former county cricket ground is in full swing. So, the incessant rain falling on this glorious day truly provided some ‘fun’ conditions to play rugby in.
Skipper Elvis had assembled a strong squad of Moley enthusiasts including former Gannets' wing, Richard Annabel, current Gannets’ ‘wrecking ball’ and national radio celebrity, Paddy and once again in the spirit of providing a ‘stepping stone’ into senior rugby, a GRFC Academy trio of Luke Titmuss, Joe Eaton and John Booth.
Despite pre-match high spirits and rallying calls from Elvis, vice-skipper Gareth Moore and Moley veteran #42 Ralph Walpole, the Moles made a typically slow start to the game. While the Moles had their tight ‘up the jumper’ game functioning and were not finding themselves under threat at the set pieces, they were simply not making progress into the Maidstone half. In contrast, when Maidstone had the ball they were seriously breaking the gain line and quickly went 12 points to the good; firstly, by exploiting a well worked overlap for the opening try and then by catching the Moles off guard for a ‘sucker’ #8 ‘pick and go’ down the blindside from a scrum inside the 22 metre line.
However, a feature of the successful Swans side, from whom the majority of Moles are pulled from these days, over recent seasons has been their ability to retain composure and discipline when on the 'back foot'. This is what the Moles needed at this point in the game; however considering the conditions and being two tries down on 15 minutes; it was something that needed to be dug from very deep. What was needed was a real flash of inspiration and that came from aforementioned debutante Richard Annabel with a deep kick up field. As regular readers of these reports will know, kicking is usually actively discouraged in Moles’ rugby; however in this instance it was just what was needed as the way things were going, it was the only way the Moles were going to start playing rugby anywhere near the scoring zone.
Richard’s kick was, in hindsight, a ‘game changer’ and initially led to some faffing about at the right end of the pitch and then a scrum on the five metre line. Buoyed by the Stones’ outside centre saying something like “Come on lads, the game isn’t won yet!” and Elvis pointing out that talking in any terms about a win was a tad premature considering the match were barely beyond the 20 minute mark, the Mole pack pushed the Vets back, as it largely did all afternoon, to apply the requisite pressure needed for #8 Big Bri (aka Elbow) to score his something like one-millionth try of the season for the Moles/Swans/LAS/NAG Vets (yes, NAG Vets…..what a scumbag! What could be worse? Maybe playing for OGs Vets? Who would play for them?)
In conditions very much unsuited to the kicking game, somewhat paradoxically more quality kicking from fly-half Carl Sells set up the Moles’ score that saw them edge into the lead: A delicately precise cross-field kick dropped delightfully into Moley hands and after some similarly delightful handling between the backs, Carl had sprinted across the pitch to run a support line that saw him finish the score that his vision had instigated.
Having seen their lead quickly eroded, Maidstone unsurprisingly came back with purpose and ultimately punished some lazy running by the Moles defensive line that created an immediate overlap out of nowhere. The Vets’ kept running forward while the Moles' defenders stopped, watched the ball go left and then back right into the hands of those grateful running Vets who ran had no black shirts between them and the line tho stop them from edging back into the lead.
Nonetheless, the Moles had already proved that they could respond positively to a deficit and more positive boot work from Carl Sells led to Brian Williams scoring yet another try.
Thankfully, scrum half Swanley had brought his kicking boots with him today and thanks to his 100% first half conversion rate, the Moles changed ends in the lead at 21-17.
The afternoon’s close proceedings continued into the second half and as time drew on, it felt very much that the next team to score would be the most likely to go on and win the contest. However, before needing to note any change in the score line, the referee, one Mr Darren ‘Orrible’ Oram formerly of this parish, had to reach for his yellow card first.
Reader, I know what you’re thinking. “Velcro?” But alas, no! The Moles’ recently rebranded estate agent had cried off from this fixture with an injured elbow; or the Arsenal season ticket holder fancied watching the Gunners win at home to Crystal Palace. Either way, no commitment eh? Paddy’s ‘combative’ rugby style had drawn attention but no major sanction and so it was Welshy who spent 10 minutes in the bin with the Vets’ huge tighthead so that they could compare handbags without having to worry about chasing an egg around the field.
During the ‘14 man game’ period, skipper Elvis had his (hopefully) once a season mad moment; acrobatically (for a prop) scooping a deep Stones’ kick to keep the ball in play to the particular surprise of his distantly placed team mates who were already getting ready for the line out. Fortunately, no harm came from the unexpected loose ball and soon enough, the Moles had a line out in a similar part of the pitch. “I’m not sure why I did that.” mused Elvis “I think that I just didn’t fancy a line out that deep in our half”.
The Moles’ GRFC Academy starlets had all equipped themselves admirably during their time on the pitch. While of course the pace of the game might be a bit slower than they’re used to, the hits are comparatively harder and less forgiving. The starlets were well chaperoned throughout the match by Moles’ full back and Academy team manager, Freddie Taylor. Freddie’s support and encouragement of his protégés saw him start a move which saw the ball pass through John and Joe’s hands on its way to Luke Titmuss who took the ball over the line to score his second try in Moles’ colours follow his effort at home to Dartford Valley earlier in the season.
Although Swanley had seemingly lost his scoring boots in the mud at half time, these additional five points put the Moles more than a converted try ahead with 10 minutes to go. “Ball retention, ball retention” cried Elvis, Gareth and the other on-pitch leaders.
And largely speaking, the Moles did just this; further still, putting the result beyond doubt when Carl Sells carried over the line to finish another set of phases created from a Big Bri kick.
At the sound of the final whistle, any dry mud on Moley faces cracked as ear-to-ear grins appeared and arms were flung into the air to celebrate a famous, well-earned victory.
One of Elvis’s call during the match had been for “15 man rugby” and this played a key part in the Moles’ success. Well, 20 man rugby actually, as the every member of the squad did their job today. Among the heroes not already mentioned in dispatches were hooker Heinz, openside Posty who both quietly, but as ever effectively, got on with their jobs and wing/fullback Graham Harvey who continues to make great progress in his first season of rugby.
The Moles returned victorious to Rectory Field to find a clubhouse in a mixed mood: Well-oiled from the events of a Mayors’ lunch but also sombre following the 1st XVs heavy loss at home to Brighton. Nonetheless, the Moleys were happy and the Guinness and lager jugs flowed both before and following Moles’ Director of PPEM (p*ss-poor event management) Shotgun led the day’s ceremonials. Up on chairs were Mole-of-the-Match, Dan Rumsey; new tie-wearing Mole #94 Pierre Du Toit and forthcoming Moles tour virgin and ‘stag’, Nick Ormes who turned up for a Moles match in what looked his pyjamas!
If you don’t know who Dan Rumsey is, he is muddiest muddy funster in the team picture above. The amount of mud apparent speaks volumes. This man was all over the pitch today with carry, tackle, ruck and counter-rucking counts all off the scale. Big Brian and Carl Sells could both be forgiven for being a bit cheesed off at not picking up the MOTM t-shirt with a brace of tries each, and in Carl's case some great work with the boot too. However, despite their outstanding contributionss, Bri and Carl were both among the loudest loud voices in recognising Dan’s contribution.
Possibly the nicest South African you will ever meet, Pierre has been a pretty much ever-present feature of the Moles’ and Swans’ front rows for the past three seasons and brings a much needed sense of sophistication to the Moles’ drinks order through having a preference for a fine Merlot ahead of stout, ale or fizz.
Nick Ormes has played enough Moles rugby now to avoid such sartorial misdemeanours and thus the additional charge of ‘attention seeking’ is now pending. Popular thinking is that the chair is too good for him and so it is likely that he will be forced to spend some time in Mole ‘Hair Bear’ Hodge’s ‘special rehabilitation programme’ on tour in May. Watch this space readers!
So there we are: A famous Moles’ win that will live long in the memory and much longer that it will take for the 20 players to remove every bit of mud from every crevasse, crease and fold in their bodies. A valiant fight back from being two tries down early doors.
"Tffffffff … Maidstone Vets, always a tough one. You’ll do well to get anything down there” one of the Mole elders suggested at FAF (Friday at Five) Moles' drink the night before. Hmmm… well, it wasn’t easy but the Moles were very good value for their win. Some might say that this Mole elder was talking b*ll*cks but of course those who don’t understand, will not appreciate that the talking of b*ll*cks is something that is very intrinsic to the very fact that the Moles is something much, much more than just a rugby team.