On a blustery but nonetheless glorious day for rugby, the Moles welcomed their perennial foes, the Maidstone Vets, to Rectory Field.
This fixture is always close and today was no exception. Following a minute’s silence in respect of the victims of the previous day’s terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, the first half saw much of the action playing out between the 22 metre lines. Maidstone arguably had the better of the initial exchanges and decisions from the referee; who was a dead ringer for Sky Sports’ excitable football reporter and one-time Leeds United centre back, Chris Kamara.
However, the Moles’ defence stood firm to withstand the Vets’ trademark forwards dominated game and ‘busy’ breakdown. In attack, playing into the wind and uphill towards the changing rooms on the ‘banana’ pitch, the Moles took some time to gain decent territory in the opposition half. A fine break from Mark ‘Oaf’ Armitage, playing his first game following a short ‘rest’ from rugby, ultimately led to the Moles seriously threatening the Maidstone Line for the first time in the match; only to be stopped by a seemingly dubious ‘knock on’ decision that the Stones cleared well from the resulting scrum.
Not much else was particularly memorable in a first half of graft and steel, but little sparkle from either side; which ultimately ended without any score on the board.
The start of the second half saw the usual high volume of replacements in the Moles’ ranks all ready to make the most of any advantage that a prevailing wind and the smaller incline towards Gravesend Grammar School might offer. But alas it was starting full back Steve Wootton who, shortly into the second half, added to his growing Moles try count following a 40-plus metre, tackle evading dash before touching down between the posts; setting up an easy drop-kick by Dan Grant for the extra two points.
With the Moles scoring, the game returned to the tight ‘nip and tuck’ spectacle it had been during the first period with both sides battling hard to nullify the other’s attack. Respect though to Moles’ tighthead Pierre du Toit, who pulled on red and white hoops to prevent scrum time from going uncontested. With less than five minutes left on the clock, Moles’ pressure kept out the Stones on the try line once again by forcing a knock on. Following a neat exit, the Moles regained the ball and a delightful kick by Dan Grant caught the wind and found touch deep in the Vets’ half. So impressed was Dan at his accomplishment; he celebrated by getting himself yellow carded (a very rare event in Moles rugby) shortly afterwards after taking out the opposite scrum half with an armless challenge. Nonetheless, the 14 remaining Moles held on for the final minute of the game and to claim a 7-0 victory.
With Wales beating Ireland to claim the Six Nations’ Grand Slam and England later, and rather spectacularly, snatching a draw with Scotland from the jaws of victory; the Moles’ victory was the only rugby story for most people in the clubhouse to be happy about. Exceptions to this and contenders for Mole-of-the-Match included Welshmen Garrick Cruse-Smith and Steve Wootton. However, the Moles’ captaincy team of Elvis and Miami quickly decided that being Welsh was more than a fair enough reason not to award the t-shirt to either player, despite their valiant efforts today. Former Moles’ skipper Graeme ‘Shotgun’ Trigg made a welcome return to the black shirt but largely had a quiet day on one wing during the second half. In comparison, Mole Ian ‘Oily’ Martin, playing for the first time in three years, had a much busier time on the opposite flank making some decent carries and hard hits. Oily made his Moles’ debut versus Maidstone many years ago as well as picking up his first Mole-of-the-Match tee shirt against the men from Moat Park. Therefore, with Oily shortly moving north to Shrewsbury and possibly making his final Moles appearance (although prop Ryan Hanes, traveled down from Chesterfield for today’s match!) it was fitting that he added another tee shirt to his collection of Stones-related Moley memorabilia.
So, another victory for mighty Moles in the week that their 2019 pantomime started production; proof once again for the non-believers that the Moles is something much much more than just a rugby team.