On another meteorological and spiritually glorious day for rugby, the Moles made the short journey down the A2 to take on Bexley’s 2nd XV.
Due to a mix of ‘cry off’ reasons including half term skiing and other holidays, Moles needing to take their Molelings to Allianz Park and the Stoop, a Mole sponsored 40th birthday trip to Sandy Park and other less ‘glamourous’ reasons, Moles’ captain Elvis was struggling to get a squad together mid-week. However, with the 4s gameless, Mole regulars and/or tourists Mayhem, Steve Wooton, Matt Clarke and Ben Baker were joined by fellow Gannets in Jamie Feighery, Connor Watkins and Dan Grant who were enjoying ‘social rugby at its best’ for the first time.
With Mole #41 Matt Tibbles making a welcome return to the black shirt, albeit in the unfamiliar position of centre alongside U6 coach Marco Kleynhans, the Moles started strongly with the ball passing through the hands to another returning Mole #16 Benny ‘The Pimp’ Giles on the left wing to open the Moles’ account.
This bright start continued with more typically strong ball carrying from ‘Big Bob’ Butler playing at lock today. A ‘Big Bob’ foray up field was well supported by prop Elvis to see the ball back in the scoring zone and shifted left for Vaughan Linklater, playing in his preferred ‘open side’ loose forward position, to add to his impressive 2018/19 try count.
The Moles’ bright start had seemingly caught Bexley unawares; however it was clear that they also had pace in the back line and the Moles characteristically became complacent amidst the glow of their early lead. Some missed tackles gave Bexley a try slightly against the run of play before ‘Benny the Pimp’ provided more great support for Linklater and Tibbles to cross the line again and complete a brace of tries on the day. Bexley hit back again with another try which demonstrated that despite having had the upper hand, the Moles were by no means going to run away with this one. Fortunately, with half-time approaching, Marco popped up to power over the line and therefore see the Moles change ends 22-10 to the good.
Fly-half, Ben Baker despite a sterling first half performance out on the park, had not had his best day with the boot; converting only one from four kicks and subsequently changed position to referee for the second half; not the easiest of gigs considering that this game was being played on a pitch marked out for soccer and augmented with plastic cones here and there. At least rugby posts were in place! Fortunately, the spirit in which this game was played meant that this bizarre arrangement was not an issue on the day; but the ambiguity this naturally presented could have created all kinds of issues. Looking ahead, let’s hope that Bexley’s groundsman can get to grips with the concept of using two different colours of paint to distinguish the markings for two sports on a multi-use pitch!
Before we move on to the second half, the final minute of the first requires more detailed reporting. Scrum-half, Jeff ‘Nod’ Saward is perhaps the most enthusiastic, positive member of the entire Moles’ fraternity. For example, pass the ball to Nod’s feet or high above his head, he’ll still cry, “Good ball. Looking!” With Bexley applying pressure in the Moles’ half, a penalty being won alongside the Bexley-supplied first-half referee calling, “Final play” was well received. A kick for a lineout followed. Naturally, the forwards were quizzing why we didn’t just make a pass and kick the ball dead. “No, we want to go and score another one” enthused Nod. “No, we will just win this lineout and you then kick it out Nod” came the grumpy reply. Predictably, the Moleys lost the lineout but thankfully turned over the ball at the next breakdown. “Kick it out Nod!” was cried by many in unison. Nod didn’t verbalise it, but you could tell that he had now come around to this way of thinking. All Nod had to do was turn 90 degrees and kick the ball seven metres, if that, into touch. Nod, however, turned 180 degrees towards his own posts and kicked the ball straight towards his own try line into the path of the marauding Bexley wing. Fortunately, Benny the Pimp was on hand to clear things up in the goal area before his Bexley counterpart could. Nonetheless, it was brief a ‘heart in the mouth’ moment. “I was just trying not to kick the ball on to the other pitch!” pleaded Nod. Bless him. We love our Nod!
Any Moles’ half-time involves a plethora of changes and this was no exception. Dan Grant and Smudge coming in to prop for Pierre and Elvis with new lock pairing Mayhem and Jamie Feighery coming in to the second row. Nod made way for his son Lewis at 9 with Connor Watkins coming in at 10.
Despite the quality that the half time changes introduced, the Moles found the going tougher in the second half. A break in play on the adjacent, perfectly marked out pitch (the one Nod was trying to avoid!) for a serious injury seemingly allowed Bexley 2s to refresh their playing stocks with one or two ‘1s’ players who needed to keep warm. As a result, Bexley were energised and added two converted tries to their account; enough, if the Moles had not responded, to win the game. However, the Moles did respond. First through a potentially controversial try, given the lack of a formal try line, which was ultimately claimed by ‘on-pitch’ Moles’ skipper, Gareth ‘Miami’ Moore. This was after referee Baker had adjudged that Jamie Feighery had been stripped by a Bexley defender over the invisible line; only for the defender to then fumble and in turn, Miami to pounce and apply downward pressure. The Moles then made sure of the victory with some more nice rugby through the hands and that man Vaughan running through the posts to touch down for his second try of the afternoon. Both Moles’ second half tries were deftly converted by Connor Watkins.
Aside from Moles’ chairman #5 Steve Weeks enjoying one of his nowadays rare run outs in the black shirt, perhaps the big story of the second half was the introduction of – remember the name - George Turner to rugby. George rocked up to his first rugby training session on the Wednesday before. It was immediately apparent that young George could catch and throw but he admitted that he wasn’t sure about tackling. After five minutes of coaching clichés (e.g. ‘tower of power’ and ‘cheek to cheek’ etc.) from Elvis and Miami, George joined the rest of the trainees in a tackling drill and proceeded to flatten Velcro with a text book ‘hit’ that made onlookers wince and/or laugh in almost equal measures. Reader, if he hasn’t robbed you of commission while selling your house, you’ll be pleased to read that this didn’t have a long term effect on Velcro who along with making some good carries and some trademark effective mammary-region tackles/challenges, was reliably questioning the ref’s parentage on Saturday and forcing Miami to utilise his most acute of diplomatic skills in subsequent negotiations with the official. Meanwhile, George’s first contribution to Moles’ rugby involved being underneath a high ball from a re-start, executing a confident take, running straight, ploughing through a couple of challenges and making a gain of 25 metres or so. Add to this a number of crunching tackles and a few more useful carries and what you have is a fine rugby debut for young George to be very proud of. Maybe ‘Kooga’ is an apt nickname for George based on the popular rugby stash brand’s ‘Made for Rugby’ strapline? Time will tell; but first impressions are, more often than not, very telling!
A good win like this doesn’t come without a number of decent personal performances and hence, Miami and Elvis decided to take a democratic approach to awarding Mole-of-the-Match this time. Subsequently mentioned in dispatches were Miami himself relishing playing 8 and hitting ruck after ruck; Welshy for doing similar at 6; Matt Tibbles for strong carrying and tackling through the midfield despite the odd blood injury; Neil Martin for throwing the dart in well at line out time and being the usual nuisance he is around the park; Steve Wootton at full back for keeping things very ‘tidy’ and if it wasn’t a good day (at that time at least) to be a Welsh person involved in English rugby, may have indeed scooped a coveted MOTM tee-shirt. However, this time the Primark XXXL, quality garment with Mrs Lloydy applied transfer went to two-try back row Vaughan Linklater after another barnstorming ‘can anyone keep up with him’ performance.
After the new Moley jugs were christened with the finest of budget supermarket Ports, the Moles were disappointed not to be fed with Bexley’s finest fayre over several seasons of local chippy-supplied sausage (or saveloy) and chips! As palatable as the curry provided was; the prospect of chippy chips were a factor in taking this away fixture despite there being no rugby on at Rectory Field. No pitch, no chips? Sort it out Bexley!
Back at HQ, up on chairs during the half-time of the Wales England match, a halcyon time when England were still on for a 2019 Grand Slam, stood Vaughan, George and Nod for the well documented reasons details above and Benny the Pimp for, despite having an absolute blinder, demonstrating blatant disregard of Moles’ sartorial protocols despite a more than an adequate amount of reminders. He’d never have dared to be so bold in Theobald’s days! Shame! Great to have you back Ben, but you know the expectations!
As these gallant heroes prepared to down their dirty pints to the drone of “Why was he born so beautiful….” in the ‘Alan Tointon’ Players’ Bar, a white-shirted red-rose wearing visitor to the rugby club, enjoying if not the traditional rugby club atmosphere in that moment but certainly our 'cheaper-than-pubs' beer prices, motioned impatiently at Elvis to indicate that the Wales and England players were returning to the field on the giant TV screen behind our drinking heroes. Following a culturally-influenced verbal ‘knee-jerk’ of “Eh, eh mate calm down, calm down”, Elvis, who could upset someone at a convention of the 1000 happiest people in the world by simply inquiring “who’s drinking out of a jug and hasn’t played?”, went over to have a ‘quiet word’ with the guest. Diplomatically, Elvis pointed out that while the guest was very welcome to enjoy the Six Nations at the club and England rugby is very important, at Gravesend Rugby Club, any Gravesend team is even more important than England and the Moles, whose heroes he had shown unnecessary impatience with, is something much, much more than just a rugby team!