IN their last game of the season, Lewes pulled out all the stops in comprehensively beating Tunbridge Wells away, a result which consolidated their sixth place in the final league table, but which also saw the hosts relegated to London South East 3 for next season.
n fine conditions, and in front of a large crowd, the first five minutes of the game belonged to the visitors, as they pressurised Tunbridge within their own half, and it only took them a further minute before they put the first points on the board: outside-half Marty Campbell setting up the attack before off-loading the ball to full-back Matty Hodson. He crashed through to touch down for the opening, but unconverted, try, to lead by 5-0.
Seven minutes later, Lewes scored again, a strong forward drive downfield ending with flanker Callum Armstrong scoring near the posts, inside-centre Jon Pitts’ conversion stretching the advantage to 12-0.
It took Tunbridge 25 minutes to put their first points on the scoreboard, a penalty for a Lewes offside on 23 metres being kicked over by their full-back, Ryan Taylor-Dennehy, to narrow the difference to nine points.
Two minutes later, however, Tunbridge’s outside-half was sin-binned for retaliation, and Lewes took full advantage to increase their lead to 19-3 on the half-hour, Hodson again swerving through the home defence for his second try, converted by Pitts.
But five minutes later, Tunbridge hit back to 8-19 with an unconverted try of their own, winning the ball in their own half before moving swiftly upfield, evading poor tackling by the Lewes defence, and enabling their No.8, Ben Madgewick, to touch down for his side’s first try of the match.
Lewes responded from the re-start, taking play to within their opponents’ 22-metre zone, resulting in a penalty for offside which Pitts duly kicked over to make it 22-8.
Just before the half-time break, this became 27-8, Lewes’ pack winning scrum ball against the head which was picked up by Armstrong for his second – and Lewes’ bonus-point (but unconverted) – try to go in with a comfortable half-time lead.
From the second-half kick-off, Tunbridge – with the advantage of the slope – embarked upon an impressive 20-metre rolling maul towards the Lewes line, which ended with their flanker, John Burns, scoring near the posts, the conversion by their outside-half, George Montgomery, narrowing the difference to 15-27.
The see-saw nature of this open game continued, Lewes retaliating almost immediately with a strong forward drive near the try-line, ending with Captain Ben Hamer – in his last game for the club – scoring a fine try near the posts, which Pitts converted to stretch the lead again to 34-15.
The next five minutes saw continued Lewes pressure near the home try line, as they were now hitting top form in all phases of the game. And they were rewarded on 67 minutes with great inter-play between forwards and backs which was rounded off with Armsrong’s hat-trick try, converted by Pitts, to see the Sussex side pull away at 41-15.
Their lead increased even further, to 48-15, only five minutes later when man of the match Armstrong scored his runaway fourth try, again converted by the in-form Pitts.
With Lewes now understandably taking their foot of the pedal, Tunbridge ended the game on the ascendant, as they desperately sought to score a bonus-point of their own which they hoped may stave off their relegation fears if results elsewhere had been more kind to them.
Although they achieved the extra point – with further tries from Montgomery (which he also converted) and second-row Andy Burgess – the final 27-48 score was not enough to prevent the drop.
Lewes thus rounded off a fine season which, had it not been for their extensive injury list, may have brought them more success.
After the Match, Head Coach Nigel Baker reflected on the year, saying: “This was an ‘if only’ type of season.
“Our extensive injury list from almost the start – including our whole front-row – meant we had to dig deep into our squad, giving several of our Colts players earlier-than-expected debuts.
“In spite of this, it is a credit to Lewes’s strength in depth that we still put up a fine performance in the League, scoring the highest number of bonus points, and were still able to field four Senior teams on some occasions.
“The 2nd XV ended up third in their League, while the 3rds were runners-up in theirs. We can only build on this next season, together with our fine team spirit, in an attempt to secure promotion.”
Tonight (Friday), Lewes hold their Annual Awards Dinner at the Club, from 7.30pm onwards.
LEWES: Brunt, Stechler (Edmondson, 53), Dean (Williams, 72), Brant, Gorbell, Tudor, Armstrong, Hamer (Capt.), Bell, Campbell, Shiel, Pitts, Halpin, Sharp, Hodson.