Nervy TJs take it right down to the wire before Harding kick seals play-off berth
National League Three London & South East
Tonbridge Juddians 8 Ampthill 8
WHILE Pete Dankert was the first to admit Saturday's game wasn't one for the rugby connoisseur, Tonbridge Juddians fans didn't care as they booked their spot in the National 3 play-off final.
TJs needed just a point to beat Ampthill in the race to second spot on games won and while everyone knew the game would be tight, few expected it to go right down to the wire like it did.
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In the end Charlie Harding's penalty was enough to see TJs across the line and coach Dankert was a relieved man.
"It was very nervy and I did not enjoy it at all," he said. "It was a really great occasion for the crowd – pretty intense and exciting – but for the rugby fan it was a pretty dire game. It was one defensive unit against another and they both stood up.
"I think we made more line breaks and created a few more chances than they did. But we were under severe pressure at times, like they were. Overall, we were probably the better side."
With bodies scattered across the Slade at the final whistle it really was a war of attrition. For TJs, hooker Jack Knight and tight-head prop Carl Ambrose were both forced to leave the field, while Ampthill saw two players sent to the sin-bin in a tough second-half.
It took 30 minutes before either side got on the scoresheet. Daniel Lavery missed three early penalties for the visitors, as TJs struggled to get to grips with the refereeing. They would come out on the wrong end of decisions most of the afternoon.
They finally took the lead and somewhat surprisingly, given Ampthill's strength in that area, it was a forwards try. Mase Leuluniu came up with the ball after a pile of bodies forced their way over the line.
Lavery finally found his range to bring the score back to 5-3 at half-time.
Despite having Brent Hamlin in the bin, TJs started the second-half on the front foot, but hardly any of the game was played in either 22 as the forwards dominated. For TJs, Mase was quite outstanding all over the park.
With uncontested scrums in force, Ampthill finally got their backs involved and Ross Davies went over on 71 minutes to take the lead 8-5 – Lavery missing his kick once more.
The advantage didn't last long.
Chris Anderson was sent to the sin bin for a tackle off the ball and Harding found his kicking boots to pull TJs level with a couple of minutes remaining.
There were a few nervy moments at the end, but the hosts held on and now take on National League Three South West side Chinnor, this weekend, in a bid to secure their fourth consecutive promotion.
The game kicks-off in Thame at 3pm.