This was Thanet’s U14s first game back after the Christmas break and in a new decade. The weather at St Peter’s was chilly, slightly windy, but bright and clear. Dover always present as powerful, tough opponents and this was a good test for Wanderers at the start of the second half of the season.

Thanet had a squad of 19 players for the game, but unfortunately, their usual Captain, Theo Rowe, was injured the day before this match and although he tested his injury before the kick-off he had to sit this one out.

Wanderers started exceptionally strongly and were immediately on the front foot from the start, putting great pressure on Dover. Tom O’Callaghan put in some big ‘hits’ and carried the ball well, setting the tone for what proved a very good all-round game from him.

After some good work by Max Anderson in the middle of the pitch and quick passing through the hands of Oscar Andrews, O’Callaghan and Henry Carruthers, the ball ended up with Gil Smith who still had a lot to do, but showing great movement and a huge dose of determination, he made sure he opened the scoring.

A few minutes later after Jack Brewer demonstrated great hands from the restart Thanet were again in possession of the ball. Toby Hunt, Vinnie Perkins, and Fred O’Halloran all gained valuable metres and Carruthers took over with a powerful trademark run from out wide, cutting back in to score and leave an easy kick for Charlie Panteli to add the extra points.

Owen Read at full-back again showed good hands and was calm when collecting the ball. He made a fantastic run beating 6 or 7 of the Dover lads and pushed the  Wanderers up the field into the opposition half. The ball was passed to Isaac Divine who powered on and then Hunt took possession and ran through to touch down and again give Panteli a nice central kick between the posts for the conversion attempt. Thanet were now 19-0 up on the scoreboard.

Midway through the first half Wanderers unleashed a try worthy of high praise. The ball was won back by Smith and quick passing went through Ralph, Carruthers, Divine, Evans, Panteli and reached Burch who drew Dover’s last man and then passed the ball perfectly onto Andrews who sprinted for the line, to score the try of the season……so far. This left Panteli with a difficult conversion for the extra points from wide out towards the touchline in windy conditions, but he showed that his hours of practice had paid off as he put the kick straight through the posts.

Thanet were producing some fantastic passing phases during the game and were making good decisions and demonstrating great tackling and above all everyone was playing together as a team with each player giving maximum effort. Further good play by Divine, Anderson, Carruthers, and O’Halloran in the engine room of the team, allowed Burch to gain some space and he showed a clean pair of heels to the opposition to score.

Before the half was over, O’Callagan and Hunt showed great determination to win the ball back from Dover and it was passed onto Smith who freed Carruthers allowing him to get his second try which Panteli converted to give Wanderers a 38-0 half time lead.

During the break, the Coaches praised the lads for their efforts, which had been probably the best half of rugby they had played all season, but reminded them to keep their feet on the ground using cliches such as “assume the score is 0-0”. A few changes were made to the line-up and the boys went out knowing that Dover would come out strongly for the second half.

Stanley Ball, Sam Lawless, and Linus Honey were introduced as new players at the beginning of the second half. Thanet again started well with Smith, Panteli, and Perkins all making some strong tackles. After a few minutes, good work from Honey and Anderson allowed Burch to receive the ball. He still had a long way to go to the try line, but he showed the determinations and will that the Coaches want from the boys and he powered over for his second try, to give Wanderers a 43-0 lead.

To their credit Dover grew back into the game, not letting their heads drop. They had a good spell of possession and pushed Thanet back into their own half. Dover then won a line-out and from this they made 5 or 6 attempts to get over the Thanet try line, but Wanderers showed awesome defence, the best of which came from O’Callaghan who held up a Dover player who did breakthrough and denied him a score. A few minutes later after Thanet gave away a penalty and their players showed a slight lapse in concentration, Dover did make it through Wanderers defence to score.

Thanet’s last replacement, Finn Hickmott, was introduced into the game as the Wanderers tried to regain ascendency. Thanet turned on the power and put a lot of pressure back onto Dover, probing with good passing movement from Smith, Hunt, and Hickmott. This gave Carruthers an opportunity and he demonstrated great skill and strength to get through to the try line, but not before his desire to score under the posts while trying to get around Dover’s players before touching down for his hat trick of tries, had left their hearts in the mouths of a number of spectators. Panteli converted to give Wanderers a resounding win.

At the final whistle, the score was Thanet 50 – Dover 5. Thanet had put on a fantastic performance playing some of their best rugby to date. Dover never gave up and showed great character, but Wanderers can be pleased not just with the result but more importantly with how they played.

Matthew Hickmott.