The season commenced on a pleasantly warm, still, early autumn day at the well-appointed Steel Cross ground. Crowborough looked to be a slightly bigger side than the visitors and after an even first 20 minutes gradually gained control with a stronger scrum, efficient lineout, secure tackling and strong at the breakdown, whilst Cranbrook looked better in the backs.
With a number of debutants, it was pleasing that early on Cranbrook were able to put some phases of play together to gain both ground and confidence. A penalty for Cranbrook was kicked to the corner but the lineout was lost, but after 6 minutes a further penalty to the corner was well secured and driven on for hooker Josh Pankhurst to score, well converted by full back Luke Beaumont.
Play was even but the hosts scored a penalty as Cranbrook were penalised, something that was to trouble them more as the game progressed. Crowborough scored after 15 minutes as the fly half from close range made a jinking run to score near to the posts and convert, though more than one tackle on him was missed. Soon there were signs that Crowborough were gaining scrum dominance but Cranbrook responded and Luke Beaumont made ground with a good jinking run which ended with Crowborough gaining a turnover, One of three in the half, soon after Fabian Rimmer responded in kind with an adept turnover of his own as the game remained well poised, but the home team added a penalty from 35 metres as Cranbrook were caught offside.
In the next 20 minutes either side of halftime the game moved decisively in favour of the hosts as home forward dominance led to continued penalties against Cranbrook, a warning to Captain Hamish Gillanders was given, and good field position gave Crowborough close range opportunities to score in the lead up to the interval where the score was 23-7.
From the Crowborough drop out to start the second half 2nd row Ben Sutton was immediately carded and when the penalty was kicked to the corner and Cranbrook were penalised again, a second card came for scrum half Kasper Bottle who was adjudged to have not retired as the hosts took a quick tap. Against 13 men moving the ball wide produced a comfortable score for the backs who otherwise did not look particularly threatening. Crowborough continued to attack as not for the first time the kick off lacked height or accuracy for the visiting forwards to chase effectively. Soon Cranbrook were penalised at the breakdown and a forwards drive resulted in another try.
With the game decided, perhaps Crowborough had less intensity in the following minutes as Cranbrook showed good spirit to raise their game as they returned to 15 players also making three substitutions. There was a strange decision to attempt a long range penalty which was missed, and a promising situation was spoiled when close to the try line the referee deemed the handoff of Toby Freeman to be too aggressive, so the chance was lost. A score came as No8 Josh Forknall scored from a secured lineout after a penalty was kicked towards the corner, Forknall was then to distinguish himself with a magnificent take at full stretch from the hanging drop out under huge pressure, for good measure he repeated the feat when Cranbrook scored later.
In the meantime, Crowborough scored their final try as Cranbrook again struggled at scrum time being turned over for another close range score.
There was soon a break in the game as Beaumont chasing his kick ahead clashed with the referee who took a heavy blow to the head. After approaching 10 minutes the referee was able to continue, although ready to call penalties rather than let the game develop, he had a consistency in his decision making through the match and handled the matter of new tackle height well.
In the remaining few minutes Cranbrook continued to press and now a Crowborough player was binned for interference at the breakdown. Sub Callum Golds scored after well controlled forward drives for Beaumont to convert. Cranbrook now sensed a 4th try for the bonus point whilst Crowborough were content to see out time and there was no further opportunity for a final score of 41-19.
Afterwards Coach Chris Catt was heartened by much of what he had seen mentioning the crisp accurate passing of Bottle at scrum half the difficulty of playing away at Crowborough where the raised balcony harbours fervent home support stoking up the home effort, and the relative newness of the team with a number of debut makers.
Next week the team entertains Ashford who won at home to Thanet Wanderers today.
The team was: 1 J Bushnell, 2 J Pankhurst, 3 D Lock, 4 B Sutton, 5 T Freeman, 6 J Lamb, 7 H Gillanders-Captain, 8 J Forknall, 9 K Bottle, 10 S Holden-Crauford, 11 A Andrews, 12 F Rimmer, 13 L McClean, 14 W Sellick, 15 L Beaumont. Subs M Stockman for Lock, O Addis for Andrews, C Golds for Sutton. All subs in first few minutes of second half.
Match report by Philip Rimmer