Kent County RFU Development Squad undefeated on South African Tour.

National County Champions Kent have embarked on their 3rd overseas ‘Player Development’ tour, this time to South Africa. The development tour has been seven years in the making due to COVID which has allowed Senior Representative Director Taff Gwilliam and player coach Tom Stradwick to blend the best of our talent as part of the future plans to maintain Kent’s position as English County Champions.

Having landed in Capetown on 8th July and following a few days of ‘acclimatisation’ and training at Hamilton’s RFC and Kraaifontein RFC the squad headed back to Kraaifontein for their first match. Kraaifontein RFC were the first opponents and in perfect conditions the match kicked off.

The early exchanges were pretty even. Kent created opportunities to score but some initial handling errors let them down. The home side created their own opportunities but excellent defence from Aiden Moss, Alfie Orris, Mo Pangarker and KK Orelaji kept them at bay.

As the game wore on Kent began to dominate the set piece and as the home side battled to get out of their own half Nick Cook won excellent turnover ball and fed fellow back row player Rafael Dutta who scampered away to score out wide. Frank Reynolds landed the conversion and Kent led 7-0.

The game remained tight with both sides playing an expansive game. The breakdown was fiercely contested. Sam Fombo and Harrison Chapman worked exceptionally hard to ensure good ball retention. Both sides had opportunities but excellent scramble defence meant no further scoring until the 38th minute.

A Kraaifontein scrum on their 22m line saw excellent pressure from the Kent row of Luke Boon Billy Sandison and Danny Herriott force the visitors to lose control. The loose ball was picked up by Rafael Dutta who sped away for his second try which remained unconverted. 0-12

At half time Kent made a number of changes as they were looking to give every squad member valuable game time.

With the changes the home side were able to exploit the visitors side before they settled down and on 43 minutes deservedly got back into the game with a well taken converted try. 7-12.

Within 9 minutes Kent had replied. Good set piece ball provided by Archie Holland, Alex Witchel and Michel Fankah backed up by Henry Kenny and Jordan Stubbington saw Frank Reynolds and Lewis Hollidge create the space for KK Orelaji to put Aiden Moss in for the visitors third try. Frank Reynolds converted. 7-19.

Kent made further changes. Tom Halliday replacing brother Max Halliday. Cullen Daly replaced Tom Williams. Sam Evans on for Frank Reynolds and Bryan Houston for Aiden Moss. Harvey Furneaux replaced Rafael Dutta in the back row. None the changes adversely affected the performance. Kent with set piece dominance saw the home side forced into running everything at every opportunity.  The change in tempo saw them create a few opportunities but the Kent defence held well.

The final score of the game saw the ever dangerous Alfie Orris break two tackles to score out wide. Sam Evans’ ever reliable boot added the conversion to see Kent win their first match of the tour. The home side were excellent hosts creating a memorable night for all concerned.

Kent continued their development tour of South Africa with a match against the Correctional Services RFC in Pretoria. On arrival the hosts lined the entrance to the stadium and applauded the touring party as they entered the ground.

Playing at altitude was a new experience for the whole squad. Kent were able to rotate the starting lineup and on a firm pitch the match kicked off in front a good sized vocal crowd.

This was the first time that the Correctional 1st XV had hoisted an overseas team and they were keen to make an impression on their visitors both off and on the field. This they did with a try after only 2 minutes. A high ball found grass and the bounce fell into the hands of the hosts and they scored an unconverted try out wide. 5-0. 

As the game progressed it was clear that Kent were gaining the upper hand in the set piece. The front five of Archie Holland, Alex Witchel, Danny Herriott, Henry Kenny, and Sam Fombo were winning the scrum battle and the lineout led by Rafa Dutta were securing their own ball and pressuring the home sides ball.

That pressure on the home side set piece paid off after 10 minutes when Tom Halliday scored in the corner. This as a result of a dominant scrum. Excellent handling from Sam Evans, Lewis Hollidge and Keita Orelaji gave Halliday the opportunity to finish well outside. Evans landed an excellent conversion for Kent to lead 5-7.

The next score was not until the 22nd minute. Kent had had good opportunities with Alfie Orris and eventual man of the match Bryan Hotston looking very dangerous and causing problems however the hosts re-took the lead. Their scrum half breaking from open play and scoring an unconverted try. 10-7.

Kent made early changes on 25 minutes with Michael Fankah coming on for Danny Herriott. Aiden Moss replaced Keita Orelaji who had a slight hand injury. Fankah made an immediate impact by winning a turnover ball at the breakdown following a good defensive work from Henry Kenny and Lewis Hollidge. Again good handling involving Cullen Daly and Jordan Stubbington saw Harvey Furneaux drive over out wide. Evans on fine kicking form and added the extras. 10-14.

The lead was further extended when the forwards stole the home sides lineout ball and scrum half Cullen Daly made no mistake from close range. Evans once again converted and Kent led 21-10 at half time.

Kent made a change at the half with Nick Cook on for Jordan Stubbington who had made an excellent contribution.

The first score of the second half went to Correctional Services after 48 minutes. Good lineout ball despite pressure saw them drive for the line successfully. The try was converted to make the score 17-21.

Kent made further changes to ensure everyone had good playing time. Frank Reynolds replacing Sam Evans. Player Coach Tom Stradwick replacing Sam Fombo. Harrison Chapman replacing Henry Kenny. Luke Boon replacing Archie Holland.

Despite so many changes it was Kent who scored next. Good attacking play from the backs with the impressive Hotston, Orris, Halliday and Moss all prominent saw the home side eventually penalised at the breakdown. Reynolds kicked for the corner. 

Kent won good lineout ball from that kick but the home side defended the catch and drive well however they could not defend the subsequent phase play with Daly feeding Dutta out wide on the short side for Dutta to score in the corner. Frank Reynolds converted 17-28. 

Lewis Hollidge replaced Cullen Daly at 9. Bill Sandison came on for Alex Witchel. That was also Dutta’s last act as he was replaced by Mo Pangarker. 

On 66 minutes Kent further increased their lead. A well worked catch and drive lineout from the forwards saw Michael Fankah get the final touch down. Reynolds added the extras 17-35.

Correctional Services made changes of their own and to good effect. They came roaring back scoring two well taken converted tries despite being on the back foot in the set piece. This making the match a single score difference with the score at 31-35. The final minutes of the match were frantic. Good defence from Luke Boon, Harrison Chapman and Mo Pangarker ensured the home side did not score again.

The final act of the game saw Kent win a penalty in front of the posts. Being the last kick Frank Reynolds made no mistake to make the final score 31-38.

This was yet another tough tour match where the Kent squad showed good character and perseverance to secure their second victory. The spirit and belief within the squad is outstanding. The group are experiencing different types of rugby from which they are all gaining and developing their skills and knowledge.

Kent went into their final game of their South African tour looking to remain unbeaten. Impala RFC, former South African club Champions, looked to be the strongest test of the tour.  

On arrival at the ground Kent were informed by the Impala coach that they would be facing a mixed Impala RFC 1st and 2nd team squad due to Impala playing a key league match a few days later. Given the nature of the game, Kent were sympathetic to the circumstances and wished Impala the best of luck in that key game.

The match kicked off and Kent were soon on the front foot. Archie Holland, Billy Sandison (Captain for the day and playing his last ever game of rugby), Michael Fankah, Sam Fombo and Tom Stradwick drove the home pack back forcing them to concede a penalty. Frank Reynolds kicked for the corner. Sandison found Stradwick and the pack drove Impala back with Sandison getting the touchdown and opening score. Frank Reynolds converted and Kent led 0-7. A great start!

With a dominant scrum, Kent was able to secure quality ball. Good work in the loose from Jordan Stubbington and Mo Pangarker ensured possession was retained. Cullen Daly and Frank Reynolds maintained the tempo and distributed well allowing Lewis Hollidge and Tom Halliday to keep stretching the home defence with excellent handling.

On 16 minutes Kent secured the front foot scrum ball once again. The backs executed a strike move and Alfie Orris went over in the corner for a well executed unconverted try. 0-12.

The resultant kickoff from Impala saw Nick Cook field the ball and carry breaking the kick chase line. Good handling and running from Frank Reynolds, Lewis Hollidge, Tom Halliday and Aiden Moss put Max Halliday away. He finished well beating the cover defence to score. Reynolds added the conversion. 0-19.

Kent made changes with Nick Cook and Sam Fombo leaving the field with slight knocks. Henry Kenny and Harrison Chapman replacing them. Kent continued to dominate but the home side defence held firm making the half time score 0-19.

The second half kicked off with an error which saw Kent awarded a scrum 15 metres out. Impala conceded three consecutive scrum penalties and eventually Harvey Furneaux scored. San Evans converted having come on for Frank Reynolds. 0-26.

Impala changed their game plan and looked to keep the ball in play as much as possible. 

Kent had rotated their players at halftime with Luke Boon, Alex Witchel and Danny Herriott entering the fray. Rafa Dutta and Harvey Furneaux replacing Mo Pangarker and Jordan Stubbington. Bryan Hotston came on for Aiden Moss a little later. Tom Williams, Matt Harrison and Keith Orelaji all with slight injuries were not risked given they were required for pre-season with their respective clubs. Cullen Daly also left the field of play having played valuable game time returning from his injury just prior to the tour and was replaced by the versatile Lewis Hollidge.

On 58 minutes once Kent had settled down from all their changes scored a magnificent try. Just about every Kent player was involved in a break out try from their own 22m. Great offloading, support play and handling eventually saw Rafael Dutta score out wide for the unconverted try. 0-31.

Impala despite being on the back foot continued to play quickly and keep the ball alive to avoid the Kent set piece dominance. They were rewarded for their endeavours when good offloading and support play saw them break their duck on 63 minutes. The try was converted. 7-31.

As the match went into the 70th Minute Bryan Hotston rounded off a great personal tour with an unconverted try out wide. 

The final play of the game saw Kent score under the posts. Kent’s dominance of the set piece provided the platform for Michael Fankah (who had returned to the fray) to score from close range. Billy Sandison’s last act as player was to covert the try to make the final score 7-43.

This tour is a huge development for the lads and Kent County RFU is hugely proud of the team and looks forward to this season 23-24 in the County Championships after the disappointing, but for what the county saw as an unwarranted points deduction, the U20s would have made the County Final along with the Senior team.