National 2 (S)

Taunton Titans 20, Tonbridge Juddians 5

TAUNTON Titans thrust themselves into the thick of the National 2 South promotion race with a superb victory over league leaders Tonbridge Juddians at Hyde Park.

Roared on by a vocal crowd of 586, the Titans were on the front foot throughout and delivered a performance of heart and quality to retain their unbeaten home record, with Alex Spurdle’s first half try added to by a brace from Isaac Dalton after the break.

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Taunton set their stall out from the outset and dominated possession and territory in the early stages, though they were initially frustrated by some stubborn visiting defence.

The 20-minute mark passed with no score on the board but, shortly afterwards, an excellent driving maul brought Taunton the opening try of the game.

From a lineout around 15 metres out, the home pack gathered momentum and, as growing numbers joined the push, forced their way over with Spurdle at the bottom of the pile touching the ball down.

Gary Kingdom’s conversion slid wide but, having worked so hard to earn the lead, there was frustration among the home faithful as it was squandered almost immediately.

Cory Teague spilled the Tonbridge restart, handing the visitors possession and their first real opportunity to launch an attack.

It was a chance they seized, Tom Chapman skipping past the attempted tackle of Nick Mason – who picked up an injury in the incident which ended his game – to level the scores just to the right of the posts.

Will Robinson surprisingly sent the very presentable conversion wide and Taunton were soon back in the lead when Kingdom was more accurate off the tee with a penalty just before the half hour mark.

The hosts remained in the ascendancy and spurned a chance to add to their advantage when Jack Arnott burst through, only to be denied by a last-ditch Tom May tackle just when it looked as though the Titans had a two-on-one developing.

A couple more dropped balls cost the Titans as the half drew to a close with the lead still at 8-5, and a similar theme continued after the restart as a pass slightly behind Oscar Kolowski was put down to deny the winger the chance to scamper into the space which had opened up on the left hand side.

There was no let up in the pressure Taunton applied and they thought they had the crucial second try when Tom Wyatt touched down, only for the touch judge to intervene and disallow the try for a knock-on.

Far from being despondent about the decision, Taunton stepped on the accelerator again from the five-metre scrum which followed.

The ball was kept in the forwards and, after several phases, the prolific prop Dalton forced his way over under the posts.

Kingdom’s conversion opened up a 15-5 lead with an hour played and it was an advantage Taunton were not going to give up easily.

The hosts stayed tenacious in the tackle and dangerous going forward as the leaders’ threat was blunted – they did not look like a side who had put 68 points on the Titans in the reverse fixture.

Taunton’s revenge for that chastening afternoon in October was complete with two minutes to play when that man Dalton again powered over from close range to open up an unassailable lead.

The next objective was the four-try bonus point and Taunton threw the kitchen sink at Tonbridge in overtime as they camped on the visitors’ line.

TJ’s held firm in the face of repeated charges from the forwards and a knock-on ended the chance of picking up all five points, but that did little to dampen the joy which greeted the final whistle – particularly from the hearty Taunton St Andrew’s Cricket Club contingent, who kept noise levels high throughout as they threw their support behind one of their own in Charlie Williams.

The four points – and sending Tonbridge away with nothing – leave the Titans just four adrift of the Juddians, who Taunton had never beaten prior to today.

With Taunton now having played each of the remainder of the top four home and away – and the top two still to play each other – an exciting run-in lies ahead; if the Titans can keep to today’s level of performance, they will not be far away.

Taunton Titans; Connor Baker, Alex Spurdle, Isaac Dalton, Charlie Williams, Cory Teague, Ben Oliphant-Thompson, Ratu Vakalutukali, Dan Lee (capt); James Tait, Lewis Webb, Oscar Kolowski, Toby East, Nick Mason, Jack Arnott, Gary Kingdom. Replacements: Chris Francis, Gary Carpenter, Stuart Persey, Brett Harvey, Thomas Wyatt