A party atmosphere descended on Princes Park, Dartford, last night as the Kent Ravens Rugby League team made their inaugural appearance at the new state of the art stadium. A crowd of around 500 were entertained by a full-blooded and at times frenetic Rugby League Conference Premier clash between the Ravens and visitors London Skolars.
The nerves of the Ravens players were palpable as the opening kick sailed out on the full and the Skolars used the resulting penalty to put them under early pressure. The Skolars almost capitalised immediately with the standoff’s clever dinking kick along the ground into the corner proving just too deep for the impressive speedster on the right wing.
The Ravens then took their chance to attack and a scoot from the play the ball by the fullback caught out the Skolars defence who resorted to giving away a penalty for holding down. The Kent side built on the possession to work the ball across the field, with forward Steve Scanlan showing great strength to bulldoze over the line and write a little piece of history with the first try at Princes Park four minutes in to the game. The Ravens lead lasted just three minutes, the Skolars right winger finding a gap out wide with his own scooting run into the corner to level the scores.
It was twenty minutes before the next score was to arrive, the Skolars kept the ball alive with some ambitious offloads which saw them eventually crash over close to the sticks. Skipper Kurt Pittman added the conversion to give his side a 6-point lead. This was the sign that the men from New River were to hit their first purple patch of the game, two minutes later a break and clever pass from the standoff found the fullback running an intelligent line to touch down beneath the sticks. A brave rally from the Ravens required some gutsy try line defence to deny them before the Skolars pulled out a long range move down the left hand touchline to find themselves under the sticks again.
The closing ten minutes of the first-half were to be a showcase for the Skolars right centre-wing partnership, first a break down the right hand flank saw the winger push the ball back inside as he was dragged into touch to put his centre in, then three minutes later the centre reciprocated with a long looping pass to send his winger into the corner following a well worked move orchestrated by the scrumhalf.
Despite some tired the legs, the Ravens remained committed and their persistence was rewarded with a second try when Daniel Smart smashed his way over on thirty nine minutes, with Thomas Claridge adding on the conversion to send the sides in to the break at 10 – 30.
The first five minutes of the second half saw both teams step up in attack, with both bombing gilt-edged chances with dropped balls under the challenge of some brutal, bone crunching defence. However, it took just eight minutes before the Skolars right centre found a way through some flat defence to stride away into the corner for the first try of the second half.
The Ravens again rallied and put the visitors under the most concerted period of pressure in the whole game. The home sides won themselves a series of back to back sets via a goal line dropout and a penalty for holding down, but despite being virtually camped on the opposition line they could find no way through. At times the scenes were almost slapstick as the Skolars defenders hurled themselves in front of the Ravens juggernaut in desperate, last ditch attempts to hold the line.
The Skolars finally broke the Ravens resolve on the hour mark, a solid set of six in attack punched them down the field and a drive over from close range extended the lead to 10 – 38. A minute later the standoff latched on to an offload thirty metres out to jink his way over and the floodgates had opened as the Skolars entered their second purple patch of the game. Three more tries followed in close succession as the visitors took advantage of some tiring defence on the Ravens left hand flank, before the right wing broke on the opposite side to feed the fullback for the final try on seventy five minutes.
To their credit the Ravens refused to let their heads go down and continued to take the fight to the Skolars to the very end, earning a standing ovation off the field from the vociferous partisan crowd. Ultimately it was the greater experience of the Skolars, many with experience in National League Two, which made the difference. The Skolars were quicker to get the second and third man to the tackle, showed more awareness in their support running and slicker handling of the ball in particular the crisp distribution of hooker Kurt Pittman from the play the ball.
Kent Ravens have come along way in the last three years and despite what the score line may suggest the side have great potential that will develop as they progress along their own learning curve. In Princes Park the Ravens have a stadium to be proud of and in Kent Ravens the town of Dartford has a rugby league side to be proud of.
Kent Ravens: (10) 10
London Skolars: (30) 68