A 76th minute penalty for Tonbridge Juddians slotted from the 38m mark by fly half Will Robinson was just enough to secure the win against Birmingham & Solihull at the Slade, who recovered from a poor start to give their hosts a real scare in the second half.
Two tries down with just 5 minutes on the clock, a five-point deduction carried forward from 2017/18 and the prospect of a 165-mile homeward coach journey, life in National League 2 South was probably looking fairly unappealing for Pete Glackin’s side at that point.
However, the Bees regrouped and proceeded to show the sort of character and resilience that won them the title in the league below last season and, at least on this showing, should hold them in good stead for the realities of English rugby at Level 4.
Both opening TJ tries came from well executed backline moves, centre Rob White the first to cross the whitewash with less than a minute played, shortly followed by a score from full back Toby May after 5 minutes, with Robinson adding the extras from the kicking tee. Well taken as each of the opening tries were, the Bees defence were left with some questions to answer for both scores.
With the Bees holding their own against a big Tonbridge pack, the visitors were finally rewarded for their industry on the half an hour mark in the form of an impressive try from age grade product Dan Kelly, making his league debut at outside centre. With Jack Jolly adding the extras, the Bees were back in the game at 12-7.
The Bees were guilty of a number of unforced errors throughout the game and it was a mistake whilst attacking in the mid-field that gifted their hosts a try on the stroke of half time, winger Finlay Coxon-Smith on hand to capitalise and score in the righthand corner. A second Robinson conversion gave TJs a somewhat flattering 19-7 lead at half time.
Whilst Tonbridge opted to enjoy the glorious late summer Kentish sunshine during the break, the Bees headed inside to the changing rooms for, doubtless, a full and frank assessment of their first half performance. The latter approach seemed to work better, as it was the visitors who were to look the stronger side in the second half, to the increasing anxiety of the home support.
A trademark catch and drive from an attacking line out saw flanker Marcus Brown open his account for the new season after 17 minutes. Seventeen minutes later, the Bees had pulled level courtesy of some fine running by another player to have come through the club’s junior ranks, winger Matt Dight. Jolly bagged the regulation extras in front of the posts.
Momentum had seemingly swung in favour of the Midlanders, but Tonbridge were awarded a somewhat fortuitous penalty inside the Bees’ half with four minutes remaining. Robinson, who had looked a class act all afternoon, kept his nerve to regain the lead.
The Bees threw everything into attack in the dying embers of the game but were unable to keep possession. To home relief, scrum half Edwards kicked the ball off the park to secure the 22-19 win for TJs.
Frustrated as they will be by their poor start and not taking their chances to snatch an unlikely victory from their season opener, the Bees have the consolation of a losing bonus point and, thanks to a robust defensive showing, denying TJ a try bonus point. They were also able to give debuts to Dan Kelly, Corey Venus, Ollie Walker and Adam Nunney.
Attention will now move on to preparations for the first home game of the season against Old Redcliffians at Portway this coming Saturday (8th September, KO 2.30pm). The Bristol-based side were narrowly beaten by local rivals Clifton in Round 1.
Bees v Tonbridge Juddians: 1. Joe Foreman, 2. Dale Garner 3. Kurtis Payne, 4. Matt Spink, 5. Andy Weaver, 6. Danny Wright, 7. Ashley Scriven, 8. Umraan Jadwat, 9. Jack Jolly (2C), 10. Harry O’Brien, 11. Matt Dight (T), 12. Nathan Tilsley, 13. Dan Kelly (T) 14. Corey Venus, 15. Ollie Walker.
Replacements: 16. Stewart Pearl, 17. Alex Willis, 18. Marcus Brown (T), 19. Adam Nunney, 20 Alex O’Malley
Referee:- Alexis Manley, Assistant Referees:- Michael Woods & Frank Venner