Grove (24) vs. Beaconsfield (34)
Grove lost all but an unlikely mathematical possibility of a promotion play off this season by going down to league leaders Beaconsfield at Cane Lane on Saturday.
This was truly a game of two halves with the visitors dominant in the first half and Grove leading the way in the second half. Following the numerous serious injuries to key players this season it was good to see the return from a broken leg of No. 8 and Captain Ben Nicholl and centre Tom Clipsham.
As with many Grove games this season the home side started sluggishly and within two minutes, and with a couple of missed tackles, had fallen victim to a good orthodox Beaconsfield backs move which ended with a try in the corner. The touch line conversion was then superbly slotted by the Beaconsfield fly half to put them 0 : 7 in the lead. Beaconsfield initially maintained their advantage with more good running from their backs but Grove forced their way back to the Beaconsfield half through strong forwards play especially from Ben Nicholl, flanker Matt Young and hooker Dave Needham supported well by scrum half Owen Gustafson. The pressure on Beaconsfield was relieved however when the ball was stolen and they kicked into Grove territory. Undaunted Grove came back but again the ball was intercepted and the move ended with a penalty to Beaconsfield on the half way line which was again superbly struck by the fly half to extend Beaconsfield’s lead to 0 : 10. Gustafson then launched a strong solo attack, penetrating deep into Beaconsfield territory but again the ball was turned over and Grove were pushed back through an enormous touch finder from the No. 10. It was then the same player who lead the next backs attack and with a three man overlap being created, the visitors had no trouble touching down in the corner for the fly half to convert with another tremendous touch line kick. The score was now 0 : 17 and Grove looked like they were going to be on the end of a cricket score at full time. Grove tried to counter but time and time again passed the ball with short inside passes back to the forwards rather than be expansive and use their centres and wings and every time the moves were easily and frustratingly read and halted. Regaining possession with a penalty in their own half the Beaconsfield fly half moved Grove right back to their own try line with a pin point accurate kick to the corner. From the line out the ball was cleanly spun through the hands of the Beaconsfield backs to their winger who had no trouble touching down for their third try and the score moved to 0 : 22 with the conversion surprisingly being missed. This was then followed by another missed kick, this time from a penalty but Beaconsfield were certainly in the ascendancy. Yet again Beaconsfield attacked strongly with the ball flowing beautifully through the hands of their backs but at the last second it was knocked on and the half ended at 0 : 22.
The second half began with Grove’s Huw Lewis substituting for full back Danny Ferguson and seemingly having learned something from their opponents, the home side now tried to spin the ball but perhaps because they were not used to receiving the ball it was fumbled and dropped in the centre. Then following a terrific Grove steal at a Beaconsfield line out, Ben Nicholl emerged with the ball and crashed his way over the line in the corner for Grove’s first points of the day. Fly half Roger Sevier’s conversion attempt unluckily rebounded off the upright but the score had now moved to 5 : 22. Again Grove were punished when a long distance penalty to Beaconsfield was kicked to the touchline, about one inch from the corner flag. Grove escaped however when Grove were awarded a free kick after the line out throw was delayed by Beaconsfield. Now it was Sevier’s turn to impress with a monster kick to touch which took play back to the half way line. Beaconsfield hit back and were somewhat unlucky when, what looked like being a certain try, ended with a penalty to Grove for ‘crossing’. The subsequent Grove attack was led by prop Tim Lane and suddenly, through a brisk run from centre Tom Harrington, Grove were again within striking distance of the Beaconsfield line. Quickly taking a tap penalty Gustafson tried to go over but despite great support play from Matt Young, just failed until another penalty was awarded and this time there was no mistake as, like a whippet, Gustafson tapped the ball to himself and dived over between the posts. Sevier slotted the straightforward conversion and Grove it seemed were back in the game at 12 : 22. Then it went ‘pear shaped’ for Grove when at least four tackles were missed as the Beaconsfield right wing galloped over the line following a fine run, but one which should have been stopped. Again the conversion was missed but the score had now moved to 12 : 27. Next Alex Morgan substituted for Ben Nicholl in the back row. Following three more Grove attempts to run the ball through the backs hands with all three moves ending with the ball being dropped, Grove now seemingly changed tactics and started using the grubber kick to penetrate their opposition’s defences. Following a strong forwards push, led by James Eckert, Young and Needham the ball was popped to Sevier who grubbered through for Harry Carr to collect and run in a great try between the posts. Sevier’s successful conversion brought Grove to within 8 points of their opponents at 19 : 27 and there now seemed to be new hope for the home side. Tim Lane lead Grove’s next attack but again the ball was dropped by the backs before Grove took the resultant scrum ‘against the head’ easily pushing their opponents off the ball. Huw Lewis then had a fine run but the ball was turned over and Beaconsfield stormed back and with great running and handling, put their supporting hooker over for another try between the posts. The conversion moved the score to 19 : 34 with time fast running out for Grove. Again it was Lewis who stormed back at Beaconsfield only to be felled by a high tackle. From the resultant penalty Sevier put Grove in for a line out five metres from the Beaconsfield line only for Grove to then lose the ball on their own throw. Nevertheless the pressure was kept on and was rewarded when, having regained possession, Gustafson chipped over for Carr to pounce again for his second try of the day. With the conversion missed but the score at 24 : 34 Grove had seven minutes to overhaul their opposition. Despite some now ferocious Grove attacks it was not to be however and the game ended with both sides having earned a bonus point but with the winning points deservedly having gone to Beaconsfield.