Alchester (15) vs. Grove (9)
By John Sevier
Grove's promotion hopes dealt a blow by unexpected loss to Alchester.
Alchester’s Tom Miles won the battle of the boot against Grove to give his side an unexpected victory over league leaders Grove. In this try-less game Miles kicked 5 penalties to Roger Sevier's 3 to win the game.
Grove started well with clever work between centres Joe Bellinger and Dave Maryon and after just one minute fly half Roger Sevier duly slotted a penalty to give Grove a 0 : 3 lead. Sevier was then unlucky with a long range penalty attempt which rebounded off the upright. Grove continued the early pressure with good attacks from hooker Dave Needham jinky running from Sevier and more intricate passing work, this time between Maryon and prop Steve Dixey. Eventually another penalty was awarded but again this was missed by the Grove fly half. The Grove forwards then started making some uncharacteristic mistakes, notably pushing too early in the scrum, and were penalised on two consecutive scrums for the same offence. On the third scrummage Grove did not push early but lost the scrum against the head. Alchester were clearly taking heart from these Grove errors and began to attack confidently. To make matters worse for Grove the referee was missing a number of Alchester wrongdoings whilst awarding a series of penalties to the home side. The first Alchester attempt at the sticks was missed but finally a penalty awarded in front of the posts, despite a previous blatant Alchester knock-on which went unpunished, was slotted by Miles and the score moved to 3 : 3 with 25 minutes gone. Alchester continued in confident mood and five minutes later were awarded another penalty when Steve Dixey was adjudged to have made an illegal tackle for which he also received a yellow card. With the penalty kicked by Miles the score moved to 6 : 3. Grove were then awarded a penalty for Alchester this time scrummaging illegally but Sevier's kick again went wide of the posts. With Alchester now blatantly going over the top the referee signalled penalty advantage to Grove and Sevier was unlucky with a drop goal attempt but the resultant penalty was duly slotted by him and the score thus moved to 6 : 6. Dixey returned from the sin bin. Despite a series of strong Alchester attacks it was wing Harry Carr for Grove who stole and broke away for what looked like being a certain Grove try only for the ref to blow up and yellow card flanker Guy Nicholl for handling in the ruck. The resultant successful penalty kick gave Alchester the half time lead at 9 : 6.
Grove started the second half with flanker Jack Horrocks being replaced by 1st team debutante Alex Morgan. An Alchester break out resulted in wing Gareth Hudson tackling to prevent a try being scored out wide but then another very kickable penalty was awarded and Miles had no trouble moving his side into a 12 : 6 lead. Grove now lifted their game and moved back into the Alchester half finally being awarded a penalty for a deliberate Alchester knock-on. With the penalty being kicked to touch the Grove forwards then lost their own line out and play came right back into Grove’s half. Joe Bellinger, prop Tim Lane and Roger Sevier then lead the attack back into the Alchester half but when play stopped wing Harry Carr had to leave the field with an injury, to be replaced by lock Mark Tugwell with Guy Nicholl returning from the bin and moving to the wing. Now the Grove forwards really began to drive strongly and Tugwell was really making his presence felt when the ball was fired out to Nicholl who shot over for a touchdown in the corner only for the ref to very controversially call a forward pass in the build up! Alchester thus escaped with a long touch kick but Tim Lane hit back with a strong run only for the referee to once again penalise Grove. Then one of the Alchester locks was sin-binned for a line out offence and it was Alchester’s turn to play with 14 men. Grove moved back to the Alchester 22 metre line but could not penetrate the defence, play ending with a penalty to Grove which Sevier slotted to bring the score to 12 : 9. Grove were now in the ascendancy with attacks coming from the entire back line but again the Alchester defence could not be breached. Alex Morgan and lock Paul Miles were now looking good but Alchester moved Grove back to their own line with a neat box kick which ended with a 5 metre scrum to the home side. Frantic Grove defence kept Alchester out but with the referee signalling penalty advantage to Alchester a drop goal was attempted which missed but was followed by Miles' penalty, which went over to take the score to 15 : 9. With only ten minutes to go Grove substituted Steve Dixey with Jimmy Wallbridge at prop and Grove began to throw everything at Alchester, Tugwell, Lane and scrum half Owen Gustafson looking particularly impressive. Then Grove made a tactical error. Awarded a penalty in front of the posts Grove declined the easy 3 points on offer to bring them within 3 points and instead went for a scrummage which achieved nothing and Alchester were able to counter attack. Despite this setback Grove came again with a superb side-stepping run from Maryon followed by passes and good running from Roger Sevier, full back Nick Sevier and Hudson. Again though, Alchester counter attacked until Grove were awarded a 22 drop out. Flanker Carl Alder was clearly in trouble but with no substitutes remaining he bravely stayed on the field. Grove pushed back deep into Alchester territory and Bellinger, Needham and Gustafson took the ball right to the try line only to lose it at the last second. Again Grove attacked with Nicholl pushing strongly up the wing. Again Tugwell and Lane looked good but somehow Alchester forced their way back into the Grove half. Then Nicholl was taken down with a dreadfully wild high tackle which left the winger prone for several minutes but apart from awarding a penalty to Grove no card of any colour was issued! Grove had to run the penalty and did get back inside the Alchester 22 but finally the ball was dropped and the game was over.
Credit must go to Alchester for sticking to their guns throughout and not being intimidated by the league leaders while Grove had an off day, not helped by some poor and inconsistent refereeing.