Grove (21) vs. Buckingham (32)
Grove snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when, with just 3 minutes of the game remaining they let go a lead they had fought almost half the game with just 14 men to gain.
Grove started very strongly, attacking their way to the Buckingham line with right wing Harry Carr finishing a three-quarters move superbly to score in the corner after just five minutes. The difficult conversion was narrowly missed but Grove were 5 : 0 up. Buckingham pressed straight back with a very determined attack but great resistance work by centres Joe Bellinger and Nick Sevier plus Carr and fellow wing Guy Nicholl in particular kept them at bay. Nicholl was then unlucky with a chip and chase when he accidentally stepped on the whitewash for a Buckingham line out. Despite all this it was Buckingham who next took the lead with a fine try and conversion and the match was closely positioned at 5 : 7. Full back Roger Sevier then uncharacteristically missed with two fairly long range but achievable penalty pots at the posts. Nicholl was then just beaten in a foot race to the Buckingham line following his monster fly hack of the ball. Scrum half Owen Gustafson, flanker Dave Wells and hooker Steve Dixey were then all involved in strong attacks at Buckingham until Grove's pressure lead to another penalty, which this time Sevier safely slotted to give Grove the lead back at 8 : 7, with 35 minutes gone. Poor kicking out of hand by Grove then lead to further Buckingham pressure being heaped on them but this was resisted and Grove finally went back on the attack with Bellinger almost making his way to the Buckingham try line with another fine solo effort. Awarded another penalty, Grove declined the opportunity to go for the posts and went for the deep line out instead. Although no try came from this another penalty was awarded to Grove and with no time left for anything other than a pot at the posts Roger Sevier duly obliged to give Grove a half time lead of 11 : 7.
The second half started with heavy pressure from Buckingham and Gustafson got into terrible trouble when, isolated in his own 22 metre area, he tried to side-step out of danger and got caught but somehow still managed to get the ball away into touch. Shortly after this the event occurred which almost definitely cost Grove the game, the league leadership and possibly the chance of promotion. Buckingham launched a strong attack down their right wing and following a tackle by Nicholl on the Buckingham ball carrier the referee produced a red card, sending off the Grove winger for what he signalled as a 'tip tackle' but which many spectators believed should hardly have even been a penalty! Buckingham capitalised and from the resultant penalty kick moved to within a point of Grove at 11 : 10. Then poor discipline from Grove lead to another Buckingham penalty which they again converted to move back into a 11 : 13 lead. Equality of numbers was then temporarily re-established when one of the Buckingham players was given a yellow card. Buckingham however kept the relentless pressure on Grove and following a badly missed tackle the Buckingham outside centre sprinted clear to the line for what should have been a certain try between the posts, except he dropped the ball in the act of touching down! Undaunted Buckingham came back again and this time no mistake was made and the result was a try between the posts, which was converted to produce a scoreline of 11 : 20. At this point with still some time to go in the match and with Buckingham once again having the numbers advantage it seemed completely all over for Grove. Somehow however Grove steeled themselves and to a man started to play like a team possessed. Resisting Buckingham attacking overlaps with great defensive tackling it was the home side who suddenly came back when Carr grabbed the ball from a Dave Maryon cross kick and set off at lightning speed for the visitor's try line, crossing between the posts for his second try and enabling Sevier's conversion to take the score to 18 : 20. Now playing like demons the Grove forwards smashed their way back to the Buckingham try line and with the visitor's defence now becoming frantic a penalty for offside was awarded to Grove in front of the posts and somewhat miraculously given the numbers deficit Grove were back in front at 21 : 20, following Sevier's successful kick. Again Grove came back at Buckingham with prop Tim Lane, Wells and substitute flanker Carl Alder hammering into their opposition. Such was the home team's growing confidence they now opted to go for a penalty line out rather than attempt another kick at the posts but this did not result in any further scoring. Instead No.8 Matt Young, captain and prop James Eckert, lock Lee Wright and Nick Sevier all individually launched themselves into the Buckingham defence but then with Young being turned upside down and dropped on his head no punishment was dished out which seemed absolutely amazing given what had happened earlier to Guy Nicholl! Then with a bout of fisticuffs breaking out behind him Joe Bellinger stormed towards the try line, passing to Wright who shipped on to Lane who in turn fed Gustafson who chipped over the remaining defence only to be late tackled without the ball, which somehow also went unnoticed! Desperately Buckingham cleared to touch and a line out was awarded to Grove although a penalty in front of the posts for the late tackle would have been more appropriate. Despite player's tempers now clearly running high it was Buckingham who came back at Grove with a very strong running attack, ending in a penalty line out 5 metres from the Grove try line. Now it was Grove's turn to defend frantically but despite their efforts and with only 3 minutes left in the game the Buckingham forwards forced their way over in the corner for an unconverted try and Grove were behind 21 : 25. Then straight from Grove's final kick off the Buckingham wing gathered cleanly and put in a fabulous solo run to the line, evading despairing tackles on the way, to score between the posts and the easy conversion provided a final scoreline of 21 : 32, which clearly flattered to deceive.
This had been an enthralling match which in truth could have gone either way such was the equality and high skill levels of both teams.
Grove team :-
James Eckert (Capt), Steve Dixey, Tim Lane, Lee Wright, Paul Miles, Dave Wells, Matt Young, Simon Peel, Owen Gustafson, Dave Maryon, Joe Bellinger, Nick Sevier, Harry Carr, Guy Nicholl, Roger Sevier.
Martyn Walsh (for Dixey), Carl Alder (for Peel), Huw Lewis (not used).
Man of the Match : Harry Carr