Thatcham (5) vs. Grove (43)
A much changed Grove side played Thatcham and won a good match, gaining yet another bonus point on the way.
This win means that Grove now need to win their last three matches to ensure a promotion play off place but is still a big ask given who they have left to play.
Grove started decisively with a fine try from returning centre Tom Clipsham, following a big forwards drive. This was converted by full back Roger Sevier for an early 0 : 7 lead. Grove then relaxed and almost immediately conceded an unconverted, try to the dangerous looking Thatcham No. 8, Mike Smith, at the other end, for a score of 5 : 7, with only 5 minutes of the match having been played.
Chastened, Grove now set about business in a professional manner although for the next 20 minutes or so they found themselves continuously penalised by the referee. This allowed Thatcham to keep themselves territorially in the ascendancy until wing Harry Carr suddenly broke out on a terrific diagonal run to the Thatcham 22 metre line. Nevertheless Thatcham again forced their way back to Grove’s end of the field and Grove found themselves rescued by a monster touch kick from Roger Sevier to get back to half way. Undaunted Thatcham came back and now it was great break out running from centre Nick Sevier and flanker Dave Wells that kept them at bay. The penalties against Grove continued to mount but Thatcham seemed unprepared to kick for goal so the score stayed the same. Ben Nicholl next lead the fightback to take Grove into Thatcham territory with a penetrating run and from a penalty for illegal scrummaging Roger Sevier was able to extend Grove’s lead to 5 : 10.
Grove now began to pile on the pressure with great work from the forwards and scrum half Owen Gustafson’s continual sniping runs. Grove’s speed at the breakdowns was beginning to tell and suddenly it was hooker Steve Dixey who was able to dive over in the corner for Grove’s second try, after some 25 minutes of play. The conversion was missed but Grove now had a comfortable 5 : 15 lead. Despite Thatcham’s persistent attacks it was Grove who regained territorial advantage following a storming run upfield from Nick Sevier. Grove then lost lock Simon Peel to a yellow card for ‘not rolling away’. Thatcham came right back to Grove’s try line but the visitors were saved by a penalty award which resulted in a Grove line out on hallway, following Roger Sevier’s howitzer kick to touch. Grove’s back row of Nicholl, Wells and Ollie Highton now began to shine with forays into the open supported by good runs from Carr and indeed it was the winger who touched down for Grove’s third try, again converted by Sevier, providing a 5 : 22 half time scoreline with Grove still down to 14 men.
At half time injured prop Jimmy Wallbridge was replaced by Pat Wiltshire, who remained in place for the rest of the game. Now with the strong wind at their backs it was Thatcham who put up the big kicks but Grove tried to make ground by launching a sustained attack involving the whole team. Unfortunately the ball was eventually turned over and Grove found themselves very much on the defensive again. Undaunted Grove hit back again and following another terrific run by Carr the ball was moved to the middle of the park and it was Dixey who was able to pounce for his second try of the day, at the same time securing Grove’s bonus point. The conversion took the score to 5 : 29 and Grove were pretty much out of sight.
As a team, Grove now put their foot on the accelerator pedal, producing some dazzling rugby in the process. Following yet another speedy run by Carr and very quick handling by Gustafson, Roger Sevier joined the line and threw out a monster pass to Guy Nicholl on the wing who produced a terrific run all the way to the line, side-stepping at least four players on his way, before passing to supporting lock Paul Miles who crashed over for Grove’s fifth try of the day. This again became a 7 pointer with Sevier’s conversion and the score moved to 5 : 36 with about 10 minutes of the second half gone. Grove now relaxed again and the young Thatcham fly half, Joe Leadley, who had had a very impressive running and kicking out of hand game, stormed his way to Grove's try line, only to drop the ball in the act of touching down! Clipsham and props Wiltshire and Martyn Walsh lead the fightback but it was Thatcham who again came up with a great piece of play moving the ball out to their wing with two huge passes for him to almost score in the corner. Unfortunately for Thatcham their outside centre then received a yellow card. Ben Nicholl now lead Grove’s break from defence with Carr and Gustafson once again looking very lively in support. Against the run of play however Leadley for Thatcham was unfortunate when he intercepted a slow pass in the Grove backs and with nobody left to beat and a clear run to the Grove line, knocked the ball on! Nevertheless it was left to Guy Nicholl to show the last piece of brilliance when he intercepted a Thatcham attack in his own half and fly hacking all the way to the Thatcham line was able to main sufficient control of the ball at his feet to finally touch down between the posts. Sevier’s extras provided the final scoreline of 5 : 43. Just before the end both wingers for Grove were substituted by Gareth Hudson and Huw Lewis, the former putting in a crunching tackle on his opposite number before Leadley was again unfortunate for Thatcham having his try attempt rightly adjudged to be ‘held up’.
The crowd were treated to a bit of comical theatre before the end when Nick Sevier broke from his own 22 metre area and with 75 metres to cover for what would have been a great solo effort try, was seen to be desperately looking around for someone to pass to. Eventually, and at walking pace, he finally achieved this, the move dissolving in much merriment before the game ended.
Martyn Walsh, Steve Dixey, Jimmy Wallbridge, Simon Peel, Paul Miles, Ollie Highton, Ben Nicholl, Dave Wells, Owen Gustafson, dave Maryon, Tom Clipsham, Nick Sevier, Guy Nicholl, Harry Carr, Roger Sevier.
Pat Wiltshire, Gareth Hudson, Huw Lewis.
Man of the Match – Ben Nicholl.