Grove (18) vs. Swindon (21)
Grove narrowly miss victory in league opener.
Grove, newly promoted to South-West 1 (East), did not get off to the best of starts this season when they narrowly lost their opening game to old rivals Swindon, who finished fourth in this division last year. Grove can take a lot of heart from this game of sharply contrasting styles though because the result truly could have gone either way and it was Swindon who certainly looked mightily relieved at the final whistle.
Clearly Swindon had come to Grove to bludgeon their way to victory using their main weapon, i.e. a very big and powerful pack but it was Grove who stole an early 3 : 0 lead when fly half Roger Sevier slotted a penalty kick following a good four minutes of play which saw quick interplay and thrusting runs from full back Nick Sevier, acting prop Steve Dixey, scrum half Owen Gustafson, prop and captain James Eckert and wings Guy Nicholl and Harry Carr. Swindon came back strongly, driving upfield through their pack, despite strong Grove tackling, especially from debutante No. 8 Rory Gratwohl. Awarded a very kickable penalty Swindon opted to go for the corner line-out in order to then pick and drive their way over the line but again Grove defended superbly to keep them out. Following another massive Swindon drive they were awarded another penalty and again elected to go for the corner line-out but yet again they were thwarted by determined Grove defence. Finally, being awarded a scrum, Swindon drove too early and from the resultant free kick Grove were able to move themselves back to the halfway line. Now with space to play in it was Gustafson who lead the attack, ably supported by flanker Dave Wells, Eckert and centre Joe Bellinger. The ball was now quickly fed to Roger Sevier who found Carr who made ground but all to no avail when backchat to the referee resulted in a penalty to Swindon with a further 10 metre advancement. This time Swindon changed tactics and elected to kick for the points but the kick sailed wide and Grove had been let off the hook. A further lack of discipline saw Grove flanker Ben Nicholl yellow carded. Swindon came back strongly but got it wrong tactically when a clear overlap in the backs was not utilised. The Swindon pack continued to dominate the scrummages however and took Grove right back to their own try line. Grove now replaced hooker and debutante Ben Wilkinson with Dixey and Jimmy Wallbridge substituted at prop. Following a Grove scrum, which was turned through 90⁰, the Swindon No. 5 picked up and drove over for a try, converted by No 10. Adam Westhall to give Swindon a 3 : 7 lead after 35 minutes. Grove hit back strongly with again good running from both Sevier brothers, Gustafson, debutante lock Richard Haire and centres Bellinger and Tom Clipsham before the ball went into touch. From the resultant line-out the Swindon pack drove their team out of danger until a punch-up developed which saw Grove’s Wells and Swindon’s scrum half both sin-binned. There then followed an illegal Swindon attack on Gustafson for which a penalty was rightly awarded to Grove. Roger Sevier successfully kicked for the posts and the score moved to Grove 6, Swindon 7. Grove then finished the half the stronger with determined running attacks from Roger Sevier, Bellinger, Clipsham, Guy Nicholl, Wallbridge, Gratwohl and Eckert. Forcing a penalty, Gustafson quickly fed the now returned Ben Nicholl who popped to lock Paul Miles for him to crash over for Grove’s first try. Roger Sevier converted to give Grove a 13 : 7 half time lead.
The second half started with Grove moving strongly out of defence following Swindon’s kick off but the ball was then kicked away by Grove when keeping it in hand was the better option. Following a Swindon scrummage in front of the Grove posts Bellinger was yellow carded for what looked like a deliberate offside move. At the same time Wells and Swindon’s scrum half both returned to the fray. Grove got out of jail when the resultant penalty attempt at the posts was badly mis-kicked by the Swindon fly half. Grove now moved to the Swindon half through great running by Gustafson, Nick Sevier and Ben Nicholl who passed to brother Guy for what looked like being a certain try for the winger only to be stopped just short of the line by an adjudged deliberate Swindon knock on for which the miscreant received a yellow card for fouling in the ‘red zone’. Following a Swindon scrum, which this time was ‘held’ by the Grove forwards, the home side regained possession after the clearance kick went to Guy Nicholl and it was Wells and Gratwohl who took the ball on before it was spun out wide to Carr only for the winger to be smashed into touch. Swindon again powerfully drove out of immediate danger but with Grove regaining possession it was Roger Sevier who looked to be clean away to the try line with a great run before the ball was lost after the final pass. Bellinger returned to the fray to give Grove a temporary one man advantage. Despite this it was Swindon who once again mounted a massive forwards drive to take them right to the Grove line and following another scrum they were able to push over for their second try of the day, the conversion giving them a 13 : 14 lead. Stupidly, Grove showed more dissent to the referee causing him to award a penalty to Swindon from the kick off. Swindon elected to have a pop at the posts but the kick went wide and the visitor’s advantage had gone. Furthermore from the resultant Grove 22 metre drop out the ball was regained by Gustafson and moved through the hands of Eckert to Roger Sevier who fired the ball to Carr for the winger to catch everyone by surprise with a beautiful lightning dash up the wing all the way to the Swindon try line for a great score by the corner flag. Sadly for Grove the difficult conversion was missed but Grove were back in front at 18 : 14. Unsatisfied, Grove again attacked the Swindon line through Guy Nicholl but the touchline saved Swindon and they came right back to the Grove line. Grove fought their way out of trouble with great running out of defence by Nick Sevier and Clipsham but Swindon were not to be denied and stormed back at Grove through their forwards yet again and were able to crash over the line to give themselves the lead at 18 : 19. The conversion went over for 18 : 21 and although Grove moved back upfield and were by now matching the Swindon forwards for strength, time had run out for the home side and the ball was finally put into touch by Swindon to end the game.
Grove should not feel too disheartened by this result against a very powerful side from whom they did at least salvage a bonus point and from a game they could have won.
Grove team :-
J. Eckert, B. Wilkinson, S. Dixey, P. Miles, R. Haire, D. Wells, R. Gratwohl, B. Nicholl, O. Gustafson, R. Sevier, J. Bellinger, T. Clipsham, H. Carr, G. Nicholl, N. Sevier
J. Wallbridge, S. Peel, H. Lewis.