Oxford Harlequins (21) vs. Grove (17)
Under strength Grove raise their game to shock undefeated league leaders Oxford Harlequins and gain a bonus point.
A somewhat under strength Grove squad without 1st team regulars Tim Lane, Owen Gustafson, Ben Nicholl, Steve Dixey, Lee Wright and Tom Clipsham narrowly lost an epic battle with undefeated league leaders Oxford Harlequins at Oxford on Saturday.
Grove started with real purpose, lock Simon Peel taking cleanly from the Quins kick off and spreading the ball through flanker Dave Wells, scrum half Dave Maryon, fly half Roger Sevier, centre Nick Sevier and finally wing Guy Nicholl before the move was stopped on the Quins 22 metre line. Next it was lock Richard Haire and centre Joe Bellinger who charged into Quins but with a turnover Quins bravely tried to run the ball out of deep defence but conceded a 5 metre scrum. Again Haire pressured for Grove almost making it to the Quins try line before the home side stole and cleverly and successfully ran the ball out of defence. Quins moved strongly into Grove territory but it was only seconds before Grove regained possession and following a long Roger Sevier kick back to the Quins 22 metre area, wing Harry Carr stormed after the ball forcing the Quins full back to make a scrambled clearance kick to touch. The Grove pack now drove their counterparts backwards but a dubious penalty allowed Quins to get out of trouble. Grove resolutely came back with Bellinger and prop Pat Wiltshire to the fore following a massive Quins knock on which was completely missed by the referee. Quins stormed back and looked to be going to score after a fine run up the wing but the ball was again knocked on, this time thankfully spotted by the referee. Grove regained territorial advantage thanks to another monster kick out of defence, followed up by Carr and full back Huw Lewis but this came to nothing after Maryon tried to burst through quickly only to be high tackled, again with no action from the ref and Quins cleared the danger with a howitzer kick of their own. This was not gathered well by Grove but then the ref mysteriously awarded a penalty to Quins directly in front of the Grove posts. Quins reacted quickly, their full back tapping the penalty to himself and diving over for the first try of the game. With the simple conversion slotted Grove found themselves 7 : 0 down with growing anti-ref feelings being voiced by their supporters. Quins again attacked strongly from the restart and progressed to the Grove try line only for Bellinger to steal the ball and launch into a superb solo run which took him all the way back to halfway. Dave Maryon continued the attack with a forceful run of his own and next it was Roger Sevier and Haire who were pressing hard. Flanker Dave Wells now took up the cudgels, supported again by Haire, lock Paul Miles and Carr who side-stepped two defenders before the ball was lost. Nevertheless Grove kept up the pressure and eventually fly hacked through to the try line following a Quins knock on. The referee now further infuriated Grove by immediately blowing for the Grove scrum rather than allowing advantage which could easily have resulted in a Grove try. From the resultant scrum No. 8 Rory Gratwohl picked and drove strongly through the Quins defences only to be penalised and given a 'team' yellow card for holding the ball on the ground. A series of penalties against Grove now allowed Quins to move into their opponents half of the field but good work by Simon Peel stopped the advance and forced a Quins knock-on which was punished by Roger Sevier's huge clearance kick. Undaunted, Quins again attacked in strength but were halted by a penalty award to Grove. Grove's advantage was short lived however as Quins neatly stole a Grove line out and stormed back at Grove with quick passing and terrific handling along their line of backs. Then with a typically alert move Carr intercepted a pass between the Quins centres and ran three quarters the length of the field to score between the posts. Roger Sevier's conversion taking the score to 7 : 7 to bring Grove deservedly back to parity with half time then arriving.
The second half started as the first had ended with both sides attacking with relish but it wasn't long before it was Quins turn to have a one man deficit following a yellow card for them. Grove were now really beginning to look strong with Dave Wells in particular looking ferocious and finding themselves in the Quins 22 metre area Roger Sevier unsuccessfully attempted a drop goal. Quin's prop Pete Boulton now impressed with with a strong surging run at Grove followed by more impressive running by the Quins backs. Grove's aggressive defence was paying off however and Quins were gradually being forced back into their own half despite having the better of possession. Matt Young now replaced Simon Peel and with Dave Maryon placing a beautiful kick to the corner Carr once again pounced, diving over in the corner to score although the referee received bitter complaints from Quins supporters who believed Carr had knocked on in the act of touching down. The conversion was missed but Grove now found themselves in the lead at 7 : 12. Grove tried to come again but closely marked centre and ex-Quins man Nick Sevier was smashed to the ground by an earth shattering tackle from his opposite number. Nevertheless the Grove attack continued through Gratwohl, hooker Jimmy Wallbridge and Roger Sevier. Quins regained possession however and hit back very strongly, gaining a penalty which was kicked to touch near the Grove line. At this point a groggy Pat Wiltshire had to leave the field having suffered a knock to the head and was temporarily replaced by Ben Wilkinson. Grove stole the penalty line out thanks to great jumping by Miles and it was Grove skipper and ex-Quins prop James Eckert who lead the next Grove break out. The game was now a really exciting and pretty even 'end to end' struggle and it was Boulton for Quins who stood out in the next attack gaining several yards through a determined bullocking run. Wiltshire now returned to replace Wilkinson. Quins came again, monstering the Grove pack and driving to the Grove line. Roger Sevier was then adjudged to have intervened illegally when he snatched the ball away from the Quins scrum half, receiving a yellow card for allegedly attacking before the ball was deemed out of the ruck. Quins were unable to capitalise on this however and turned the ball over for Grove to break out again. With possession now being swapped between the sides with regularity it was Quins who attacked next but faltered when they delivered a massive forward pass. Somehow the referee was the only person on the park apparently not to see this and instead awarded a scrum to Quins! Grove managed to turn the Quins scrum through 90° but again the referee was not impressed and allowed play to continue from which Quins drove on to the line and touched down. With a successful conversion the hosts were back in the lead at 14: 12 and Grove were not happy. Grove were then dealt another blow when Wiltshire had to leave the field permanently having received a second and this time concussive injury which saw him stretchered off to a waiting ambulance after some 15 minutes stoppage in play. The game finally resumed under floodlights and with Quins having gained a penalty line out some 20 metres from the Grove try line they very efficiently gathered and drove to the line for their 3rd touchdown of the day. The beautifully taken conversion propelled them into a 21 : 12 lead and it looked like it was all over. Although there was virtually no time left Grove put in one last great attack releasing wing Guy Nicholl who blasted his way to the Quins line, touching down in the corner after a great solo run up the wing. Although the touchline conversion was missed Grove had at least gained a bonus point and much kudos from the 21 : 17 defeat.
James Eckert (Capt), Jimmy Wallbridge, Pat Wiltshire. Richard Haire, Paul Miles, Dave Wells, Rory Gratwohl, Simon Peel, Dave Maryon, Roger Sevier, Joe Bellinger, Nick Sevier, Guy Nicholl, Harry Carr, Huw Lewis.
Matt Young, Josh Allen, Ben Wilkinson