Grove (29) vs. Oxford Harlequins (25)
Grove beat league leaders to avenge previous away defeat and go 'safe' from relegation.
Grove pulled off what to many may have been the surprise result of the season on Saturday by beating league leaders Oxford Harlequins, who previously had only lost one league game! In some ways though this result may not have been as unexpected as at first thought because in their previous encounter in Oxford, Quins had only won by virtue of converting two more trys than Grove and the game had been very tight throughout.
Grove initially attacked Quins, benefiting from a couple of free kicks, but Quins used the wind well to push Grove back into their own 22 metre area and with a penalty award took a 0 : 3 lead on 9 minutes. Grove came back hard with centre Nick Sevier flattening Quins No. 8 Seissoni Toupou. This lead to a kickable penalty but the effort was missed by stand-in kicker and fly half Henry Day. A second penalty award followed but again Day missed his mark. A third penalty was awarded in short order and this time the kick was successfully converted by wing Harry Carr to level the scores at 3 : 3.
Grove then hit hard again with prop Cash Chivers to the fore. A high touch kick from Day drifted back into play but Quins made no ground as Toupou was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle. Undaunted and now with only 14 men, Quins developed a great attack, spreading the ball across their back line for wing Jack Robinson to unfortunately put his foot on the touch line. Grove lost their line out but the next Quins attack broke down with a penalty award to Grove for Quins 'crossing'. Nevertheless Quins hit back hard with their forwards delivering a terrific rolling maul which took them deep into Grove territory and they were rewarded with a penalty for Grove 'holding on'. This was not turned into points however and now it was the Grove pack's turn to push their opponents away although not very far.
Quins re-gathered and chipped to the corner but good defence by wing Guy Nicholl eventually led to a Grove penalty. The penalty kick to touch was missed and Quins were able to launch back into Grove although a subsequent penalty award to Quins was also squandered and Grove ended up with a scrum in midfield.
Now back to 15 men Quins pushed hard again but lost the ball with a clear knock-on and Grove were able to clear to touch. Then with a clear break from a maul Grove's returning flanker Dave Wells almost made it to the Quins line, desperately looking around for a supporting player, until the ball was lost to Quins. This was adjudged to have been won illegally however and Carr, kicking into the wind, smashed over a superb touch line penalty kick to put Grove 6 : 3 ahead with 36 minutes gone.
Quins next advances were then negated when Day made a great solo break out of his own half, the ball ending in touch for a Quins line out. With their line out won a great wind assisted kick from Quins meant they were once again threatening from inside the Grove 22 metre area. Their reward was a penalty in front of the Grove posts and the scores moved to 6 : 6.
With half time approaching Nick Sevier launched the next Grove attack, ably supported by flanker Ben Law who drove strongly into the Quins ranks. Hooker Steve Dixey and No. 8 Rory Gratwohl were next to take up the Grove cudgels but no further scoring resulted and half time was reached with honours even.
The second half started with a strong Quins attack but it was Grove flanker Simon Peel who effectively stopped Quins in their tracks with a great tackle and drive on Toupou. Quins were however now hitting something of a purple patch and stringing together good threatening attacks from their backs. Despite this Grove came back through scrum half Joe and his brother Cash Chivers plus full back Huw Lewis and as a result a kickable penalty was awarded. This was somewhat rashly tapped and came to nothing but another penalty was awarded and this time common sense prevailed with Carr successfully slotting for a 9 : 6 Grove lead. Ten minutes of the second half had now passed.
Quins now pushed really hard through their forwards who took the ball to the Grove try line only to have a try attempt declared to be ‘held up’. From the resultant scrum Quins made no mistake however and a clear try was scored by lock Alan Purchase who dived over the line and cleanly grounded the ball. With the conversion missed the score moved to 9 : 11 in Quins favour.
Quins attacked again but as before the move ended with the winger going into touch. Grove then lost Dave Wells to a ‘team yellow card’ and despite good resistance from lock Paul Miles who delivered a strong run it was now all Quins. Martyn Walsh came on as prop for Grove but it was Quins prop Simon (Tam) Chadbone who emerged with a great solo run up the park. Despite looking like being a score all the way, Grove’s diminutive full back Huw Lewis stepped in with other ideas, fearlessly putting Chadbone down with a great stoppage. Quins kept the pressure up with giant prop Pete Boulton collecting the ball and storming towards the Grove line only to be stopped by centre Tom Clipsham. Grove finally escaped with a penalty kick to touch but Quins came straight back following a Grove turn over and, with an overlap developed, charged to the corner for a second touchdown, this time by wing Jack Robinson. The difficult conversion was superbly slotted and Grove found themselves trailing 9 : 18 to the league leaders.
Following the kick off it was Grove who were next on the scoreboard from another well taken Carr penalty and the score moved to 12 : 18. Winning the next line out and a subsequent free kick, Grove decided on both occasions not to use the strong wind to their advantage in favour of muscling their way ahead through their forwards. Wells returned to the fray and Carr suddenly intercepted and headed for the try line unopposed only for play to be brought back for a Quins penalty, which also resulted in Henry Day going to the bin for a tip tackle, so Grove were back down to 14 men again.
Quins pushed hard again and following a massive pile up on the Grove line a third try was awarded to the visitors. Again the very difficult touchline conversion was superbly struck and Grove were now trailing 12 : 25 and looking somewhat doomed. Jimmy Wallbridge now substituted at hooker for Steve Dixey. Nobody told the Grove players that it was 'probably all over' and they stormed back into the attack through Wells, Joe Chivers, Gratwohl and Sevier, who mazily charged into the Quins defence looking to be going to score himself. When it became apparent he wouldn’t make it, being held up by some four forwards whom he had single-handedly pushed back, the ball was slipped to Joe Chivers who, executing a beautiful ‘show and go’ with the ball, dived over for a great Grove try. Carr again kicked the conversion superbly to bring Grove back into the game at 19 : 25.
Again Grove attacked from the kick off, this time from Gratwohl who charged forward with the ball. At this point Quins seemed to go into self-destruct mode. Toupou received his second yellow card, converted therefore to red, for an offence similar to his first transgression, i.e. an illegal tackle and Quins were now permanently down to 14 men.
Taking advantage of the numbers deficit Grove came again and this time, following a great rush by the forwards, Wallbridge crashed over for a try, to take the score to 24 : 25. Needing the conversion for the lead the Quins players were ecstatic when Carr shot wide.
With very little time left Quins somehow contrived to lose two more men to the sin bin including dangerous centre Keni Fisilau. Now with a distinct manpower advantage Grove had to cross the line before time ran out. With Quins having to deploy 8 men to the next scrummage they were seriously exposed in the backs and with the ball won by the Grove forwards it was fired out along the line to Carr who gleefully skipped over in the corner for a touchdown. Although his conversion missed time was up and Grove had pulled off a somewhat unlikely but in the end deserved victory, much to the chagrin of the Quins supporters.