Swindon (30) vs Grove (27)
Grove just miss out on a victory against every other team in the division.
Grove's terrific season came to a slightly disappointing end when they lost their final match at Swindon on Saturday. Victory for Grove would have meant they had beaten every other team in the league in this their promotion year.
The Grove team that travelled to Swindon was very seriously depleted of regular 1st teamers as a result of injuries, holidays and other causes. Replacement Paul Shepherd was called out of retirement to travel and veteran flanker Ady Amies became the oldest man ever to receive a 1st team call up, at the age of 51.
Despite the eclectic 1st team mixture it was Grove who dominated the first part of the game, camping out in the Swindon 22 metre area for the first 20 minutes. Sadly all of the Grove pressure did not lead to a score and as often happens it was the team 'under the cosh' who broke out and scored a fine try with a good backs run to the other end of the field.
This deficit was soon amended however when Guy Nicholl shot away to score between the posts and, converting his own try, took the score to 5 : 7 in the visitors favour. Three minutes later it was Nicholl who broke through again this time feeding wing Josh Allen who scampered over between the posts. Again Nicholl converted to put Grove 5 : 14 ahead.
Swindon fought back and scored their 2nd try on the 36 minute mark which went unconverted to take the score to 10 : 14. Nicholl provided the remaining scoring of the half with a penalty kick for 10 : 17 to Grove.
Grove entered the 2nd half very confidently and this confidence was rewarded when centre Tom Clipsham went over for a try, converted by Nicholl, to put Grove into a commanding 10 : 24 lead.
With just 35 minutes left it felt like Grove had it in the bag but Swindon had other ideas. First they scored a penalty for 13 : 24 then followed this with an unconverted try for 18 : 24. The Grove defence which has been so solid all season now seemed to be coming apart at the seams with tackles being missed wholesale. Paul Shepherd came on as wing replacement for Allen but Swindon's huge No. 4 lock and equally big No. 8 were now really beginning to make their presences felt with crushing surges into Grove's defence.
Grove's cause was not helped when they were dealt the double blow of having Nicholl sin-binned for a deliberate knock on in the red zone and also losing influential fly half Dave Johnson to what appeared to be a recurring shoulder injury.
Prop Pat Wiltshire substituted for Johnson with the back line having to re-jig as a consequence. Taking full advantage Swindon crashed over for another unconverted try and the score moved to 23 : 24. Desperately, Grove fought back into Swindon's half and were rewarded with a penalty which Nick Sevier put over to give Grove a 4 point lead at 23 : 27. It was to prove not enough however and Swindon had the final triumph when they scored their only converted try of the day to win by 30 : 27 in the dying minutes.
Despite the fact that Grove were badly depleted this very makeshift team showed real guts and determination and came so close to winning the match.
Particularly outstanding were scrum half Huw Lewis who put in some demonic tackles as well as great attacking runs. Locks Paul Miles and Simon Peel and prop Jimmy Wallbridge were all highly prominent in both loose and tight phases of play. Behind the pack Dave Johnson played a strong tactical role, specifically with good kicks from hand and Guy Nicholl was ever the most threatening presence on the field.
If Grove can retain and possibly strengthen the existing squad even further, next season promises to be a corker for this village team.
Well done Grove in your 2013 - 2014 season. Almost always a joy to watch.