Towcestrians (20) vs Grove (19)
By John Sevier
Grove suffer the narrowest of defeats with victory yet again snatched away from them in the dying minutes.
Travelling to Towcestrians with a much depleted and somewhat makeshift squad, Grove performed heroically to not only contain their highly placed opposition but to almost pull off a surprise win which would have been thoroughly deserved had it happened.
Tom Clipsham, playing in the unusual position for him of fly half, opened the scoring for Grove with a clever show and go move following a period of sustained pressure from the visitors. Wing Guy Nicholl converted for 0 : 7 with 10 minutes gone. The Grove pressure continued with full back Huw Lewis putting in some great penetrating kicks. Then, despite Towcestrians pushing Grove back, Nicholl suddenly emerged with ball in hand and found himself in a foot race with the last Towcestrians defender. Realising he wasn’t going to win this he slowed, put in a mighty hand off and simultaneously flicked the ball to supporting winger Alex Morgan who glided over for a great try in the corner. Grove lead 0 : 12.
Shortly after resumption of play Grove’s hooker Steve Dixey was yellow carded for allegedly stamping and taking advantage of the numbers deficit Towcestrians ran in their first but unconverted try for 5 : 12. Undaunted Grove moved back into Towcestrians territory to gain a penalty which Nicholl was unlucky not to convert when his kick dropped just short of the crossbar.
Grove now lost another front row player when prop Jimmy Wallbridge had to permanently leave the field with a badly dislocated finger. Captain James Eckert moved from lock to replace him and the much missed Ben Nicholl came on for his first appearance in 12 months. This was short lived however as Mark Tugwell almost immediately replaced Ben Nicholl for tactical reasons. With Dixey returned, Grove re-launched their attacks and following a great forwards surge, lead by irrepressible prop Cash Chilvers, it was Tugwell who crashed over between the posts making Guy Nicholl’s conversion straightforward. Grove thus went into half time deservedly leading 5 : 19.
Grove started the second half as they had ended the first, pressuring Towcestrians right to their try line but could not quite turn pressure into points. Grove then sadly lost Alex Morgan when his hamstring went in a foot race for a Towcestrians kicked ball. Flanker Simon Peel and lock Paul Miles recovered the situation and unlikely winger Jack Ponting came on to replace the equally unlikely winger Morgan, both being back row men.
Scrum half Joe Chilvers and No.8 Rory Gratwohl were now playing ‘out of their skins’ in taking play back to their opponents. Despite this desperate work from Grove it was clear that Towcestrians were beginning to gain the upper hand as Grove were quite naturally tiring from their heroic efforts thus far. It was therefore somewhat inevitable that the hosts were able to force their way back to the Grove line and touch down for their second try of the day, this time converted to take the score to 12 : 19.
With some 15 minutes still to go Grove were now clearly hanging on and to make matters worse the majority of the refereeing decisions were now going against them. With tiny Huw Lewis pulling off probably the tackle of the match against the immense and charging Towcestrians No. 8, a scrum was inexplicably awarded to the hosts as a result! No scoring resulted and Clipsham cleared the Grove lines with a superb kick to touch. Towcestrians charged back again and again while Lewis and others were putting in try saving tackles. Eventually a penalty was awarded to the hosts which they had no difficulty in converting for 15 : 19.
Dixey lead the Grove recovery with a great high ball catch and chase and, to give a glimmer of renewed hope to the now seemingly exhausted Grove squad, a penalty was awarded. With hindsight this should have been sent to the touch line for a line out, but instead was aimed at the posts. Sadly the kick was not successful and Towcestrians had escaped, albeit with a very poor clearance to touch. Ben Nicholl now returned to cheers from the crowd to play out the last 10 minutes.
The penalties against Grove were now coming thick and fast, some to the complete mysticism of the Grove players and supporters, and this disadvantage was compounded with 10 metre advances being awarded for backchat. Somewhat inevitably therefore, and as a result of these advances, the Towcestrian pack was able to finally push their counterparts over the line and the final try was awarded. With the conversion missed the home side had got out of jail at the last minute and scraped a one point win, much to the heartbreak of the Grove players and supporters, yet again!