Grove (24) vs Witney (25)
Lack of place kicker costs Grove victory.
Grove must be rueing the lack of an in form place kicker as they go down by one point again to in form Witney. In November Grove lost 15 : 14 at Witney.
With their regular and usually accurate long range place kicker Roger Sevier still side-lined with a back injury, Grove yet again lost by a single point, their third such narrow defeat this season. In fact Grove have lost seven matches by 3 points or less this season and all can be said to be due to the lack of a consistent place kicker on the field.
This, possibly the hardest fought match in the league, due to the similarity of the skill levels of both sides and the fact that it is a local derby, yet again produced a match of nail biting intensity and excitement which in all fairness could have gone either way.
Grove started very positively with strong runs coming from fly half Tom Clipsham and centre Guy Nicholl but Witney forced their way back into Grove's half through forceful forwards play and a powerful high kick which resulted in Witney reaching Grove's line. This was followed by their right winger finding a gap and bursting through the hosts defence for a well worked try and a 0 : 5 lead after just 7 minutes. Again Witney attacked through high kicks which Grove were clearly having difficulty handling but following a penalty for 'crossing' by Witney and a further 10 metres awarded for dissent it was Grove who attacked mercilessly with back row men Cash Chilvers, Dave Wells and Rory Gratwohl looking particularly effective. Grove were not going to let this territorial advantage go and finally it was lock Jack Horrocks who after 15 minutes of play was able to power over for the equalising try following tremendous pressure from all of the Grove forwards.
Almost immediately however Witney struck back and following a fast rolling maul were able to touch down for their second, and this time converted, try to give them back the lead at 5 : 12. Grove came back following a great break from Horrocks but Grove's lines out were beginning to fail and with a strong following wind and the posts within reach, Grove suffered from a second long range drop goal in two weeks. Grove now trailed by 5 : 15 and everything was looking rosy for Witney. Witney continued to use the wind with several huge high kicks into Grove territory including another optimistic and this time unsuccessful drop goal attempt from inside their own half. Despite this relentless pressure Grove pushed back into the visitors half of the field and wing Brendon White was unlucky not to score following a great solo run at the defence. With the Grove forwards now in the ascendancy and as tenacious as a giant bulldog, play moved to the Witney line where scrum half Joe Chilvers suddenly produced a magical piece of sleight of hand, reverse passing to the supporting Nicholl who dived through the defence for a superb try. Nicholl converted his own try and Grove were now back in the game at 12 : 15, this becoming the half time score.
Grove started the second half in sloppy fashion making mistakes and again losing one of their own lines out but nevertheless moved into Witney territory through a penalty only to once again lose the resultant line out. Witney were now also starting to look ragged however and following a clumsily high tackle Grove were awarded a very kickable penalty in front of the posts to level the scores. Somehow Nicholl contrived to miss this and Witney were let off the hook. Grove again lost their next line out but still managed to go on the attack through the very determined running of Wells, Nicholl and wing Danny Ferguson. Hooker Steve Dixey tried to put White away with a long pass to the wing but again the Witney defences held firm and it was they who moved back upfield.
Dave Johnson now replaced Tom Clipsham at fly half but it was now Witney who were rampant until penalised for holding on the ground and Grove were able to move back into their opponents half. With another penalty award in front of the posts Grove elected to go for the corner and line out. This time the line out was won and another penalty was awarded in front of the posts which was quickly tapped. With a virtual repeat of the previous try scoring move Joe Chilvers again reverse passed to Guy Nicholl who again dived through the defences for his second try and a Grove lead of 17 : 15 putting them in front for the first time. This time Johnson stepped up for the kick which he successfully slotted for an increase in the Grove lead to 19 : 15. Witney were not finished however and came back strongly to regain a slender lead when one of their centres scored cleanly. The try went unconverted and the score moved to 19 : 20 in Witney's favour with approximately 15 minutes to go.
Jimmy Wallbridge substituted for Steve Dixey but it was now Witney who kept the pressure on and with only a few minutes to go powered over again in the corner following a neat grubber kick through the Grove defences. Again the try was unconverted but at 19 : 25 down Grove now needed a converted try to win the game. With both sides now running on reserve tanks it was Witney who attacked but Grove countered with Gratwohl going for the corner amidst unsuccessful appeals for a try. The ball was moved back to the middle by Grove who were only a yard or two from the line. Then following a 5 metre scrum award Cash Chilvers smashed his way over the line near the posts for a bonus point try and the distinct probability of a Grove win with the straightforward conversion to come. Somehow however Johnson's relatively easy kick flew wide and Grove were undone again for the want of a reliable kicker, the game ending very shortly after with no further scoring.