Friday, 30 October 2020

Shackleford’s kicks keep Abbey in the driving seat

ABBEY survived a nervous final seven minutes to clinch a precious four points against Aylesbury in Wadworth Southern Counties North.

The hosts were outscored by three tries to two, but a well-deserved victory was based on an outstanding display by the pack.

The scrummaging was impressive and Abbey were boosted by an excellent kicking display from Charlie Shackleford. Playing out of position at outside half, he landed all but one of his kicks for a personal haul of 16 points.

Other league results went Abbey’s way on the day, and they are now just a single point behind ninth-placed Wallingford in the table.

Soon after kick-off, Shackleford burst through the middle and flanker Ed House and centre Brad Thomas took play into the Aylesbury 22. The visitors conceded a penalty but Shackleford sent the ball wide of the posts — his only miss of the afternoon.

In response, Aylesbury fullback Nick Mercer took a quick short drop out from the 22 and this completely wrong-footed the Abbey defence.

Centre Matt Dennis eluded the attentions of Remi Norville and fullback Darren Hunter and won the race to his own kick to claim an opportunist try in the right corner. Mercer’s conversion attempt drifted to the right, but Aylesbury had the lead after five minutes of play.

After losing a line-out due to an overambitious throw to the back, Abbey recovered the ball and drove towards the Aylesbury 22. The ball came back from the maul and Will Bevan made a clever break toward the left before cutting inside the defence to cross for a try under the posts. Shackleford’s successful conversion gave Abbey the lead.

Soon afterwards, Aylesbury were penalised, and Bevan won an extra 10 metres after he was impeded taking a quick tap. Jeremy Knights and Slaven took play to the Aylesbury 22 and, after a crash ball move involving Thomas, Abbey won another penalty. Shackleford made no mistake from the 22, and Abbey led 10-5 after 35 minutes.

After the restart, the pressure was now on Abbey and they conceded a penalty inside their own half. The visitors kicked for the corner and they made their subsequent try look very easy. Mercer landed the conversion to give his side a 12-10 lead heading into the break.

Early in the second half, Abbey won a penalty. Shackleford’s kick took play to just outside the Aylesbury 22 but they lost the resulting line-out.

Toby Staker won the next line-out and, after a great drive from the forwards, Aylesbury second row Ben Dukes was shown a yellow card. The penalty was in front of the posts and Shackleford restored Abbey’s lead.

With the Aylesbury scrum a man short, Mike Beckly controlled the ball well before breaking to the right. Connor Slaven, Adam Postlethwaite, Bevan and Thomas took play forward, and the visitors were penalised and then marched back 10 metres. This gave Shackleford another simple kick for points, taking the score to 16-12.

Max Boucher tried to run the restart kick from his 22 but a penalty was given away and Mercer cut Abbey’s lead to a point with his kick.

But for the next 10 minutes Abbey dominated possession and territory, with the pack really taking control of the game.

Hunter received a nasty knock when trying to take a high kick but he was able to play on. Just after this Dukes returned from the bin but Knights stopped Aylesbury with a great steal on the ground.

Abbey won a penalty seven metres out and Bevan broke and crossed the line, only to be recalled. Then Beckly, George House, Ed House, Jones and Postlethwaite all drove as Abbey desperately sought to turn pressure into points.

Their patience was rewarded when Slaven burst over to the left of the sticks to claim the try and Shackleford converted to make it 23-15.

Abbey were now playing some confident, flowing rugby and Connor House made a 20-metre run up the left touchline. The forwards took play in-field and, after Jones was tackled around the neck, Abbey were given a penalty under the posts. Shackleford made no mistake.

Abbey then conceded a full penalty and were then caught napping and Mercer took a quick tap and managed to squeeze over the line in the left corner. He then sent a superb curling conversion over to cut Abbey’s lead to just four points.

With seven minutes of injury time remaining, Aylesbury made every effort to snatch a winning try. At one moment it looked as if the visitors had scored but only a penalty resulted. Again the visitors drove for the line but flanker Kaseem Olayinka transgressed and was shown a yellow card. Bevan sent the penalty into touch, securing the win.

Abbey: D Hunter, M Boucher, C House, B Thomas, D Norville, C Shackleford, W Bevan (captain), A Postlethwaite, L Jones (K Luff 78), C Slaven, J Knights (C Shaw 66), T Staker (G Sutherland 50), G House, E House, M Beckly.

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