Saturday, 28 November 2020

Depleted Abbey side gain bonus point despite Oxford Harlequins defeat

AN Abbey side lacking several first choice forwards through injury or unavailability came second best to a rejuvenated Oxford Harlequins outfit at Rosehill on Saturday.

The visitors belied their lowly position in South West 1 East to dominate possession and territory for much of the game, particularly in the first half. Abbey survived off scraps for the bulk of the afternoon, and they were perhaps fortunate that Huw Dimond, the visitors’ outside half, missed a number of kicks at goal. This at least ensured that Abbey got a losing bonus point.

Outside half Ben Mitchell and second row Tom Clark both made important tackles as Quins made early inroads into Abbey territory. The home defence remained secure for the first few minutes, but seven minutes into the game Dimond landed a routine penalty to put his side ahead after Abbey were punished for being offside on their own 22 metre line. The first scrum of the game saw Abbey retain possession despite being pushed backwards, and skipper Sam Hallett and prop Ed Whelan both made encouraging bursts. However, Abbey saw little of the ball in the opening quarter, and it was somewhat against the run of play when centre Olly Walton landed a good penalty to level matters after 18 minutes following a rare visit to the visitors’ half.

Number eight Chris Shaw caught the restart kick, but for the rest of the half Abbey were almost exclusively confined to their own 22. Flanker Charlie Ward was tackled into touch by winger Arron Ross as Quins attacked in the right corner, and then, when play was switched to the left, winger Keni Fisilau kicked over the goal line where Abbey’s fullback Gavin Dampies was first to the ball. Quins kicked a penalty to the corner, and from the ensuing drive skipper Allan Purchase was stopped by hooker Fungai Mutepfa just short of the line.

After 28 minutes Quins elected to kick for the corner when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, and Alston was stopped after the line-out drive. Hallett was then yellow-carded, but Abbey’s weakened pack managed to hold out at the ensuing scrum. Dimond missed two penalties in the space of three minutes, his first kick drifting to the right and the second to the left.

Shaw again brought off an important tackle as Quins continued to attack in the dying minutes of the first half. Fullback Archie Van Dijk and centre Ollie Jenner were both halted close to the line, but just before the half entered injury time the visitors finally got their try when Alston touched down for a routine score from a five metre scrum. Dimond missed the conversion. The half ended with Abbey being 8-3 behind.

Jeremy Knights replaced Clark at the start of the second half and after Shaw had done his best to attack from the kick-off Quins were soon on the attack again. Edney and second row Michael Ojo took play to within two metres of the home line, and then Crowe was forced into touch. Abbey conceded possession by knocking on at a line-out, and from the subsequent move prop Pete Boulton charged over for a good try which Dimond was able to convert.

The score seemed to spark new life into Abbey, and Burns, Dampies and Gingell strung a promising move together. The result was that at long last Abbey found themselves in a decent position on the field, and when Quins were penalised Walton landed a goal to reduce the deficit to nine points.

Abbey now looked much more in contention, and scrum half Will Bevan linked well with Shaw to start an attack on the halfway line. Knights won a line-out and flankers Ed House and Tom Huggins made good ground. Prop Liam Rolland made a burst, but after further good work from Walton and Dampies the ball was lost. Two more knock-ons saw Abbey surrender further possession and they also missed the chance to set up a good position when Bevan missed touch with a penalty.

A home try came from the move of the match. Mitchell made the score, breaking from the halfway line before linking with Ross. The winger passed right to Dampies in the 22 and the fullback’s pass sent Gingell on his way for the try. Walton’s kick drifted away to the left of the post.

Ross suffered an injury in the build-up to the try, and he limped off in discomfort to be replaced by Theo Evered. A reshuffle of the home backs saw Dampies move to the wing, Evered to centre and Walton to fullback.

Bevan made no mistake with his next penalty kick to touch, but the line-out throw was not straight and Abbey were soon forced to defend again. Whelan tackled well as Quins attacked, and then Shaw and Hallett stopped the visitors’ driving maul close to the line.

Evered did well to halt Fisilau, but Abbey were penalised in front of their posts and Dimond kicked successfully to make the score 18-11.

Mutepfa returned to the action in place of Rolland, but two promising Abbey attacks from deep were ruined through knock-ons. Just before the end of normal time Rolland was back on the field in place of Whelan, and a seven minute period of injury time commenced with Abbey still in the game and with an outside chance of drawing level.

The home side made every effort to score in the dying minutes, but no attacks really got close enough to suggest a try was forthcoming.

Abbey: G Dampies, A Ross (T Evered, 58 mins), O Walton, L Burns, C Gingell, B Mitchell, W Bevan, E Whelan (L Rolland, 79 mins), F Mutepfa (O Charlton, 38 mins), L Rolland (F Mutepfa, 74 mins), T Clark (J Knights, 40 mins), S Hallett, E House, T Huggins, C Shaw.

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