Sunday, 06 December 2020

Local rivals rise to occasion to secure bragging rights

ABBEY failed to retain the season’s bragging rights in a scrappy local derby played in unseasonable February sunshine.

The visitors made a dream start, but they often made life difficult for themselves thereafter by conceding possession both in the loose and in set pieces. Reading dominated territory in the final quarter of the game.

Just two minutes had elapsed when Abbey claimed the first points of the game. Following the first scrum, outside half Ben Mitchell and number eight David Cole combined to set up a ruck, and from this scrum half Will Bevan made a break, running in under the posts without a hand being laid on him. Winger Olly Walton’s simple conversion put Abbey 7-0 up.

The restart kick was dropped and Reading were instantly handed territorial advantage. From the resulting home pressure a penalty was conceded and outside half Rob Sweeney kicked the points.

From a scrum centre Luke Burns and Greenaway handled well before skipper Chris Shaw made a good break. The attack continued into the home 22, where second row Danny Pawlett was held just five metres from the line after good work from prop Linden Dixon and fullback Gavin Dampies.

After this bright start from Abbey, Reading came more into the game. They attacked in the right corner inside the visitors’ 22, but after good Abbey defence kept them out, Reading conceded a penalty and Burns cleared well to touch. Abbey again lost the ball at the subsequent line-out and Davies charged back into the visitors’ 22. Again Abbey defended well and a high kick from Bevan cleared the lines. Abbey lost another line-out ball soon after this, and Greenaway did well to stop his opposite number Chris Grieg when the winger broke inside the 22.

A rare Abbey attack saw Pawlett and Charlton make ground, but Reading were soon back on the attack. Shaw halted a break from Sweeney, and after this Abbey looked dangerous when they ran the ball from close to their own line. Mitchell, Burns and Dampies moved the ball to the right, and Walton broke up the wing, making 20 metres before he was stopped. Shortly after this young prop Jack Saunders came on to replace Adam Postlethwaite in the Abbey front row.

Reading finally turned territorial dominance into points after half an hour when prop Josh Pallett dived over in the right corner following good pressure from the pack. Sweeney kicked a conversion from close to the touchline, but Abbey raised their game sufficiently to draw level before half-time.

An attack launched by Burns saw the home side concede a penalty and a further 10 metres, and with two minutes left before the break Walton kicked the goal, the ball crossing the bar after bouncing off the left post.

Postlethwaite returned at the start of the second half, and Abbey enjoyed a bright start again. Shaw caught the kick-off, Burns kicked ahead, and when winger Stuart Borthwick ran the ball back Shaw was on hand again to make the tackle.

A move involving Ross twice, Cole, Charlton and flanker Matt Gingell ended with Mitchell kicking the ball into the home 22. Walton, Burns and Dampies kept the momentum going and after Reading gave away a free kick, Bevan, Burns and Mitchell set up a great position close to the line. Shaw and Ross took the ball even closer and Reading conceded a penalty under the posts. A fight immediately broke out, resulting in a yellow card for home flanker Gerry Hegarty, while Charlton had to leave the field with blood pouring from his nose. Luke Daniels replaced him in the front row, while Walton’s successful penalty gave Abbey a 13-10 lead. From then until the end of the game Gingell took over the throwing in duties for Abbey.

The third quarter was Abbey’s most dominant part of the game. Cole broke through as the visitors looked to increase their lead and flanker Tom Huggins got close to the line after good handling from Walton, Shaw and Ross. Will Paige came on for Burns, and Abbey continued to look confident with Dixon twice making good ground. Cole brought off a great catch from a testing kick ahead, and then Paige released Greenaway in space.

When Abbey were eventually stopped Reading gave away another penalty, and Walton landed a goal to make the score 16-10. At this point the visitors looked the more likely winners, but with Reading back up to full strength and with Sweeney beginning to peg Abbey back with some clever tactical kicking, the game began to turn in the home side’s favour.

Shaw produced a fine tackle to gain possession for Abbey inside their 22, but after Bevan’s clearance kick was caught on the halfway line, centre Alex Dorliac broke through and exchanged passes with Grieg before the latter broke clear to score a try under the posts. Three minutes later Reading’s lead became 20-16 when Greenaway was punished for holding on to the ball after being tackled and Sweeney landed another penalty.

It was all Reading now in terms of territory, and Abbey were fortunate not to fall further behind when Sweeney hit the post with a penalty after 71 minutes.

With time running out, Abbey broke clear and attacked. Greenaway, Dampies and Mitchell ran from deep, and after Reading conceded a penalty there was one last chance of a score from a line-out in the home 22. The ball was won, albeit untidily, but a knock on in midfield conceded possession and Reading survived the final play with no further alarms.

Abbey: G Dampies, O Walton, A Ross, L Burns (W Paige, 56 mins), J Greenaway, B Mitchell, W Bevan, A Postlethwaite (J Saunders, 29-40 mins, 76-85 mins), O Charlton (L Daniels, 47 mins), L Dixon, D Pawlett, C Shaw, M Gingell, T Huggins, D Cole.

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