Sunday, 15 December 2019

Fight back not enough as Abbey slip to home defeat

Fight back not enough as Abbey slip to home defeat

ABBEY staged a brave second half fight back in their Wadworth Southern Counties North clash with Bicester at Rosehill. The visitors led 31-8 shortly after half time after dominating the bulk of the game, but the home forwards, with replacements Gerry Sutherland and Will Woodward very much to the fore, took control and eventually reduced the deficit to just seven points.

The hosts secured two bonus points from the game, but Didcot’s shock victory at Marlow means Abbey are now second from bottom in the table.

Second row Toby Staker caught the kick off and received good support from hooker Conor Slaven as Abbey mounted a promising early drive. Flanker Ed House and centre Brad Thomas both made important early tackles, and there was good work from skipper Mike Beckly and flanker George House as the home side forced Bicester into mistakes. Coach Luke Harding, once again standing in for Will Bevan at scrum half, made a clever blindside break from a scrum, but the ball was lost in a tackle.

Bicester took control of the contest with tries in consecutive moves. First, after 14 minutes, fullback Charlie Bethell burst through the middle from a planned move, and with no Abbey defenders in sight he ran 40 metres to touch down under the posts.

Outside half Dan Walker, who kicked superbly from the tee all afternoon, added the conversion, and within a minute he was lining up his second successful kick. Abbey’s restart kick was worked to centre Christian Mann who broke from 60 metres out. Both winger Christian Floyd and full back Darren Hunter attempted to hold him, but neither succeeded as the centre ran in a fine individual try. Worse was to follow for Abbey five minutes later when Walker added a penalty to make the score 17-0.

With 26 minutes gone, all three Abbey replacements came on together. They were forwards, and all three, Lewis Jones and the aforementioned Woodward and Sutherland, made an instant impact. Soon after this, Ed House forced a turnover and earned his side a penalty.

Abbey lost the next lineout as well, but when they recovered possession a move involving Wallis-Robinson, Harding and prop Jack Stevenson resulted in Bicester being penalised again. This time Shackleford landed a good kick from 25 metres to record Abbey’s first points.

Sutherland produced the first of numerous good runs from the next phase of play, and then, at long last Abbey won a clean lineout through Beckly. Staker drove well, and Abbey were awarded a scrum on the Bicester 22. With the Abbey eight looking steady, Woodward picked up and ran to the right before sending a smart pass to Harding. The scrum half grubber kicked to the corner, Floyd chased the ball and added a second kick, and Hunter sped through to touch down Abbey’s first try. Shackleford’s difficult touchline conversion dropped short.

Bicester were awarded a penalty and decided to go for a scrum on the home 22. A series of forward drives to the right seemed to have failed thanks to good Abbey defence, but Walker’s long pass to the left found winger Reece Sullivan unmarked, and he ran in his side’s third try. Walker’s conversion from wide out gave his side a 24-8 half time lead.

Abbey began the second half in promising fashion, with Wallis-Robinson making a 20 metre break. But the home side were soon in deep trouble again, and after Ed House was, to his very obvious annoyance, shown a yellow card, Bicester scored their bonus point try when a good break from centre Josh Wordsworth sent winger Remi Coventry over the line. Once again Walker added an excellent conversion, and the score was now 31-8 with five minutes of the second half played.

George House’s crunching tackle forced a Bicester penalty and with Thomas standing in as a flanker in Ed House’s absence, the home pack drove well after opting for a scrum. A further penalty was awarded in the Bicester 22 and Coventry was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on. Abbey again took a scrum, and Woodward’s control of the ball was masterly as the pack drove forwards. Bicester conceded a third penalty five metres from the line, and once again a scrum was called. This time the pack could not get a good forward shove, but Harding fed Shackleford, and a good pass from Thomas gave Sutherland ample room to charge over in the left corner for a try. Shackleford failed with a difficult conversion attempt, and in a rare second half attack Bicester increased their lead soon afterwards when the ever-reliable Walker kicked a penalty.

By now the sin-bin period was over for Ed House, but Beckly, who had been replaced earlier, came back instead of him. The game had now entered the final quarter and Abbey looked by far the stronger side. Good driving by Stevenson, Sutherland and George House, plus a good 15 metre burst by Woodward ended up with Abbey getting another five metre scrum.

Sutherland broke well after Abbey had won the ball, and Thomas was stopped just short of the line. Then, when Abbey won another scrum seven metres out, Woodward picked up and rolled back the years with a trademark burst to the line to earn a great try. This time Shackleford’s conversion from the left was good, and there was a glimmer of hope for Abbey.

It was all Abbey now, with Sutherland involved time and again as the home pack battered away inside the Bicester half. One Sutherland burst made a good 30 metres, and soon Abbey found themselves once again with a scrum inside the Bicester 22. Woodward picked up from the base and moved the ball right to Thomas. The centre’s pass then found George House, who in turn handed on to Wallis-Robinson. Then the outside half sent an overhead pass to Beckly, who had a clear run to touch down under the posts. Abbey had got their try bonus point, and Shackleford’s simple conversion put them in losing bonus point territory as well.

Abbey then had five minutes of the match remaining as Jones, Sutherland and Beckly all making good ground. For a brief second it looked as if Wallis-Robinson had been given a clear run to the line, but he was called back for an infringement, and this was to prove Abbey’s last chance.

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