Friday, 27 November 2020

Tries not enough to prevent heavy back-to-back defeats

ABBEY crashed to another heavy defeat in Southern Counties North, despite looking the better side for much of the first

ABBEY crashed to another heavy defeat in Southern Counties North, despite looking the better side for much of the first half last Saturday, writes Mark Hoskins.

The home side played attractive rugby, and the scrummaging was much more secure than it had been the previous weekend at Stow-on-the-Wold, but the visitors capitalised on Abbey’s defensive frailties and ran away with the game after the interval.

The home side was unlucky not to take the lead after five minutes. After successfully turning an opposition scrum, Hallett, Willis and prop Toby Chapman charged for the line in turn before the ball eluded fullback Tom Waterhouse after a clever crosskick from outside half Kye Machin.

Waterhouse collided with a Milton Keynes defender on the try line and when the ball bounced loose centre Ollie Walton appeared to apply downward pressure, but a try was not awarded. Abbey continued to attack, but the visitors scored from virtually their first attack, when flanker Dan Rolfe crossed wide on the left following some weak tackling on the halfway line.

Outside half Phil Powell failed to convert. More high speed rugby from Abbey followed, and Waterhouse had a chance to register points after 12 minutes, but his 38 metre penalty drifted wide.

After Waterhouse lost his footing in defence, scrum half Rob Lasbrey crossed for a second Milton Keynes try. The conversion was straightforward, but Powell missed again.

Minutes later Waterhouse attempted another penalty but this time he scuffed the ball and it fell well short of the target. Abbey continued to press, dominating territory and possession and more than holding their own at set pieces.

Centre Tim Brain looked the pick of the home three-quarters, frequently making ground and breaking through tackles, while flanker Mike Beckley also ran effectively.

The home side’s first points finally came in the 26th minute when Waterhouse landed a simple penalty. Further surges from Hallett kept the pressure on Milton Keynes, but when they broke from deep after half an hour a try was all too easily achieved.

With the luxury of a four man overlap centre Rob Mathews touched down wide on the left, Powell yet again failing to convert.

In the final 10 minutes of the half Abbey were badly hit by injuries. First flanker Paul Emery departed, to be replaced by Rob Selby, and then the hosts lost Walton, and, temporarily, winger Jules Greenaway. The other replacements were head coach Russell Bolton, and Martin Crossan, who coaches the forwards. Bolton initially went to fullback, Waterhouse moved to the centre, and Abbey played the remainder of the half with second row Chris Shaw on the wing and Crossan in the front row.

Abbey still sought to run the ball, but when scrum half Steve Drake made a break he was isolated and had no support runners in attendance.

Powell made a run before offloading to fullback Ashley Targett, who ran round to touch down under the posts for a bonus point try. Powell’s simple conversion made the half-time score 22-3.

Greenaway returned at the start of the second half, but it was to replace Chapman, with Crossan remaining on the field. Hallett drove well from a line-out, but Abbey missed the chance of points when Machin was wide with a penalty after 42 minutes.

In the space of three minutes, Milton Keynes wrapped the game up. First winger Ollie Fountain burst through two attempted tackles to score under the posts, and then replacement Scott Aspinall pounced on a loose ball after a kick ahead.

Powell landed both conversions, and his side led 36-3. Abbey now moved Machin to fullback, with Bolton going to outside half. The head coach’s clever crosskick set up a promising position, but Milton Keynes were now in a situation where they could relax and run the ball from just about anywhere.

A length of the field passing move gave Rolfe his second try, Powell converting, and then a run from Targett gave supporting prop Dave Brown a try under the sticks. Powell converted both tries, and Milton Keynes had reached 50 points.

Chapman returned to action after 57 minutes replacing Crossan, and Abbey began to attack again. The tireless Hallett was held just short of the line, and then, after Brain, Willis and Waterhouse had attacked from deep, Greenaway got a lovely try, running 30 metres to the line.

A hastily taken and missed drop-kick conversion suggested that Abbey were eyeing the possible consolation of a four try bonus point, and they were soon on the attack again with winger Jack Hudson combining well with Brain and Willis.

A second try followed for Hallett after Willis had initiated a drive from a line-out, and this time the conversion was not attempted at all. That was Abbey’s last meaningful attack, and Hallett’s final action of the afternoon was to pinch a Milton Keynes line-out throw five metres from the Abbey line.

Abbey: T Waterhouse, J Greenaway (M Crossan, 36-40 mins), O Walton (R Bolton, 34 mins), T Brain, J Hudson, K Machin, S Drake, T Chapman (M Crossan, 40-57 mins), J Holden, L Daniels, C Shaw, S Hallett, M Beckley, P Emery (R Selby, 32 mins), S Willis.

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