Saturday, 13 August 2022

Abbey have no answer to league leaders

ABBEY never looked capable of defeating table-topping visitors Bletchley, but they put up a brave show in the second half

ABBEY never looked capable of defeating table-topping visitors Bletchley, but they put up a brave show in the second half after trailing 26-0 at the break, writes Mark Hoskins.

At this stage of the match an away win of embarrassing proportions looked a real possibility, but Abbey rallied well and deserved a try for their efforts.

The opening 40 minutes belonged entirely to Bletchley. Almost the whole half was played in Abbey territory, the only excursions over the halfway line coming from kicks out of defence or restarts.

Bletchley offered ample evidence as to why they sit at the top of Southern Counties North. The pack was a solid unit, and in skipper Matt Nobes and second row John Kirwan they had an adventurous pair of forwards who constantly threatened to break through the home defence. Behind the scrum the backs handled smartly, with centre George Harman in particular catching the eye.

Abbey’s tackling was impressive, with prop Ollie Charlton halting one of George Harman’s dangerous breaks and centre Arron Ross stopping several attacks. After 10 minutes of play Bletchley scrummed three times on the home line, and each time good defence prevented a try.

Abbey could not hold out forever though it took the yellow carding of flanker Fungai Mutepfa to produce the opening score. As soon as he left the field Bletchley number eight Steve Allen touched down from a five metre scrum, outside half Phil Harman adding an excellent conversion. Abbey’s woes deepened when scrum half Steve Drake limped off, though his replacement, flanker Dai Garhard, turned out to be a more than capable stand-in.

Abbey wing Steve Warwick was the next home defender to impress when he halted George Harman, but the Bletchley centre created the second try shortly afterwards, carving a hole in the home defence before fullback Will Garrett crossed the line on the right. Phil Harman again added the conversion.

Abbey could do nothing to prevent Jamie Parker scoring the third Bletchley try after half an hour, the centre dummying his way over to the left of the posts. This time Phil Harman could not convert.

As the half drew to a close, Bletchley elected to scrum when they were awarded a penalty under the home posts. After a wave of attacks, George Harman concluded the first half by cutting through for a try, which Phil Harman converted.

The third quarter belonged almost entirely to Abbey. With Ross leading the revival with some daring breaks, they camped in the visitors’ 22 and were desperately unlucky not to cross the line. Mutepfa battled to snatch any loose ball, skipper Sam Hallett made good ground from a couple of runs, and his fellow second row Chris Shaw was held up just short of the line.

Bletchley began to concede penalties, and they had to work hard to keep Abbey out.

An opportunity of a score was missed when the ball was taken infield when a blindside pass might have released winger Charlie Gingell, and the hour mark arrived with Abbey looking the better side. By this time they had lost outside half Dan Love to injury, but his replacement, Chris Garstin, instantly impressed with the timing of his passes and his running.

Just before Bletchley raised the siege Abbey missed another golden opportunity to get points on the board when centre Liam Somers dropped a scoring pass following a brilliant break from Ross.

This signalled the end of the Abbey revival and the rest of the game was dominated by the visitors, although Abbey did manage to keep the second half score at 0-0 until the 75th minute of normal time.

After that they shipped three more tries, starting with an excellent score on the right from replacement back Paul Millen. Then Nobes crossed on the left after a good bout of passing, before Garrett, now playing at scrum half, finished off the match with an audacious and memorable individual try, dummying his way to the line after tapping a free kick. Phil Harman converted the final two scores of the day.

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