Wednesday, 02 December 2020

Injuries take their toll as Abbey slip to second loss of season

ABBEY lost for only the second time this season in their top-of-the-table clash at Bicester last Saturday.

ABBEY lost for only the second time this season in their top-of-the-table clash at Bicester last Saturday.

The visitors scored four tries but were guilty of allowing the Bicester midfield far too much space, particularly in the second half. The home pack, especially the back row, caused problems for Abbey, but the visitors still have a five point lead at the top-of-the-table thanks to the two bonus points they secured.

In the opening minute home lock Ryan Gallacher charged into Abbey centre Luke Burns, flooring him and forcing him to leave the field. He was replaced by debutant Bryn Savill, and although he made a brave attempt to return soon afterwards he was unfit and Savill replaced him permanently after 18 minutes with winger Dylan Baptista moving into the centre.

Abbey survived the early Bicester onslaught and after centre Arron Ross intercepted in his own 22 fullback Gavin Dampies and Baptista made good ground into the Bicester half.

Abbey suffered more injury woes soon afterwards when number eight Danny Pawlett left the field clutching his shoulder with Chris Shaw coming on in his place. Bicester went back on the attack and Abbey winger Charlie Gingell was prominent as the visitors defended. Abbey raised the siege once again and took the lead against the run of play with a good try. Second row Sam Hallett won the ball at the front of a line-out and outside half Tom Waterhouse fed Ross, who allowed the speedy Dampies to race away to score just to the right of the posts. Waterhouse’s conversion attempt drifted left of the posts.

Abbey conceded points straight from the restart when lock Warren Milne was penalised for holding on to the ball. Home centre Tom Miles sent over a kick which kept low but was always on target. He had a chance to put his side ahead with a further penalty at the end of the first quarter, but his kick from 40 metres just dipped under the bar.

Abbey skipper Mike Beckly then rescued the ball for his team at a scrum as Bicester applied the pressure and after home outside half Dave Hampton had made 50 metres of ground with a penalty Miles was just off target with a drop goal attempt. Hallett, Baptista, Gingell and hooker Mark Toland all then made good ground, while Shaw did well at the lineouts. Just before the half hour mark, Waterhouse made a break and gave a scoring pass to Ross. Again the ball was touched down to the right of the sticks and again Waterhouse saw the wind drag his conversion attempt wide.

Just before the break Abbey scrum half Will Bevan was yellow-carded, which meant that Dampies had to move temporarily to scrum half. Bicester had two scrums five metres from the visitors’ line, and from the second of these flanker Dan Spencer crossed for a try. Miles sent over a conversion as the half ended all square at 10-10.

Abbey started the second half playing uphill but with the assistance of the wind. Bicester looked to get a further score while Bevan was off the field, but good defence from Ross and Hallett prevented them, while Baptista put in a fine tackle on the dangerous Spencer.

Bevan returned to the field, and with Hallett always in the thick of things, Abbey looked to attack again. However, both Spencer, who was the pick of the Bicester pack, and hooker Will Anns, came close to scoring tries, Gingell putting in a crucial tackle on the latter. Further runs from Hallett and Gingell sent Abbey into the Bicester half but Hampton intercepted when the visitors attempted an overcomplicated back move. Fortunately for Abbey, home number eight Steve Limbrick knocked on in the visitors’ 22.

After an hour of play Abbey went back on the attack and regained the lead with a bout of quick passing. Ross made ground to the right and fed Dampies who sent a long pass to Waterhouse. The fullback received a return pass to scamper in under the posts, Waterhouse converting with ease.

Bicester were level again two minutes later when scrum half Mike Harris went over the line after Abbey had again let Hampton loose in the middle of the park.

Miles again converted. Three minutes after this the home side took the lead for the first time when winger Peter Tarrega burst through another gap in the Abbey defence to set up a try for Miles. Again the conversion was successful and Bicester led 24-17.

Within minutes Abbey scored their bonus point try when Baptista handed on to Waterhouse who sprinted clear to score on the left. The wind blew the ball off the kicking tee as he was attempting his conversion and although prop Tim Brain was allowed to come up to hold the ball, Waterhouse was timed out before he could attempt his kick.

The next few minutes belonged to Bicester. Hampton broke through again and Spencer was held on the Abbey line. The visitors defended well for a long period as Bicester pressed, but eventually the home side scored a fourth try when Limbrick and Harris engineered a score in the right corner for Tarrega. Miles missed the difficult conversion, but Bicester now led 29-22 with time almost up.

In the final minutes Abbey bombarded the home line, with Hallett, Toland and Ross all coming close. Bicester conceded a penalty under the posts, with centre John Behan being sent to the bin, but the visitors conceded a penalty themselves in the final play of the game, and the relieved home side sent the ball into touch.

Abbey: G Dampies, C Gingell, A Ross, L Burns (B Savill, 2-8 mins, 18 mins), D Baptista, T Waterhouse, W Bevan, T Brain (O Charlton, 56 mins), M Toland, F Long (T Brain, 66 mins), W Milne, S Hallett, M Beckly, E House, D Pawlett (C Shaw, 9 mins).

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