Early injuries prove costly as Abbey lose out on travels
ABBEY had a rare off-day in Southern Counties North, losing for only the third time in
ABBEY had a rare off-day in Southern Counties North, losing for only the third time in the league this season.
The visitors never really overcame the early loss to injury of two key forwards, and they were always playing second fiddle to a well-drilled and dominant home pack. Bletchley led throughout the game and Abbey’s solitary try came in the final minute.
In a match punctuated by injuries to both sides, Abbey’s problems began as early as the second minute when hooker Mark Toland left the field. Prop Frank Long replaced him, and soon afterwards the visitors were driven back at the first scrum. Winger Arron Ross and fullback Gavin Dampies both had encouraging early runs, but there were further problems for the visitors after six minutes when second row Elko Titcombe de Bie, a potentially productive source of line out ball, was forced off with an injury. Toland returned in his place, but just a minute later there was yet more disruption for Abbey when prop Luke Daniels had to be replaced by Fungai Mutepfa.
The home pack soon set up camp in the Abbey 22, and it was Kirwan who claimed the first try of the afternoon when the Bletchley forwards surged over the line from a line out drive. Outside half Phil Harman added the conversion from near the left touchline.
Bletchley lost their fullback Ben Robinson to injury soon after this, but Abbey continued to struggle in the tight against the physical home forwards. However, they did have a chance of points after 16 minutes when they were awarded a penalty, but centre Tom Waterhouse sent his long-range kick wide of the posts. As the game neared the end of the opening quarter, Bletchley dominated possession, and both Waterhouse and fellow centre Dylan Baptista made important tackles in their own 22. The first quarter concluded with Toland once again leaving the field with Daniels returning.
Abbey’s line out was struggling in the absence of Titcombe de Bie, and they conceded a second try in the 22nd minute after losing their own throw 10 metres from the try line. The ball was moved to the left and winger Dean Williams burst through an attempted tackle by Ross to score in the corner. Harman’s conversion attempt dipped just under the bar.
The try seemed to have a galvanising effect on Abbey, and they briefly came to life with prop Tim Brain, second row Sam Hallett and Waterhouse combining well in a handling move. This led to the award of a penalty which Waterhouse struck successfully from 30 metres.
Bletchley put Abbey back under pressure from the restart, but outside half Jim Dye cleared well when the visitors were awarded a penalty.
Abbey’s cause was assisted when home hooker Brett Stanniford was yellow-carded, and after a good move involving Dye, Baptista, Daniels and scrum half Kieran Machin, Waterhouse kicked a simple second penalty to narrow the deficit to 12-6.
A good run from Dampies, who looked as threatening as ever on the occasions he saw the ball, put Abbey back on the attack, and just before Stanniford’s binning period came to an end, Waterhouse kicked a third penalty.
In the second half home winger Farai Venge nearly broke through just after this, but Gingell managed to stop him. Soon afterwards Venge suffered a shoulder injury and had to go off. Then Waterhouse set off on a promising dodging run for Abbey, but possession was lost and the visitors were soon in trouble again. They conceded a penalty in a kickable position, but after Harman elected to kick for the corner Bletchley scored their third try. Possession was moved to the left from the line out, and the outstanding figure of Kirwan charged through the defence to touch down under the posts. Harman’s conversion was a formality, and with just over 50 minutes gone Abbey trailed 19-9.
Steve Drake replaced Machin at scrum half soon after this, and Dampies came close to scoring a try when he chased his own kick-ahead. Unfortunately, a Bletchley defender got to the ball first, and after this Abbey were rarely seen in the home 22.
After 73 minutes Harman made the game safe with an easy penalty in front of the posts after the visitors’ backs were caught offside.
As the game entered injury time, it looked as if Abbey were not even going to score a try, but they did at least give their travelling supporters something to cheer in the very last minute. Woodward broke from a scrum some 45 metres from the line, and in a thrilling race he just held off his pursuers to touch down to the left of the posts. Waterhouse’s missed conversion attempt was the final act of the game.
Abbey: G Dampies, C Gingell, T Waterhouse, D Baptista, A Ross, J Dye, K Machin (S Drake, 53 mins), T Brain, M Toland (F Long, 2 mins), L Daniels (F Mutepfa, 7 mins), E Titcombe de Bie (M Toland, 6-20 mins; L Daniels, 21 mins), S Hallett, J Hallett, M Beckly, W Woodward.