A great game for the neutral...
....but too much to do after a poor first half
With the two teams contriving to rack up 91 points between them, the referee almost needed an accountant from KPMG to keep up with the score. Thankfully, he was well prepared with an extra-wide scorecard and plenty of ink, and between us we had enough fingers and thumbs to just about cope :-)
Some might be tempted to point to that fact that Ays were missing a number of key players, that some decisions went against them, or to highlight individual errors, but to do so would be both wrong and to overlook the key reason why we lost: an appalling first half defensive performance. Harsh words, but there is no way of sweetening it. A total lack of defensive linespeed allowed Reading's big runners to get up to top speed without challenge which then made them very hard to stop. If the Chuckle Brothers did defensive rugby, this is what it would have looked like. To compound the frustration, despite the scoreline, Ays looked the better organised and more complete team, with Reading's first two tries both coming from soft turnovers and so when Ays brought the score back to 19-12 it looked like they might be about to switch on. However, three converted tries saw Reading pull away to a 42-12 lead at half-time. Frustratingly, it was so obvious from the side-lines what the problem was, yet despite repeatedly getting messages on to the field, the boys chose to not take any notice of them. Instead, they began to wrongly get frustrated with the back 3, when in fact it was the twelve players in front of them that needed to work harder to snuff out the threat at source. HT 42-12.
Half-time offered an much needed opportunity to refocus minds, calm down and draw breath. This was a game that could still be won, and as we are increasingly seeing from this group of players, the levels of resilience built up over the past few years mean they don't give up easily. And boy, did they have a go. You could see the determination to claw the game back gleaming in their eyes.In the scrum Ays drove Reading backwards, in the maul, Ays invariable came out with the ball or forced a turnover, around the fringes, Ays made territory almost at will with strong powerful runners and quick ball unleashed the backs. Defensively, the Return of the Missing Linespeed saw Reading's backs put under pressure for the first time and their attacking threat largely snuffed out. After every score, Ays were quickly back in position, now playing with belief and passion. Within a flash, the scoreline was 42-27 and to anyone arriving late to the game, you would have thought Ays were winning from the body language on the pitch. But then an unforced error saw possession turned over, and a moments hesitation in the defense saw Reading get over in the corner for what would eventually turn out to be the match winning try. Ays kept pressing though, and ran in another 3 tries, to bring the score to 47-44 by the time the final whistle went.
Ays were gutted to have clawed the game back to just a three point margin, and felt they should have won it. Indeed, with the right performance levels from the beginning the result might have been different. But all credit to Reading - they capitalised on woeful first half defense and were able to repeatedly run in simple tries under the posts. It's a tribute to the the boys that they came back in the second half, but deep down they know that they should never have let it get to that position to begin with. Sometimes the best lessons are also the harshest ones and hopefully the boys will use the sting of today to motivate them for the rest of the season.
Our thanks as always to all the support, to the referee, to Reading RFC for hosting us so warmly - and to everyone for the immaculately observed 2 minutes silence at half-time.