Banbury Bulls retain Oxfordshire Cup!
Banbury retained the Oxfordshire Cup for the first time in their history as they edged Oxford University Greyhounds 17-12 in a pulsating final at Iffley Road
Match report by Jack Johnson of the Oxford Mail, photos by Simon Grieve
Tries from Josh Deegan and Jack Briggs were enough to earn the Bulls a historic victory. Twelve months ago, Banbury had lifted the cup for the first time in 16 years and they let their power and experience come to the fore to beat a Greyhounds side who refused to roll over. Bulls only stretched their lead to five points with nine minutes remaining and they kept the students at bay to spark jubilant celebrations.
Banbury dominated the early stages and No 8 Chris Phillips was twice held up with the try line seemingly at his mercy.
Greyhounds' Josh Strickland was stretchered off early with an arm injury and it seemed only a matter of time until Bulls took the lead.
Hooker George Ding's try was disallowed, but they opened the scoring on 12 minutes when scrum half Ed Phillips threw a miss pass out to winger Deegan who cut inside and forced his way over. Ed Phillips converted to make it 7-0.
Banbury's dominance continued and they looked like doubling their lead, but after quick hands from the influential Matt Goode, Deegan was stopped just short.
After being under the cosh for the opening 25 minutes, Greyhounds kicked their way out of trouble and fly half Tom Dyer missed a penalty. But the students made their first foray into Bulls' 22 count on 30 minutes. A catch and drive led to hooker Noah Miller forcing his way over. Dyer was unable to add the extras, though, as his attempt fell just short and wide.
With the tie now evenly matched, Ed Phillips had the chance to stretch Banbury's lead, but his penalty sailed just wide.
Greyhounds finished the half on top, though, and looked likely to score on the brink of half-time, but great defence from Bulls denied the students and forced a penalty.
Banbury started the second half looking to use all their experience and physicality, something Goode expertly displayed when he took No 8 John Aaron Henry clean off his feet. Bulls' defence did need to hold firm on 50 minutes, though, as scrum half Tom Kershaw danced through two tackles before being stopped.
Goode's powerful running was causing Greyhounds all sorts of trouble and when the ball was cleared from a ruck, centre Jimmy Manley found Deegan out wide, but the winger was tackled into touch as the students looked stretched. Banbury needed to make their pressure count and on 59 minutes they did. After being held up short a number of times, fly half Sam Stoop found space and slipped in replacement Briggs to dot down. Ed Phillips added the extras in front of the posts to make it 14-5.
The students should have answered back immediately, but Dyer's off day with the boot continued as his penalty attempt floated wide.
Greyhounds were not giving up without a fight, though, and flanker James Beaufils found a bit of room to stretch his legs and race over on 66 minutes. Dyer converted to reduce Banbury's lead to two points.
Bulls' reaction was one of experience and they were quick on the attack, stemming any encouragement the students gained from their try. They promptly won a penalty with nine minutes to go and Ed Phillips was on target to make it 17-12.
Greyhounds refused to lie down but they became sloppy in possession as they hurriedly tried to get back into the match.
Bulls attacked late on looking to make certain of the result, but Freddie Cracknell could not quite catch a grubber kick, while Manley was prevented from touching down.
It did not matter, though, as Banbury ultimately proved too experienced and rode out an enthralling seven minutes of added time to head back to north Oxfordshire with the trophy.
Banbury: Joe Mills, Deegan, Manley, Goode, Cracknell, Stoop, E Phillips, M Fox, Ding, Isham, Harden, Brock, Johnson, Jacob Mills, C Phillips. Reps: Saar, Pratt, Sam Mills, Briggs, Brady.
Oxford University Greyhounds: Fraser, Hammond, Strickland, Povey, Barley, Dyer, Kershaw, Calderwood, Miller, Parker, MacGilchrist, Adams, Beaufils, Thornton, Henry. Reps: Symington, Grant, Taylor, Haddock, Livingstone.