COOL MALVERN TAKE THE POINTS AS NUNS GO DOWN FIGHTING
Malvern 25 Nuneaton Old Edwardians 19
On a beautiful afternoon the large crowd at Spring Lane, bolstered by a large contingent of sponsors and away supporters, were treated to an old-school blood and thunder game of rugby. With Nuns anxious to avoid relegation, they brought an uncompromising brand of forward-led game to try and dominate the lighter home pack. Whilst their scrum had the upper hand in terms of weight, they pounded away at the Malvern line for long periods, only to find that the home defence was sharp and solid, so well-drilled were they by head coach Billy McGinty, a defensive specialist. As Nuns were in possession for most of the time, Malvern were relying on the odd breakout and one such saw Tom Hale make an incursion into away territory, only to be stunned by a late and cynical knee drop to his head. He left the field, to be replaced by Ben Essenhigh. Another Nuneaton attack and some desperate defence saw Craig Freeman sin-binned, and Nuns upped their onslaught, eschewing the chance to score penalties for line-outs and catch and drive moves. Despite more Malvern heroics on their own line, Nuns finally forced their way over for a try, which was unconverted, just before half time.
A promising Malvern move early in the second period was halted by an injury to a Nuneaton player. The visiting scrum half then knocked on but it wasn’t spotted by the official and they drove upfield to score and convert. Scenes of jubilation from the visiting fans and some head-holding from the Malvern sidelines, but this proved to be a bit of a turning point, Malvern started to control the play more, their running rugby putting the heavier visitors on the back foot. The athletic Jack Curtis broke and fed Ben Essenhigh for a stunning breakaway try to bring Malvern back into the game. With Nuns looking worried, they resorted to some skulduggery, two high tackles on Laurie Essenhigh warranting at least a yellow card, but only resulting in penalties. Malvern started to make inroads and a further penalty saw Ben King bring the score back to within four points. From the restart Ieuan Mustow sped through the visiting midfield and fed the supporting Conor Giggle for a score to take the lead. This proved to be short lived, as Nuns won a scrum and their full back Southall collected and weaved his way through a, for once, dozing Malvern defence to score a converted try to put them six points ahead. Back came the home side, driving away at a tiring Old Eds and Ben Essenhigh went over, the crowd stirred but then groaned as King’s conversion came back off the post. With a one point deficit and injury time running out, it looked as though Malvern’s winning run may have been halted, especially as the line-out wasn’t functioning well, but Malvern cleared from defence, Curtis again showed his athleticism to storm down the line and evade some desperate tackles, popping the ball to full back Niall Potter-Farrant, who went over to score and give King the extras. Malvern controlled the final moments to record a sixth straight win, a bonus point and consign Nuns to relegation.
Although it wasn’t the prettiest spectacle, the full-blooded encounter had the crowd excited all the way through, Malvern’s defensive heroics in spite of a considerable weight deficit in the pack fully appreciated. In the end, pure rugby skill won out over some cynical 1970s style tactics and Malvern now look forward to an era of growth under new Director of Rugby Rob Cook. With some of the former Colts university- bound, he will be looking to recruit, both from the club’s youth ranks and elsewhere. It would be a bonus to strengthen the pack with a couple of larger ball carriers who can bolster the set pieces as well, and the Malvern faithful are looking forward already to an exciting new season in September. They will have the bonus of four local derby matches against Droitwich and Evesham, who both gained promotion, and the prospect of renewing acquaintance with relegated Kenilworth.