League’s leaders beaten in an exciting encounter at Braywick.
Marlow travelled to Braywick for the return fixture with the league’s leaders, Maidenhead. Fixtures between the Clubs have been infrequent in “modern times”, with the 1st XVs meeting only on 6 occasions in the league and once in the EDF Energy Cup in the last 10 seasons. Of the six games played before Saturday, Marlow had won only one, the home fixture last season, so a victory at Maidenhead was unknown to any of the current players. The outcome of the reverse fixture at Riverwoods in December was disappointing for Marlow, with the score of 17 – 25 giving Maidenhead 5 points from an exciting, close and, at times, fierce encounter.
Before last week’s defeat by Swanage & Wareham, our hosts had been in great form with 13 successive victories, including a very impressive win at second-placed Salisbury, and had looked certainties to be champions of the league. They remained on top, and favourites for the title, on 90 points – 6 points ahead of Salisbury and 2 places and 23 points ahead of us. Marlow had won 4 of its last five league games, and if it could play with the same commitment and cohesion as in last week’s victory over Swindon, and when beating Cheltenham and Wycombe recently, we would see a good game.
Marlow’s squad showed 3 changes following the win against Swindon, with prop Mike Davey and back row forwards Ben Phillips and Jonny Wolfe returning. A big surprise to me was to see outside-half Will Fulton’s name on the match card, as he had hobbled off after only 30 minutes on the pitch last week. The brilliant sunshine and warmth of last weekend was replaced by heavy grey skies and a much lower temperature, with a fitful, cool breeze which was unable to decide about the direction in which it would blow.
Maidenhead kicked off, playing from left to right when seen from Braywick’s stand and Marlow got a scrum near the half-way line. Mr Staker took an instant dislike to our scrummaging and gave the hosts a penalty. Another penalty for hands in a ruck came quickly afterwards, and Maidenhead broke down the left wing, but knocked-on. The hosts’ disrupted Marlow’s put in, forcing flanker Jon Dawe to pick up at the back of a turning scrum, and outside half Will Fulton made a high clearing kick. Maidenhead ran back at Marlow and was awarded its 3rd penalty in 6 minutes at a tackle in midfield. The successful kick, from about 30 metres, put the hosts in front 3 – 0 after 7 minutes. Fulton’s restart kick was low and flat and to his right wing, and the bouncing ball caused Maidenhead to knock-on when fielding it. Right wing Matt Saunders took advantage and scooped up the loose ball, although some spectators thought that he had in turn fumbled the ball as he gathered it. Maidenhead’s defence was unprepared and centre George Jafari was in support to score a try on the right, with Fulton’s conversion putting Marlow ahead by 3 – 7 after 8 minutes.
Play now opened up and both sides tried to break the resistance of the other. However, neither side was able to establish territorial advantage. Both sets of players looked still to be tense, and the regular punctuation of penalties further disrupted the fluency. After 24 minutes Jafari burst down the middle from a lineout, and second row Chris Clarke and flanker Ben Phillips made further ground, but another penalty ended a good move and gave possession to the hosts. From the lineout Maidenhead’s pack drove to Marlow’s 10m line and then the ball was moved down the blind side at pace. The final pass was forward, but the try stood and Maidenhead was back in front 8 – 7 after 26 minutes. Marlow responded positively and Maidenhead’s touch kick from a mark gave the visitors a lineout 15 metres inside the hosts’ half. Dawe took the ball at the tail and no. 8 Harry Rodger ran on before passing to Saunders on the right wing. He was bundled into touch 15 metres short, but Marlow stole the ball at the lineout and Fulton’s magic took him past his man and Maidenhead’s defence was breached. Saunders was now in support on the left and he took Fulton’s slipped pass to score a fine try and put his side back in front 8 – 12 after 32 minutes. Three minutes later, a penalty at a tackle 30 metres out gave Maidenhead the chance to come back to 11 – 12, and the match was still there for the taking by either side.
Marlow’s next scoring chance came very quickly, but the penalty kick drifted wide. Marlow fielded the drop out from the 22 and attacked with scrum half Jack Rider, Rodger, Saunders and Dawe all involved, but the ball was knocked on at the ruck formed when the move was stopped. Marlow’s pack was now scrummaging securely, with the front row of Richard Townsend, Conor Mitchell and Mike Davey beginning to test its opposition. The hosts’ no. 8 picked up at the back of the scrum, but Dawe put him down immediately, and Maidenhead hoofed the ball into touch. The lineout inside the 22 was the platform for another break by Fulton and he ran for the line with two men outside him on the right. Maidenhead’s defence hesitated, and that was all he needed to slip through and score to the right of the posts. His conversion extended Marlow’s lead to 11 – 19 after 42 minutes, which was the score when the half-time whistle came 4 minutes later.
Marlow started the second half with intent, and Davey was up quickly to tackle the catcher of the visitors’ restart kick. Maidenhead kicked hastily and aimlessly clear and full back Steve Pincott caught the ball and ran to half way. Jafari launched the next phase of the attack and got to the 22. With Mr Staker signalling penalty advantage to Marlow, Fulton added 3 points with a smartly taken drop goal and Marlow was ahead by 11 – 22 after 43 minutes. As in the first half, a score by one side tended to prompt a response and 2 minutes later, following a scrum 25 metres out, Maidenhead broke away, moved the ball to the left wing and scored in the corner to cut the lead to 16 – 22. This score was the stimulus for a period of pressure from the hosts and Pincott had to fall on the ball deep inside his 22. A penalty led to a 5m lineout, but it was a mess and Marlow stole the ball at the ruck which followed. However, the clearing kick lacked penetration and Maidenhead ran back, moved the ball to right wing and scored in the corner. The attempted conversion was only just wide and the score was now 21 – 22 and Marlow’s lead had all but evaporated in the space of 4 minutes.
Second row Paul Martin palmed back a kick from Maidenhead and a penalty came when a tackle halted Marlow’s progress. From the lineout close to half way, Jafari made 15 metres before sending a pass to left wing Miles Noble. Noble took the ball in his stride and was too quick and strong for what was left of the defence. His 35 metre run ended with a try in the corner, and it had taken Marlow only 3 minutes to re-assert itself and extend its lead to 21 – 27. The visitors ran back from the restart, Fulton kicked ahead from 15 metres out and there was a scramble as players from both sides attempted to collect the ball. Maidenhead was feeling the pressure and its drop out sailed straight into touch which gave the visitors more encouragement. From a scrum, Rider burst past his opposite number and back row and Mitchell made the first charge, before Phillips took over on his left hand side. A charging Ben Phillips is an awesome sight and he set off on the shortest route to his objective. I was busy scribbling away when I heard a loud cheer, which I thought was because Phillips had passed to one of the supporting Marlow players. I looked up to see that it was in fact because he had run through the first opponent who was brave enough to attempt to stop him. The remaining defenders fared little better and “Genghis” (as the unstoppable one is known affectionately) scored half way out on the left, giving Fulton the conversion kick to take the score to 21 – 34 after 60 minutes. Jonny Wolfe had come on in place of Clarke, and during the next 5 minutes, Marlow made 2 further replacements, with centre Pete Lewis, who’d had a fine game and whose defence had been superb all afternoon, coming off to be replaced by Leon Gillespie; and Phillips retiring injured with Fe’ao Vunipola replacing him in a reshuffled pack.
Any thoughts that Marlow’s two tries would kill off Maidenhead’s desire for the game were dispelled very quickly as Maidenhead’s no. 8 ran from a scrum 17 metres out and although the first couple of charges were stopped, Maidenhead was at Marlow’s line and got a penalty. The hosts chose the 5m scrum, got to the line and then over it, but the ball was held up and Marlow got the scrum, started to drive, but Mr Staker then gave a scrum to the hosts. Maidenhead’s no. 9 had a go, and when he was stopped short, the ball was moved to the left, and Marlow made an interception. However they were hauled back by the long arm of the law, Vunipola was shown a yellow card, and Maidenhead got another penalty after 73 minutes. A knock on gave Marlow another chance to lift the siege and although Marlow’s makeshift scrum was in bother on its own put in, Pincott found touch, and made 25 metres, with a great clearing kick after 75 minutes. Play moved between the 22m lines as Marlow’s 14 men attempted to gain territory and Maidenhead battled to set up a scoring opportunity. After 80 minutes, a penalty close to the visitors’ 22 gave Maidenhead such a chance, but the kick went past the outside of the left hand upright and it proved to be the hosts’ last threat. Marlow now enjoyed the better of territory, and once restored to full strength contained Maidenhead and the final whistle came after 86 minutes.
An exciting local derby, understandably tense in the early stages, but with flashes of outstanding play from time to time. Both sets of players and supporters deserve credit for making it an enjoyable spectacle. An outstanding performance from all 18 from Marlow, and the players justifiably were delighted to “break their duck” at Braywick and to avenge December’s loss at Riverwoods. Their challenge now is to maintain this momentum in the last two games. Maidenhead’s players will be disappointed, as what looked to be a nearly certain title two weeks ago is now back in the balance, but their fate is still in their own hands - 2 bonus point victories will make irrelevant whatever Salisbury does. With Salisbury taking 5 points against Reading Abbey, Maidenhead’s lead is now 1 point with 2 matches to play. Marlow keeps third place, 1 point ahead of Cheltenham and 6 ahead of Swindon and Reading. At the other end of the table, Swanage & Wareham won again and Bletchley and Abbey lost, so the race to avoid being the third team to be relegated is also very close. Marlow finishes its season with two home games, the first against Witney on 14th April, and then Coney Hill visits Riverwoods, for the first time, on 21st April.
Richard Townsend, Conor Mitchell, Mike Davey, Paul Martin, Chris Clarke (Jonny Wolfe), Ben Phillips (Fe'ao Vunipola), Jon Dawe, Harry Rodger; Jack Rider, Will Fulton, Miles Noble, George Jafari (captain), Pete Lewis (Leon Gillespie), Matt Saunders, Steve Pincott.
Scorers: - Tries: - Jafari, Saunders, Fulton, Noble, Phillips. Conversions: - Fulton (3). Drop Goal - Fulton
Referee: - Mr Ron Staker, Berkshire Society
Match Report by Gwyn Stone
Photographs by Paul Kuiken