Marlow started brightly, but yellow cards took their toll as Witney ruthlessly exploited their numerical advantage.
Marlow travelled to Hailey Road on Saturday for the second fixture of the New Year. Our hosts lay 9th in the league, one place and four points below us. Each Club has struggled to find consitency this season, so as Witney’s web site suggested, the outcome could well be decided by “who wanted it more on the day”. Marlow made 7 changes, with second-row forwards Greg Glenister and Ben Smith, flankers Leon Gillespie and Mark Grindrod, three–quarter Howard Mears, and full-back Steve Pincott returning; and Sam Malliff making his 1st XV debut.
Witney kicked off, and quickly conceded a penalty a few metres inside the visitors’ half. Marlow took it quickly, and scrum-half Jack Rider chipped ahead, recovered the ball got to within 15 metres of the hosts’ line. The ball was recycled quickly and flanker Mark Grindrod popped the ball to full-back Steve Pincott, who took it at pace and ran through the defence to score wide on the left and put Marlow in front 5 – 0 after 2 minutes. Two minutes later, a penalty in front of the posts gave the hosts their first score and Marlow’s lead was cut to 3 – 5. For the next ten minutes play was punctuated by penalties and neither side was able to assert itself. Witney was awarded a penalty a metre inside Marlow’s half and a fine kick found touch 8 metres from the try line. The ball was taken at the tail and the hosts poured forward into midfield, then switched play to the left and scored in the corner to take the lead 8 – 5 after 18 minutes, and extended it to 11 – 5 after 23 minutes from a penalty in front of the posts.
Play was mostly in the visitors’ half as Marlow failed to find any fluency in the cold and heavy conditions, and repeatedly incurred Mr Bell’s displeasure. However, outside half George Jafari made a fine break from inside his 22 to half way and then wing Matt Saunders carried the ball to Witney’s 10m line. However, possession was lost and another penalty put Witney on the offensive. Although the ball was kicked dead, Marlow’s drop out presented the ball to the hosts and Witney attacked, and Pincott was forced to scramble the ball into touch inside his 22. A drive from the lineout was stopped by a tackle by Rider, but play was switched infield and Witney’s second try and the conversion extended the lead to 18 – 5 after 30 minutes. The half ended with a penalty to Witney, which was then reversed and a yellow card shown to one of Witney’s flankers.
Marlow started the second half with the advantage of the extra man and when the hosts were marched back 10m metres after conceding a penalty, Rider, flanker Leon Gillespie and prop Mike Davey made ground , but Witney stole the ball following the tackle. For ten minutes, Marlow had the better of possession and territory but a lot of effort produced no score and the visitors were unable to exploit the extra man.
The penalties continued and second row Paul Martin was shown a yellow card after 55 minutes and the penalty gave a 5 metre lineout and a drive-over try to extend the lead to 25 - 5 and give Marlow the proverbial mountain to climb. Shortly after Martin returned, Grindrod was sent to the bin and Witney’s bonus-point try put the game beyond Marlow at 32 - 5 after 67 minutes. Five minutes later, Marlow took advantage of a dropped pass in midfield and Saunders hacked ahead, was first to the loose ball and sprinted away for a try under the posts to make the score 32 – 12. Any hopes of a miraculous comeback were extinguished after a few minutes later when Witney’s 5th try extended the lead to 39 – 12, and the hosts had scored three tries while Marlow was man down.
However, Marlow kept battling away and a knock on by Witney gave a scrum just inside the hosts’ half. Although Witney disrupted the scrum, Rider, under great pressure, secured the ball and got it to Pete Lewis, who fed Jafari. His pace and strength took him past three defenders and he scored affine try, with the conversion making the score 39 – 19 after 82 minutes, which was the score when the final whistle came after 87 minutes.
A disappointing result for Marlow, but victories at Witney are never easy to come by. Marlow’s performance was a step up from last week’s against Windsor, but still some way below where we were in early December. Next Saturday, Bracknell travels to Riverwoods, and then we are at Cheltenham on 24th January.
Toby Harrison, Jordan Brodley, Mike Davey, Paul Martin, Ben Smith, Mark Grindrod, Leon Gillespie, Harry Rodger; Jack Rider, George Jafari (captain), Miles Noble, Pete Lewis, Sam Malliff, Matt Saunders, Steve Pincott.
Yellow Cards: - Martin, Grindrod
Referee: - Mr Zerren Bell, Devon Society
Match Report by Gwyn Stone
Photographs by Rudi Brodley