Reading Abbey 30 Thatcham 29
Abbey were 29-10 down at half time, having conceded five tries to a confident and rampant Thatcham side, but in a remarkable turnaround, they scored twenty unanswered points in the second half to snatch the most unlikely of victories.
Reading Abbey 30 Thatcham 29
Abbey were 29-10 down at half time, having conceded five tries to a confident and rampant Thatcham side, but in a remarkable turnaround, they scored twenty unanswered points in the second half to snatch the most unlikely of victories. The home side had good reason to be grateful for the attacking and defensive skills of winger Remi Norville, while Diego de Marcilla Bahlsen, who started on the wing before switching to scrum half, scored fifteen points in a faultless display of goalkicking. It was his touchline conversion with four minutes of normal time left which proved to be the winning score.
Second row George House won an early lineout for Abbey, after which his brother Ed spearheaded a forward drive. The flanker won his side a penalty, and after Thatcham infringed within ten metres the kick was moved closer to the posts. De Marcilla Bahlsen landed the goal from twenty-five metres to give his side an early lead. Second row Chris Shaw collected Thatcham’s restart kick, but in what was to prove a recurring theme in the half, Abbey contrived to lose possession. Centre Arron Ross produced a good tackle to stop Thatcham winger Marty Butler, but after a drive from prop James Thorogood the ball was moved to the right and full back Liam Rowland crossed for a try. Outside half Joe Leadley was unable to convert, but Thatcham had the lead after five minutes.
Skipper Will Woodward broke from the first scrum of the game, linking well with scrum half Gavin Dampies, but possession was kicked away and Thatcham instantly took advantage and scored again. Winger Jack Harwood, a constant threat to Abbey during the first half, received the ball on the halfway line and sprinted up the right touchline to score to the right of the posts. Leadley’s conversion attempt bounced wide via a post – a miss which, with the benefit of hindsight, was to prove crucial.
Abbey then began to attack with purpose. Dampies disrupted his opposite number Danny Shaughnessy at a scrum, and outside half Luke Burns made good ground with a kick. Shaw won the next lineout, and hooker Mark Toland, together with Burns and Ross, made ground inside the Thatcham twenty-two. But the good work was undone when a pass from Burns was intercepted, and Abbey were fortunate not to concede another score. Woodward and centre Charlie Shackleford launched a further attack, and after George House and Burns took play back into the visitors’ twenty-two, Abbey scored their first try. An outrageous pass between his legs by Burns released Norville wide on the right, and the winger showed superb strength and guile to evade the clutches of Butler and cross for the score. De Marcilla Bahlsen’s touchline conversion was symptomatic of his vital influence on the game. He judged the kick to perfection.
Burns halted a dangerous run from Butler as Thatcham sought to maximise the ability of their wingers, after which a good tackle from Dampies halted Leadley. But Thatcham continued to press inside the home twenty-two, and they regained the lead after twenty minutes when Shaughnessy’s clever offload resulted in Leadley sprinting in under the posts. This time he made no mistake with the conversion to put his side 17-10 up. Back came Abbey with a good bout of passing involving Woodward, Burns, Ross and Ed House, but yet again the ball was lost and Thatcham almost scored again. Harwood ran the length of the field, but Norville marshalled him all the way and timed his tackle to perfection to take him into touch just short of the line.
Abbey then managed to steal the ball from a Thatcham drive close to the home line. When the visitors grabbed possession again full back Dan Love did well to halt Rowland, and at this point Abbey brought Ollie Charlton on in place of Richard King in the front row. A prolonged spell of Thatcham pressure followed, and Abbey conceded a series of penalties close to their line. They successfully defended one driving maul, but when Thatcham drove for a second time flanker Chris Dixon crossed for the bonus point try. Leadley’s conversion made the score 24-10 after half an hour.
George House won a lineout for Abbey, and Dampies and Toland made good ground. A long kick from Norville led to Ed House being held up close to the line, but Abbey lost a scrum against the head, and once again Thatcham were handed a try-scoring opportunity. Butler made a superb break up the middle of the field and timed his pass to Rowland perfectly. Again Norville gave chase and actually managed to tackle Rowland on the line, but the full back was able to get the ball down for his second and his side’s fifth try. Leadley could not convert, and absolutely nobody on the ground would have bet that this would be Thatcham’s final score of the game.
Abbey came close to a second try in the final minutes of the half when a kick through by Burns just eluded Norville. George House caught and ran well, but his brother had to leave the field just before the break with a head cut, Nick Bradfield replacing him. In the last play of the half, flanker Mike Beckly was stopped close to the line after a good build-up from Charlton, Burns and Woodward, but the first forty minutes ended with Thatcham looking very good value for their 29-10 lead.
Abbey made positional changes at half time with de Marcilla Bahlsen moving to scrum half, Love to centre, Ross to the wing and Dampies to full back. The home side instantly looked more lively, with Woodward, de Marcilla Bahlsen and Norville attacking well. Ed House returned in place of Beckly, and he and Toland took play close to the Thatcham line. Then Abbey were awarded a penalty under the posts and de Marcilla Bahlsen obliged with the points. The replacement scrum half then made ground with a superb touch kick, after which Ross forced an error from Rowland. Just after this, Thatcham really should have stretched their lead. Abbey lost their own scrum ball and Leadley broke to the right. He made it into the Abbey twenty-two and seemed only to have to pass right to Harwood for a certain try to be scored. However, he chose, inexplicably, to kick, and Dampies claimed a mark. A further Thatcham attack after Dampies missed touch with his kick from the mark saw Harwood sprint towards the right corner, but Dampies pulled off a try-saving tackle and forced Harwood into touch. In a bizarre phase of play, Toland then got penalised for a crooked throw, but Abbey won the ball back by pinching a strike against the head from the resulting five metre scrum.
Abbey now began to attack again, with much of the good work being directed by de Marcilla Bahlsen. He launched a good move involving Shaw, Ed House and Love, and this resulted in Abbey being awarded a penalty forty metres out. Again de Marcilla Bahlsen kicked superbly to make the score 29-16 after fifty-three minutes. Abbey now made a further replacement with Jules Greenaway replacing Ross. This involved a further positional change, with Dampies going onto the wing and Greenaway slotting in at full back.
A brief Thatcham attack saw Greenaway tackle Rowland and Dampies stop a dangerous run from centre Derek Allen. Burns found a good touch in the visitors’ half, and Woodward capitalised on a knock on from Leadley to run into the twenty-two. Shaw and Ed House carried on the attack and Abbey were awarded a penalty in a kickable position. However, de Marcilla Bahlsen took a quick tap and Greenaway dropped a scoring pass with the line beckoning on the left. But Abbey kept attacking and looked more and more likely to score again. George House made another good break and then Woodward actually broke clear and crossed the line. To the fury of the home supporters, he was called back and Abbey were awarded a scrum.
A try came soon afterwards however, and it was a beauty. Burns broke down the middle inside the Thatcham twenty-two, and his brilliant inside pass found Love. Love ran a brilliant line and just had enough strength and pace to battle over the line. De Marcilla Bahlsen’s conversion cut Thatcham’s lead to six points with seventeen minutes remaining. It was all Abbey now, with Shaw, Burns, Love and Ed House all prominent in attack. A huge team effort ensued with Abbey trying desperately to claim the crucial score. Greenaway, Norville and Love combined well, and Toland and prop Adam Postlethwaite both made ground close to the line. Then de Marcilla Bahlsen and Ed House both came within inches of crossing for a try.
Four minutes from the end of normal time Abbey were still battering away close to the Thatcham line. Shaw and Shackleford both made good runs, and then Toland and Postlethwaite worked the ball to the right. Norville received possession wide on the right and he did brilliantly to remain on the correct side of the touchline and sprint in for a try. All now depended on de Marcilla Bahlsen, and after his previous heroics nobody could have criticised him if his kick had gone wide. However, he kept the coolest of heads and struck the ball to perfection. For the first time since the early stages of the match Abbey were ahead.
Could they achieve the impossible and hold out for a memorable win? For a while they looked well in control, but as the game entered injury time Thatcham made one final effort to regain the lead. They showed brilliant discipline and control to keep possession in a series of attacks, and eventually they were awarded a penalty forty metres from the Abbey posts. To general surprise Leadley elected not to go for goal, opting instead to kick for the left touchline. But he failed to reach the safety of touch thanks to an amazing leap from Norville. The winger tapped the ball in mid-air and kept it on the field. Abbey kicked ahead and the ball ricocheted off a Thatcham player and into touch again. The final whistle sounded at once, and Abbey had indeed achieved the impossible. They had won the second half 20-0 and with it the game.
This was a truly astonishing game of rugby. Thatcham will wonder how they could score five first half tries, miss several more by a matter of a few feet and still manage to lose. The reason that they did so was down to tremendous character from every home player. Abbey never gave up hope, and they were the better side in the second half. The positional changes certainly helped, with de Marcilla Bahlsen looking far more at ease at scrum half. His goalkicking was of course absolutely crucial, while Norville was an absolute star at both ends of the field. Praise too should go to George House for a superb showing as an emergency second row. All in all, a memorable day at Rosehill, and a real pre-Christmas treat for Abbey’s supporters.
Abbey: D Love, R Norville, C Shackleford, A Ross (J Greenaway 54), D de Marcilla Bahlsen, L Burns, G Dampies, A Postlethwaite, M Toland, R King (O Charlton 27), G House, C Shaw, M Beckly (E House 40), E House (N Bradfield 38), W Woodward (captain)
Thatcham: L Rowland, J Harwood, D Allen, S Smith, M Butler, J Leadley, D Shaughnessy, L Davies, J Evans, J Thorogood, T Apperley, J Moore (R Browne 51), C Dixon, L Higgs, M Smith (captain). Not used: S Richardson
Tries: Norville (2), Love
Con: De Marcilla Bahlsen (3)
Pen: De Marcilla Bahlsen (3)
Tries: Rowland (2), Harwood, Leadley, Dixon
Con: Leadley (2)
Referee: D Dix (Dorset & Wiltshire)