Late penalty denies Thorns promotion
A penalty in the eightieth minute of the game snatched promotion to the National Leagues from Thornbury’s grasp in a tense encounter at Salisbury.
Tries from Gareth Morgan and Jack Hussey plus the boot of Tom Luke kept Thorns in the game but the scraps of possession Thornbury secured throughout the game weren’t quite enough to see them through.
Will Sharratt and Dai Matthews had recovered from hamstring problems to resume their centre partnership. Gareth Morgan swopped with Louis Osborne in the back row in the only change in the pack from the trouncing of Bideford. With an additional replacement permitted Chops O’Loughlin and Adam Hodgkins covered the front row with Louis Osborne and Rob Higgitt on the bench. The unlucky Bob Adams had had a great season and was involved in the squad but unfortunately didn’t make the side. Similarly, George Maggs had been away with work and had not been able to make any training sessions in recent weeks and was therefore confined to raising a can to the team from the touchline.
Salisbury had not lost at home since October 2014 and had been promoted to South West One East through last season’s Southern Counties play-off. Salisbury had secured the home tie as they had one match point more than Thornbury. The clubs had only met once before – a pre-season friendly at Salisbury in 2008 which Thornbury won 38-19. Five Thornbury players survived from that game for this play-off match.
The meticulous plans Thornbury had put in place to prepare for the game on the day were blown out of the water when the players’ coach failed to arrive. An administrative error at the coach company meant the coach eventually turned up and the team left over an hour after it should have. Eventually arriving less than an hour before kick-off, the team considered requesting a delayed kick off but it was decided to kick off at the original time. There were concerns from many that the players were not quite in the right frame of mind.
The large crowd included former Salisbury player and England international Dave Egerton and television archaeologist Phil Harding, whilst Thornbury players and supporters were delighted to see former captain Phil Brockwell and previous head coach Gareth Llewellyn there to give encouragement.
Salisbury kicked off in bright sunshine. They immediately showed that their big pack was going to be their primary weapon, whilst Thornbury ran the ball at every opportunity. The early stages were even and the Salisbury defence repelled several early Thornbury attacks. However, they conceded a penalty and Tom Luke opened the scoring with a fifth minute penalty.
Will Sharratt unceremoniously dumped a Salisbury centre in a hefty tackle that was rightly considered dangerous. Salisbury took play to the Thornbury ‘22’ and after Thorns were penalised for being on the wrong side of a maul home fullback Tom Lane opened his account with a penalty to tie the score.
Thorns surged back to the Salisbury ‘22’ and Tom Luke put the ball in the corner but as Thornbury began to drive for the line the referee penalised them for obstruction in building the wedge. Salisbury cleared but Thornbury raced back to the Salisbury ‘22’ and pressurised the home defence. Will Sharratt charged down a delayed clearing kick and Gareth Morgan gathered the ball to score between the posts. Tom Luke converted for a 10-3 lead.
Rich Bennett pulled off a try-saving tackle on his opposite wing as Salisbury attacked shortly after the restart, then in many respects the game changed. The influential James Wood, who had been involved in everything the forwards did well, received a shattered eye socket in a fierce collision. The injury prevented him from playing any further part and he was taken to hospital.
Seconds later the game was all square. A man short, Thornbury lost a lineout on their ‘22’ and Salisbury attacked. After several phases centre Robert Larcombe squeezed over in the corner. As Lane converted with an excellent kick from the touchline Louis Osborne came on for James Wood.
To add to Thornbury’s woes the heavens opened shortly after the restart and a violent shower deposited heavy, icy rain on the players. Despite this Tom Luke put Thorns 13-10 ahead shortly afterwards with another penalty. Adam Hodgkins came on for George Sheldon then Luke Workman charged away from a lineout with a powerful charge but the ball was becoming greasy and it was dropped in the next phase. Thornbury led 13-10 at half time.
Thorns kicked off and the Salisbury forwards stuck it up the jumper. They rumbled up-field and Thornbury were unable to get their hands on the ball. Lane equalised with a penalty then as Thorns made a hash of a deep kick in reply to the restart the Salisbury forwards pounded the line. Great defence kept them out until the inevitable try was scored by prop Richard West. Lane converted and Salisbury eased to a 20-13 lead. Chops O’Loughlin came on for Luke Workman.
The fullbacks swopped penalties then Louis Osborne charged down another lazy clearing kick. Pressure was applied and Thorns were awarded a penalty. Tom Luke reduced the arrears to 23-19. Rob Higgitt came on for Will Sharratt.
With the sun now shining Thornbury were able to make a rare attack through the backs. But Salisbury gave away penalties defending the breakdown and Tom Luke went for the corner, but Thornbury lost the five-metre lineout and Salisbury cleared. But Thorns were determined and took play back into the Salisbury ‘22’. Jak Evans made a break and Thorns got close to the line. Then the forwards threw everything at the Salisbury line but the home side kept the line intact. But they didn’t do it legally and when skipper Josh Green went off his feet the referee had no option but to yellow card him. Luke Workman came back on for Chops.
Thornbury took a five metre lineout and the forwards drove for the line and Jack Hussey scored Thornbury’s second try. Tom Luke’s conversion shaved the outside of the post but Thornbury had regained the lead at 24-23.
The industrious Louis Osborne hobbled off with a leg injury and George Sheldon came back on. But the abbreviated Salisbury pack once again kept the ball close and rumbled up field. They forced a series of penalties as Thorns desperately tried to get their hands on the ball. Lane missed two difficult kicks then in the last minute of normal time he slotted over his fourth penalty to regain the lead at 26-24.
The referee played two minutes of injury time but Salisbury again maintained possession and ran the clock down, and it is the Wiltshire side that will play in National 3 South West next season.
It was not to be Thornbury’s day. They had only a small amount of possession yet played what rugby they could with that. Salisbury dominated territory and possession but played a limited game, although they executed that very well. The very best of luck to Salisbury next season.
Every Thornbury player gave everything, and there were countless bumps and bruises to remind them it had been a tough game. Jack Hussey had an excellent game for Thorns and would be this observer’s Thornbury man of the match, although that is unfair on all the others who did everything they could. The loss of James Wood at the end of the first quarter was crucial and their inability to secure clean ball was a major factor. Both centres had only one run each and the wings were starved of the ball, such was the monopoly of possession enjoyed by Salisbury.
Sam Evans and Luke Workman carried well whilst the four backrow players used all had outstanding games. Jak Evans kept the Salisbury back row busy and the centres tackled well as Salisbury rarely looked like penetrating the Thornbury defence.
So the Thornbury careers of Dan Kerr and Will Sharratt have come to an end as they move away through work and studies. They have been great assets to the club and their contribution to Thornbury in the 2015/16 season has been immense. They will be greatly missed. And once again we have to say goodbye to Jak Evans. Thornbury’s talismanic scrum half has been a huge player and as he also heads off to start a new job on the south coast we wish him well and hope that, maybe, the opportunity will be there some time in the future for him to head back to Thornbury.
Thornbury: tries – Gareth Morgan and Jack Hussey; conversion – Tom Luke; penalties – Tom Luke (4)
Salisbury: tries – Robert Larcombe and Richard West; conversions – Tom Lane (2); penalties – Tom Lane (4)
Thornbury: Tom Luke; Rich Bennett, Will Sharratt, Dai Matthews, Alfie Richardson; Wayne Underwood, Jak Evans; Luke Workman, Sam Evans, George Sheldon, James Wood, Dan Kerr, Gareth Morgan, Liam Pemberton (c), Jack Hussey.
Replacements: Adam Hodgkins, Colm O'Loughlin, Louis Osborne, Rob Higgitt
Salisbury: Tom Lane; Tom Pottage, Christian Metson, Robert Larcombe, Dan Hammond; Charlie Jennings, David Tonge; Richard West, Luke Esnouf, Gareth Blackborow, Rob Best, Ton Ranaboldo, Jamie Miller, James Kay, Josh Green (c)., Replacements: Mike Dauwalder, Patrick Dickson, Dominic Porter, Jon Goldsmith
Referee: Zerren Bell (Devon Society)