Seriously depleted Thornbury suffered an embarrassing nine-try defeat to a North Petherton side that capitalised on Thorns’ errors and poor tackling.
After starting well Thornbury never recovered from conceding three tries in five minutes during the first half but fought back to earn a try bonus point with a score in last play.
With the squad already depleted through injuries the team lost five first-team certainties to a stag weekend on the piste at a French ski resort. Several of the students were working on exams so the playing cupboard was becoming bare. Craig Beyer came in at fullback whilst James Donohue and Dai Matthews had apparently recovered from injuries and Mike Beswick was back from holiday. In the pack Dalton Tice moved to the second row with Luke Workman starting at loosehead. In a completely new back row Gareth Morgan took over at No.8 with Tom Adams and hooker Tom Williams, home from University, on the flanks. Adam Hodgkins was drafted onto the bench and Tom Head covered the backs. In the absence of Liam Pemberton Sam Evans took over as captain. North Petherton, never an easy side to beat at Beggars Brook, had narrowly lost at Thornbury earlier in the season in a match in which their pack had given Thorns a thorough examination. What was always likely to be a difficult game now looked immeasurably tough.
Thornbury began well and with the sun and wind at their backs gave the ball width and looked to stretch the Pethy defence. They forced an early penalty and Harry Glew put the ball in the corner. But the lineout was lost and the bulky ball-carriers in the home pack began to barge their way upfield with Thorns falling off tackles. Play was quickly taken to the Thornbury line and despite good cover tackles from the back three Damian Griffin crashed over for a try which fullback Olly James converted for a 7-0 lead. Only five minutes had gone.
The score was tied three minutes later. Thorns secured a turnover in midfield and quick passing by Sam Evans and George Sheldon put Luke Workman into space. He kicked behind the Pethy defence and as the fullback miss-fielded the ball Thornbury’s speedy prop flipped the ball inside to Dai Matthews who immediately pulled his damaged groin muscle and had to limp ten metres to touch the ball down for the try. He was replaced by Tom Head as Harry Glew converted.
Thornbury surged back upfield from the restart and Tom Williams made good ground with a determined run before the ball was moved quickly across the line where George Sheldon showed good hands and timing to put Luke Workman clear fifteen metres out. In a flashback to the days when Luke played on the wing he raced for the corner but, was tackled into touch by the flag. However he wasn’t to be denied and when Pethy made a hash of their lineout he pounced on the loose ball for the try. The conversion missed but Thorns were 12-7 up and well worth their lead.
That signalled the end of Thornbury’s competitive input to the game. North Petherton cranked up their forwards and the carrying of the back row and hooker Sam Williams took them over the gain line time and time again as Thornbury seemed incapable of making first-up tackles or securing turnovers. Thornbury were unable to get their hands on the ball.
As the match entered the second quarter Thorns were penalised on their line and a quickly-taken penalty put Mike Stevens in at the corner for the equalising try. The conversion hit the post. Thornbury restarted but the home forwards were able to gather the ball with negligible pressure and surged through weak tackles in an irresistible charge upfield which culminated in lock Aiden Cotton going over for a third try. James converted and Pethy led 19-12. The heavily-strapped Dai Matthews came back on for Tom Head but his movements were far from free.
Thorns restarted and player-coach Nic Sesterat kicked clear. Thorns were caught ball-watching and the ball conveniently bounced into the arms of the chasing Pethy wing who sprinted upfield. Craig Beyer saved a certain try with a cover tackle but there were countless North Petherton players in support and prop Carl Jones touched down for the bonus point try. Twenty-six minutes gone, North Petherton led 24-12 and the signs were ominous for Thornbury.
Thornbury knuckled down and managed to keep Pethy out, eventually being able to clear their lines. On the half hour mark home scrumhalf Dominik Griffin was yellow-carded in front of his own posts. Instead of taking the points on offer Thorns went for the corner where they looked to take on the powerful home pack in a rolling maul contest which was won by North Petherton who were able to push Thorns into touch with considerable ease. Adam Hodgkins came on for Tom Adams and Jonny Heaven replaced George Sheldon, but the changes made little difference. A horrible performance got worse when Cotton went over for his second try, and Pethy’s fifth, on the stroke of half time. Trailing 29-12 at the break, Thorns had a mountain to climb. Pethy would have the elements behind them in the second half.
The second half began in a similar style with North Petherton on the attack. Thorns managed to get their hands on the ball and then worked very hard to take play to the half-way line only for the ball to be dropped after space had been created out wide. Pethy charged back into the Thornbury ‘22’ and James kicked a penalty. Luke Workman, struggling with a dead leg, hobbled off and George Sheldon came back on.
The flaky Thornbury defence failed again twelve minutes into the second half when North Petherton ran back a drop-out. Thorns’ defence did a remarkable impression of the Red Sea allowing Sam “Moses” Williams to part the waters and see Mike Stevens touch down for another try converted by James. 39-12.
Pressure was back on Thornbury from the restart and when Pethy won a Thornbury lineout a simple move and a badly-missed tackle saw Damian Griffin score the seventh home try. The conversion made in 46-12. Tom Head came back on for Dai Matthews who was barely able to hobble off.
Gareth Morgan led a promising Thornbury excursion into Pethy territory but once again Thorns made errors as Moz had no support and was penalised for not releasing. From the penalty Pethy surged back upfield, Thornbury ran the ball back but an inside pass to nobody was picked up by replacement prop Pete Dickens and he ran twenty metres for the try. James’ conversion took Pethy past the half century at 53-12 with twenty minute to go. Dalton Tice was also hobbling. How worse could this get for Thornbury?
At last Thornbury showed what they could do. Having made a rare visit to the North Petherton ‘22’ good fringe pressure by Gareth Morgan forced the home scrum half into a hurried clearing kick. James Donohue gathered the ball well and cut between two players and after some good close passing Rob Higgitt took the ball and his arcing run took him around the North Petherton defence for a fine try. Harry Glew converted.
Thorns were now playing better, with nothing to lose, and with Pethy easing off Thornbury relaxed and attacked well. Tom Williams again enjoyed a fine run but the handling in midfield was again inaccurate and the ball lost. Rob Higgitt made another fine break in a run from his own ‘22’ but his inside pass went to ground. With ten minutes to go Pethy lost lock Steve Pape to the bin but Thornbury were unable to capitalise. Instead Thorns were turned over on their ‘22’ and Toby Harris enjoyed an easy run-in for the last home try. The conversion hit the post, the third occasion Olly James had hit the woodwork during the game.
As the match went into stoppage time Thorns still had the target of a try bonus point to go for. Another fine run by Rob Higgitt took play to the Pethy line where he passed inside but Mike Beswick was tackled short. Thorns were awarded a penalty which Harry Glew took quickly and after the initial surge was halted Adam Hodgkins piled over for the bonus point try. Harry Glew added the extras and the final whistle blew with Thornbury blown away and at the wrong end of a 58-26 scoreline.
Thornbury were not good enough. The handling was poor, the tackling frequently ineffective, the forwards were unable to secure much clean ball and the support play was not remotely to the standard of the North Petherton team. Yet, in the face of considerable adversity Thornbury tried to knuckle down and take the game to Pethy but were not at the races. There were good contributions from the front row and Gareth Morgan, and there were occasional good carries from individuals, but they were individual contributions which contrasted with the togetherness of the North Petherton pack. Rob Higgitt was outstanding for Thornbury in attack and defence but Thornbury cannot rely on one player, even one as capable as the Head Coach. Given that North Petherton played for twenty minutes a man short and three conversions hit the posts it could have been even worse. This was not an afternoon to write off and forget as one of those afternoons, this was an afternoon to remember and learn lessons from.
Thornbury are home to Okehampton on Saturday, note the kick off time is 3:00.
Thornbury: - tries – Dai Matthews, Luke Workman, Rob Higgitt, Adam Hodgkins; conversions – Harry Glew (3)
North Petherton: tries - Damian Griffin (2), Mike Stevens (2), Aiden Cotton (2), Carl Jones, Pete Dickens, Toby Harris; conversions – Olly James (5); penalty - Olly James
Thornbury: Craig Beyer; James Donohue, Mike Beswick, Dai Matthews, Rob Higgitt; Wayne Underwood, Harry Glew; Luke Workman, Sam Evans, George Sheldon, George Maggs, Dalton Tice, Tom Williams, Tom Adams, Gareth Morgan.
Replacements: Jonny Heaven, Adam Hodgkins, Tom Head
North Petherton: Olly James; Mike Stevens, Damian Griffin, James Carter, Henry Gliddon; Nicolas Sesterat, Dominik Griffin; Dan Morgan, Sam Williams, Carl Jones, Steve Pape, Aiden Cotton, Toby Harris, Mac Taylor, Carl Brown (c).
Replacements: Pete Dickens, James Cooke, Jamie Adams
Referee: Mason Davies (Somerset Referees Society)