First game after the Christmas break is often a challenging one and this matchup was no different. St Francis came into the game after a close win against 3rd placed Midhurst the week before so this was always going to be a tough test against the team who only narrowly lost to Barns Green before Christmas.
From the start of the match, it was clear this game was going to be physical. Both sets of forwards traded blows with some strong ball carrying in the midfield fighting to get a foothold in the game when St Francis broke the deadlock. Some strong carries and quick ball put the Barns Green defense under pressure. Several missed tackles allowed St Francis to break the line and cruise over the whitewash.
Barns Green attempted to mount a response with some well worked forward play but neither team managed to put the other under mass amounts of pressure. It looked as though Barns Green had finally broken through with a lovely set piece move that allowed George Wilson, who beat his defender, to run down the wing before offloading out of the tackle to Pete Salkeld. Unfortunately for BG, he was agonisingly bought down 5 meters before the line where St Francis turned over the ball and cleared their lines. Both teams then set in for a 'tit for tat' of errors until St Francis won a penalty in front of the posts which was duly slotted through to go in at half time deservedly 8-0 up.
The second half started as the first half ended, a lot of strong carries from both sets of forwards without worrying either try line. After a period of handling errors and scrums from both teams, St Francis were the ones to add points to the board in the second half. Much like their first try, St Francis worked some quick ball which created an overlap on the left flank. Some poor tackles and some smooth offloads put St Francis through the BG defense to make it 13-0.
The hosts could have added three more points to their tally when they won a penalty in front of the posts however the kicking T took too long to come onto the pitch, St Francis number 10 only had 10 seconds left to attempt his kick which under the pressure pushed it just wide to give Barns Green a bit of hope.
After the missed penalty, Barns Green started to gain a foothold with some patient phase play. Strong carries from Conor Pascoe and Jack Miller pushed Barns Green down the other end of the pitch. Chris Bailey recycled the ball quickly to the backs where Matt Sprigge drew in several defenders to then offload to George Wilson who went over the line for Barns Green’s first try.
From the restart, Barns Green continued to apply the pressure to the St Francis lines with Mike Mann carrying strong from the scrums setting up some controlled phase play from the rest of the pack. This attacking discipline was once again rewarded when Matthew Hoyte, in what is becoming a trademark, put in a devastating step to unlock the disciplined St Francis defense to go under the posts where he converted his own try. Shortly after the try, Barns Green marched back down the field where their continued pressure won a penalty in front of the posts. Matthew Hoyte stepped up again to add the 3 points making it 13-15 with 20 minutes to go.
After 60 minutes, it seemed as if Barns Green had finally woken up as their dominance at the breakdown started to deliver. A Barns Green clearance kick lead to their 3rd try of the day. After some confusion led to what can only be described as pinball, debutant Tom Smith picked up the loose ball who popped it into Matthew Hoyte's hands. With no defender’s insight, he easily went over the line to put some clear daylight for the first time against the hosts. With ten minutes to go, St Francis had found a second wind as their fly-half tried to spark their attack back into life with some nice individual skill and strong carries from the pack. Unfortunately, complacency set in for St Francis as handling errors and discipline undid their hard work. The clock went into the red and Matthew Sprigge kicked the ball dead to end the game 13 – 22 to Barns Green.
Coach Neil Bailey said " We took too long to get going and our tackling left a lot to be desired which is something we will be working on in the next couple of weeks but to get 2019 off to a winning start was vital to carry on the momentum built in the first half of the season"
This win has cemented Barns Green’s second place in Sussex ‘Armada Ale’ League Two before the league splits. The top four will then battle it out for promotion into League One.
St Francis 13 Barns Green 22
Matthew Hoyte x2