1st XV
Sat 08 Feb 2020  ·  UK IGR Southern League
Bristol Bisons RFC
Tries: L Penfold
Berkshire Unicorns RFC
1st XV
Tries: C Jarnet, A Rajakrishnen, R Wilkins, D Cilliers (2), T Maclean, C Fidler (2)Conversions: R Wilkins (2), T Maclean, C Fidler
Unicorns make it three in a row and pick up first away win

Unicorns make it three in a row and pick up first away win

John Kelly9 Feb 2020 - 23:07
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Unicorns come out on top in battle with the Bisons herd


After a run of home fixtures, the Unicorns finally hit the road again with our first visit to the Bristol Bisons at Clifton RFC. The game marked a welcome return to grass from the 4G home games and ahead of Winter Storm Ciara the pitch was in good condition with pleasant weather albeit with a strong wind. As an established side with the home advantage the Bisons had an expanded roster available and took the opportunity to field some of their newer members as well as having an energised and excited home crowd to cheer them on. After facing a bigger set of forwards in Cardiff, the Unicorns were grateful to see that the Bisons were evenly matched with the Unicorns and our more seasoned members were also grateful to see some older wiser players on the pitch after playing a couple of young sides. The Bisons entered the match on the back of three losses sitting at the bottom of the Southern League table, so with what looked like a fairly even match the scene was set for an interesting game - though as we found out in Cardiff that is not always how it plays out.

Having won the toss, the Unicorns opted to take the advantage of the wind and sunlight and receive the kick in the hope of capitalising on the natural conditions. As the game started this was not the case with the Unicorns first touch resulting in a knock on from the kick off. Basic handling errors and an eagerness at the breakdown has the been the hallmark of the Unicorn games of late and despite gaining possession of the ball the side were eager to throw it away by conceding a number of early penalties. Fortunately the conditions were such that our mistakes went unpunished, with resulting line outs being affected by the strong winds. The Unicorns took the advantage from the resulting scrums with a number of attacking runs from 9, 10 and 12 gaining some valuable yards. Following another turnover the Bisons opted to kick deep into the Unicorns half, which was picked up by Charlie Jarnet. Opting for the tactical kick which had been the hallmark of the backs plays this first period, the attempted grubber was intercepted by the Bisons and deflected back into the path of our elder full back. The resulting football and confusion on the floor saw a follow through kick that looked to be intercepted by the Bisons but which was missed. As a result the footwork continued getting the ball close to the try line and in one of the ugliest and sloppiest pieces of rugby seen so far the ball found its way loose and over the try line to be pressed down by Charlie Jarnet whose footwork had finally been rewarded with the Unicorns first try of the game in the 8th minute. Fly half Rob Wilkins golden boot did not make the journey it seemed and our first conversion was missed because of a "difficult angle".

Although the Unicorns had got the score the preference was for skill to win out instead of dumb luck and taking this advice on board the Unicorns returned with a sustained attack which broke down the Bisons defence and got us into their 22. Further handling errors resulted in a scrum to the Bisons which the Unicorns were eager to dominate and not waste our efforts. Some superb work by the Unicorns front row resulted in the penalty - one which was sadly wasted by the choice of a kick which aided by the wind found the dead ball line. With the 22 restart the Bisons regained territory but found the arms of Josh Paul who aided by Charlie Jarnet ran the ball back to where it had all started. Deploying the Unicorn ball got us within 10m of the Bisons chalk and an unlucky offside gained the Unicorns the penalty. Not one to waste the opportunity of being so close to the line Andy Rajakrishnen found his pace to power through the Bisons forwards and fall over the line to give the Unicorns their second try in the 13th minute. This time Rob Wilkins found his angle and sailed over the conversion - though not without the complaint of our scorers not taking into account the need for his kicks to be made easier. Choosing to not heed his own words through some great lines by the Unicorns backs and some stable platforms to work from, Rob Wilkins chose the right hand corner to score his try in the 24th minute. Not able to face the shame of his own words, kicking duties fell to Scrum Half Tom MacClean who provided a dazzling kick and conversion.

Having been on the receiving end of a relentless Unicorns assault the Bisons found their aggression and pressed home a strong attack with some great work by their forwards getting them into the Unicorns 22 and within scoring distance. In an effort to prevent the scoring opportunity the Unicorns front row chose to collaborate a bit too closely and a massive collision between the ample head of John Hamp and our little Tank Andy Rajakrishnen resulted in the latters nose going the way of Michael Jackson's and being horribly injured. Similarly our beloved Simba found themselves on the end of the latters teeth. Both players unfortunately had to be benched and our front row replacements Dewald Cilliers and Paul Savage stepped up to hold our scrum together. Step up they did and the Unicorns won the ball back kicking deep into the Bisons half and after a number of phases involving both forwards and backs saw a superb run from Dewald Cilliers and a well deserved bonus point try between the posts which was ably converted by the suddenly confident Rob Wilkins.

Undaunted, the Bisons were again strong with the comeback and made their way into the Unicorns half. After a game characterised by unnecessary penalties and again a penchant for high tackles the Unicorns luck finally ran out and a seat belt tackle by Tom MacClean earned him a Yellow Card, joining the unenviable Brian Brady club of Unicorn sin-binners. Down to 14 men the Unicorns had some work to do to cover the pitch from a sustained Bisons attack that resulted in the Bisons again getting within scoring distance of the Unicorns line. Yet more hands in the ruck resulted in a Bisons penalty 15m out and after a strong defence a needless and cynical knock on from Hamish Kebbell earned him a Yellow Card and resulted in the Unicorns going down to 13 men. Thanks to a heroic hustle by the remaining Unicorns the turnover was achieved just short of our line and the resulting kick ended the half the way the half had started - with a knock on.

Half time score 0-26 to the Unicorns.

Since the Unicorns cards had been achieved so close to half time meant that the restart would be a hard slog of defence, a memo that Front Row Paul Savage did not seem to get. From the kick off our surprisingly athletic prop found himself under the ball and after a heroic run found the gap in the Bisons defence to score in the 41st minute. With the wind against him Rob Wilkins fell to the left of the posts with the resulting conversion. Unfortunately the handling errors which had plagued both sides in the first half showed no signs of going away and an injury to the Bisons front row resulted in scrums going uncontested. Play was a bit more balanced between the sides as the Unicorns fought the defensive game running down the clock on breakdowns and penalties to get back to full strength. In the 49th minute and seeking to make amends for his earlier transgression Scrum Half Tom MacClean went over the line but sadly missed his conversion.

Back to full strength and seeking to cement their advantage the Unicorns were keen to play their attacking game and deployed a number of strike moves that created the opportunity for Charlie Fidler to find space on the outside and touch down between the posts converting his own try in minute 56.

At this point the Bisons found their mojo and charged back with a relentless attack that saw them camped in the Unicorns 22. The Unicorns helped maintain the pressure by creeping offside and giving away a number of penalties from this and handling in the ruck. Nevertheless the Unicorn resolve held the Bisons back for 15 minutes before the defence was finally broken by the Bisons who sent Lee Penfold into the corner for their first try of the game. Again the wind was unhelpful and the try remained unconverted.

From the restart, a cheeky kick dropped on the Bisons 10m line found Charlie Fidler and gave the Unicorns some much needed go forward. Some strong runs from Richard Dunn and John Hamp saw the Unicorns within striking distance of the try line but an unfortunate forward pass from the Unicorns backs resulted in the Bisons gaining possession. Possession was regained after a chase down but the resulting breakdown earned us another Yellow card as Sakib Ahmed was caught offside and suffered the consequences of our continued abuse of the law, which meant the Unicorns would end the game with 14 men. As the clock ran down the Bisons opted for a cross field kick that found Charlie Fidler who ran a half field to score in the dying minute of the game between the posts. In a truly shocking display of impatience, the choice was made to drop kick instead of waiting for the tee. Inevitably the drop kick was missed in spectacular fashion and on any normal day (without Hamish) would have been a comfortable contender for DOTD. The kick ended up being the last play of the game so there was no chance at atonement.

The Unicorns were lucky that their mistakes largely went unpunished in a game which was characterised by poor handling and poor decisions and the Bisons are to be commended for their grit and determination in holding our feet to the fire. In the end the consistency and experience of the full Unicorns side was able to exploit the weaknesses in the Bisons defence and capitalise on our opportunities to a greater extent. On another day we would not be so lucky. After a couple of games where the game plan and plays seemed to be coming together this seemed to be a step back, despite having a largely unchanged team from the Wyverns match. Naturally the win was welcome and hopefully the training lessons from the game will be taken onboard.

Unicorns Coach and 1st XV Captain John Kelly was glad for the win but somewhat unimpressed with both the level of penalties conceded and the amount of Yellow Cards. Despite these negatives the level of defence had been impressive, particularly under sustained Bisons attacks and when the team was down men. He commented "The Unicorns can be happy that they secured the win but it was at the expense of progress we had made on structure and relied too much on luck and opportunity not of our own making. Basic handling and decision making for us was quite poor and we need to work on our discipline at the breakdown as that has been a consistent weakness despite a focus in training. Similarly high tackling has made an unwelcome return and we have shown that this is not effective against any big runners. That said I was pleased that we brought a level of physicality and aggression that served us well in getting turnovers. The Bisons fielded a number of their newer players which we were ruthless in exploiting and in the end our greater experience wore down their defence and created opportunities. The Bisons should be proud of these debutants who had a tough baptism of fire and based on the heroic and sustained attack in the second half, I am confident the Bisons will be rewarded for their efforts. This was a game whose scoreline was not a true reflection of the kind of hard work that was being put in from the opposition who made us work for every try - there were no easy run ins. "

"Defence was the high point of the game for me. The work and effort required to hold a team with two players down is to be commended and keeping out a determined opposition for 15 minutes camped in our 22 is an attribute that will serve us well in our remaining league fixtures. The effort on the pitch was still there but I fear that we get a bit complacent when we go ahead and on this occasion we were lucky that the gap was not closed. Both our backs and forwards are starting to work together as effective units and it was great to see our backs moves deployed to great effect. We need to take these positives and lessons learned into our remaining fixtures as I would much rather we win by consistent effort rather than lucky breaks."

"I want to thank the Bisons for a game played in great spirit, a fantastic post match social (after a 'thrilling' or disappointing Calcutta Cup) and we wish them success in their remaining IGR UK Southern League fixtures. We look forward to welcoming the Bisons to Maidenhead RFC and Braywick Park next season."

A Standout performance from John Hamp saw him nominated for Players Man of the Match. Since there was consistent effort from all other players in defence the Captains Man of the Match was awarded to the whole team.

In a bit of a mixed showing from the Unicorns the drinking competition probably went in the Bisons favour (whoever thought a pint of Jägerbombs was a good idea) due to a poor showing from a number of our more established drinkers and 'injuries' from the match. We would like to thank the Bristol Bisons as well as the Staff and Venue's of To the Moon, Bristol Bear Bar and the Queens Shilling for an awesome post match social. With three league games to go, the Unicorns will be very busy in training for our next league match as well as preparation for Newcastle Ravens Hadrians Cup 10's Tournament. Later this month we welcome our old friends the Northampton Outlaws to Maidenhead for our penultimate home match of the season.

Match details

Match date

Sat 08 Feb 2020



Meet time



Want to be out for warm up and run throughs by 1300


UK IGR Southern League

League position

Berkshire Unicorns RFC
Bristol Bisons RFC
Team overview
Further reading