Aylesbury 31 Abbey 29
By Mark Hoskins
Abbey staged a thrilling late recovery at a windy Ostler’s Field, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome an impressive Aylesbury side.
Aylesbury 31 Abbey 29
Abbey staged a thrilling late recovery at a windy Ostler’s Field, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome an impressive Aylesbury side. The visitors trailed 31-15 after an hour, but two converted tries from centre Olly Walton brought them to within two points of the home score. Abbey even had the chance to steal a late victory, but Walton’s superbly struck penalty three minutes from time shaved the outside of a post and went wide. Abbey take two deserved bonus points from an entertaining match and now sit comfortably in seventh place in Wadworth 6X Southern Counties North with 45 points.
With a swirling wind making life difficult for both sides, Abbey full back Conner Limbrick did well to catch a high Aylesbury kick at the start of the game. Skipper Will Bevan made ground and received good support from Walton and hooker Matt Hart before a penalty was conceded. Then Aylesbury were penalised for crossing as they moved the ball to the right, and Abbey outside half John Malivoire sensibly kept the ball low as he kicked for touch. Equally sensibly, Hart threw to the front of the ensuing lineout where second row Treacle Knights caught safely. But Aylesbury soon had possession, and they counterattacked well. Hart made two good tackles, but Abbey conceded a penalty in front of the posts inside their own 22. The kick at goal from outside half James Woodfall looked to be a formality, but the ball hit a post and Abbey cleared.
Max Courtnage won the next Abbey lineout, and after a good driving run from the No.8, Bevan kicked high. Aylesbury’s return kick was again well taken by Limbrick, and his run was supported by Knights. Walton and winger Ryan Williams took play to the right, and when Aylesbury were penalised Malivoire found a good touch in the corner. Flanker George House won the lineout ball, prop Russ Orrburns and second row Adam Brooker drove well, and the home side conceded another penalty. This led to a yellow card for winger Kaseem Olayinka, and Bevan kicked the penalty to touch. Abbey drove again from the lineout, and after Brooker got close to the line, Courtnage thundered over for the opening try near to the posts. Walton converted, and it was first blood to Abbey after 14 minutes of play.
Unfortunately, Abbey could not control the restart kick, and home flanker Pete Gorley almost scored a try in the left corner following a good bout of passing. The first scrum of the game saw Abbey under pressure close to their line, but when home No.8 Gary Horne broke clear, House did well to bring him down. However, Abbey were penalised and Aylesbury decided to take another scrum. This time the forwards drove all the way to the line and Horne plunged over for a try. When the two sides had met at Rosehill earlier in the season Horne had been rather unfortunate to be sent off following two yellow card offences, but he more than made up for this in the return fixture and was a storming presence in the home pack. Woodfall’s conversion attempt drifted low and wide, so Abbey still led 7-5 as the game neared the end of the first quarter.
Courtnage and winger Jules Greenaway both ran well when Abbey next gained possession, but it was Aylesbury who were on the attack when Olayinka returned from the bin. Courtnage made good ground from the next scrum, and Bevan and Malivoire exchanged passes as the visitors looked for a gap in the home defence. After 25 minutes of play Adam Postlethwaite came on for Orrburns in the Abbey front row. Knights won more good lineout ball for Abbey, but Aylesbury were in a good position when they were awarded a free kick on the edge of the visitors’ 22. The home side chose to scrummage, and they engineered an excellent try as a result. The ball was moved swiftly to the left, and full back Sam Page crossed the line after selling a clever dummy. There was little that Abbey could do about this score, and the home backs looked very slick at this stage. With Woodfall having missed two kicks at goal, centre Nicky Mercer attempted the conversion, and for the second time in the match the ball bounced wide off a post.
Horne was soon causing more problems for Abbey with his strong running, but Limbrick again impressed for the visitors with a good run out of defence. House won a lineout, Bevan kicked high again, but Aylesbury went back on the attack after Abbey had missed a tackle. The visitors suffered a blow when Hart limped off after 34 minutes, Orrburns returning in his place. Shortly after this, Aylesbury scored another high-quality try, when Woodfall’s crosskick found winger Charles Plowman wide on the right. The ball was passed inside to Page, and the full back sent Mercer on his way to the line. The centre converted his own try, and with three minutes of the first half remaining Abbey looked to be in trouble.
To their huge credit, Abbey went on the attack at once, and they dominated the final minutes of the half. Knights, Orrburns, Postlethwaite and Courtnage took play into the home 22, and good driving work from Brooker and flanker Chris Shaw earned Abbey a scrum. Courtnage drove from the base of the set piece, and Greenaway was held just short of the home line. Abbey won a penalty and scrummaged again, but after Courtnage broke to the blindside the ball was lost. However, Abbey quickly regained possession, and they pounded the Aylesbury line once more. Bevan, Orrburns, Shaw and Brooker all featured prominently as Abbey looked for a score, and again they chose to scrummage when they were awarded another penalty. This time they moved the ball to the left, and Shaw dived over for a well-deserved try. Walton was unable to convert from a difficulty angle, but Abbey had reduced the deficit to five points as the half time whistle sounded.
Sadly, the second half could not have started in a worse fashion for the visitors. They failed to control the kick-off, and Horne galloped clear to the line for his second try of the game. Mercer’s conversion put Aylesbury 24-12 ahead, but again Abbey counterattacked with spirit. Centre Mike Beckly made good ground and Bevan and Shaw carried on the move. The visitors received an unexpected boost after 45 minutes when Horne limped out of the action, but at the same time Courtnage, who had injured his shoulder earlier, also had to come off. He was replaced in the back row by Matt Simmons. Just after this, Aylesbury were penalised for crossing and Walton kicked a good penalty to make the score 24-15.
Simmons made a good break from the next scrum as Abbey attacked once more, and there was a surprise after 50 minutes when Hart returned to the action despite his earlier injury. He replaced prop Edd Woodger in the front row. Abbey had a good spell of possession after this, with Bevan, Beckly, Knights and Malivoire all involved, but soon afterwards Aylesbury stepped up a gear and mounted some excellent attacks. Hooker Matt Birch came close to scoring, and Limbrick did well to halt a charge from Olayinka. But the home side claimed their fifth try just after the hour mark, and yet again it was a quality score. The ball was moved along the backs at speed from left to right, and Plowman scored in the right corner. Mercer’s excellent touchline conversion was to prove crucial in the light of subsequent events.
Abbey looked well out of the game at 31-15 down with just 20 minutes left, but they went on the attack at once. Greenaway made 15 metres with a good run, and Bevan, Malivoire and Postlethwaite took play to the home 22. A bout of close passing from Bevan, Greenaway and Hart almost created an opening, and another good burst from Beckly took Abbey close to the line. Referee Emer O’Kelly warned Aylesbury not to offend again after another penalty was conceded, but after Shaw and Knights nearly got over the line a penalty was awarded to Abbey and home flanker Ben Seagrave was binned. Just as they had done in the first half, Abbey quickly took advantage of their numerical superiority. Bevan took a tap penalty, and after Shaw and Malivoire moved the ball to the right, Walton crashed over by the posts for a good score. His conversion took Abbey to within nine points of the home total with 11 minutes of normal time remaining. At this stage Woodger returned in place of Orrburns, while Chrissy Munce replaced Williams.
Simmons made another good break from a scrum and Shaw drove well, but Abbey were still inside their own half when a brilliant move set up a thrilling try for Walton. Munce was the architect, sending a clever pass which left the centre with a 60 metre dash to the line. Nobody could catch him and when Walton had converted his own try again, Abbey were seriously back in the game. Once more they attacked, with Knights, Bevan and Beckly all working hard, and after further good work from Woodger, Munce and House the visitors won a penalty close to the left touchline. The kick was one of around 30 metres, and with three minutes of normal time left Walton decided to try for the posts. He could hardly have struck the ball better, and it looked initially as if he had found the target. However, the ball just grazed the outside of a post and the kick just missed. It was an agonising moment for the visitors and it signalled the end of the sin bin period for Seagrave. The final minutes saw Abbey mount one more desperate attack, but when they were penalised Aylesbury kicked for touch and the game was over.
This was a thoroughly entertaining game, played in a very good spirit, and great credit must go to both sides and their coaches. Aylesbury will probably feel that they should have sealed the outcome long before the end, and they will point to the fact that two of their goal kicks struck a post. In addition, they suffered cruel luck with injuries and had to replace two key forwards at half time, in addition to losing the impressive Horne. That said, Abbey showed huge self-belief in the latter stages of the match and came desperately close to grabbing what would have been a wonderful victory. They will look back with regret at the soft try conceded at the start of the second half, and there were several missed tackles which might have stifled some of Aylesbury’s earlier attacks had they been made. Bevan was his usual livewire self, Shaw and Courtnage battled well, and Hart rallied bravely to play a fine game after his injury. Limbrick’s cool display at full back was most encouraging, Walton took his scores well, and every member of the squad can hold his head up after a great 80 minutes of rugby. It was a pity there had to be a loser, but Abbey will be in great heart when they entertain Bicester at Rosehill next weekend.
For the record, 12 of the Abbey squad and 9 of the Aylesbury squad featured in the corresponding fixture earlier in the season.
Abbey: C Limbrick, R Williams (C Munce 69), O Walton, M Beckly, J Greenaway, J Malivoire, W Bevan (captain), R Orrburns (A Postlethwaite 25, E Woodger 69), M Hart (R Orrburns 34), E Woodger (M Hart 50), J Knights, A Brooker, C Shaw, G House, M Courtnage (M Simmons 45)
Aylesbury: S Page, K Olayinka, N Mercer, S McKenzie (captain), C Plowman, J Woodfall, O Bowles (G Horne 80), A Hackett, R Phillips, M Birch, A Inglis (B Dukes 40), M Smith, P Gorley (J Jackson 40), B Seagrave, G Horne (E Wakelam 45)
Tries: Walton (2), Courtnage, Shaw
Con: Walton (3)
Tries: Horne (2), Page, Mercer, Plowman
Con: Mercer (3)
Aylesbury: Olayinka, Seagrave
Referee: E O’Kelly (Buckinghamshire)