Stunning second half seals win
By Michael Mellor
Great home finish for the season
Tom Jeffries reports :
Abbey hosted High Wycombe as favourites despite their recent run of four straight losses. Wycombe, also on poor form with three straight losses, were fifteen points and three positions behind Abbey and their misery continued as the home side staged a remarkable second half comeback to move above local rivals Reading and seal seventh spot in the league.
Abbey kicked off into the wind which proved to be a point of difficulty for the first half, evident right from the start as the kick failed to go ten. High Wycombe used this to build immediate pressure, and although Abbey defended superbly for ten minutes, turning the ball over after more than ten phases on multiple occasions, Wycombe were the first to score. Abbey’s temperamental scrum was penalised on their own 22 and Number 8 Jonathan Forber showed good initiative for Wycombe by taking the quick tap penalty and shipping it out wide for an easy score under the posts for centre Thomas Catchpole giving fly half Frederick Roddick a simple conversion. Wycombe maintained their pressure and capitalised on Abbey’s poor finishing, a theme of the first half, by clearing their lines after holding up a forward drive over the Wycombe try line. Then, with set piece ball punished Abbey off the first phase with a well-worked move allowing winger Anthony Farthing to finish well in the corner, but the conversion was missed. Wycombe capped off a first 20 minutes to forget for Abbey as a counter attack following another correctly disallowed Abbey try led to fullback Tobias Lane scoring a simple try down the left flank. The conversion went wide but this was little consolation for a period where Wycombe were not made to work hard in attack but ran away with 17 points to none.
After the third try Abbey began working their way back into the game by building phases with good ball retention at the breakdown, and following ten minutes of solid possession and yet another two hold-ups, substitute flanker Ed House made an impact by scoring a clever try on the half hour mark, picking and going against the goal post to score and allowing centre Ollie Walton to have an easy conversion. Although this try was important and scored at a vital time just before the interval, the main turning point came during the break. Some inspiring, candid and almost definitely explicit words said by coach Luke Harding clearly made an impact, as a different Abbey side ran out to complete a memorable comeback. Abbey’s temperamental scrum became dominant and trapped Wycombe in their own 22, forcing the error from an attempted clearance which gave captain and scrum half Will Bevan the opportunity to snipe twice around the breakdown, the second one resulting in a score. After just 5 minutes in the second half, the deficit was reduced to three points, as Ollie Walton added the extras to Bevan’s try.
The halftime team talk resulted in a passionate defensive display, with Abbey winning every physical battle meaning Wycombe had limited possession, a particular highlight being a Treacle Knights lineout steal on the Abbey 5 metre line. However, this passion overflowed as Ed House, who had made a significant impact off the bench was yellow carded for fighting, as well as Wycombe prop Nicholas Allso. Abbey pushed on despite this, and Bevan yet again led from the front to pull his team in front with another snipe from the breakdown to score after showing good footwork to beat three defenders. This mustn’t draw the attention away from some brilliant carrying in the build-up, notably from Knights and Mike Beckly.
Having gained the lead, Abbey looked to bury their flustered opponents and did so successfully with back row Max Courtnage spotting a gap around the fringes of the breakdown and marauding through two covering defenders to touch down in front of the home crowd to extend the lead to 28-17 after 60 minutes and gain Abbey a well-deserved bonus point. With the sin bin over Wycombe finally managed to end Abbey’s 30 minute try-scoring period but the pressure certainly did not end there with Ollie Walton kicking two pinpoint penalties from the touchline to double Wycombe’s lead – 34-17, although it must be noted that the platform for the penalties were hard worked for by the likes of Beckly, fullback Connor Limbrick, winger Jules Greenaway and Ed House.
In the remaining ten minutes Abbey perhaps didn’t close out the game as they may have wished, with Gereie Sutherland finishing the game in the bin for sinful play and hooker Thomas Boardman crossing the whitewash due to good running by his flyhalf Roddick.
Regardless of the end (even though the result never looked in doubt), there were only positives to take away from the result, with the 34-24 victory being up there with one of the performances of the season, and certainly the second best comeback, with the only better comeback being the one against Wycombe earlier in the season from 19 points down. Whilst the first half was disappointing, the second half was immense, and Abbey clearly took on board their half time advise, taking the phases from the first half and making them into points. The bonus point win took them above their rivals Reading, and puts them in a good position to end the season well in their last fixture away at Littlemore on the 13th.
Elsewhere, the 2nds lost to Aylesbury 46-22 and the 3rds lost to Newbury.