The Thornbury side bore little resemblance to the side that played in last season’s Combination Cup Final. Retirements, travelling and summer holidays denied Thorns the services of several players, including skipper Sam Evans, but new players and the return of familiar faces gave the selection an experimental but exciting look to it. Bob Adams was chosen on the wing after nearly two seasons out injured whilst James Wood had recovered from injury and started his first match since January. The squad included Mike Johnson and Jack Pinker, who had joined from Dursley, plus Billy Cantin formerly of North Bristol. Students Harry Eatock and Henry Low were home from University and available to play. Jack Hussey captained the team.
With the main pitch at Ting Tong Field about to be replaced by an artificial grass pitch the game was switched to a smaller pitch adjacent to the neighbouring Allington cricket club. A series of heavy showers had made the surface slippery but a gale-force wind would prove to make goal kicking difficult.
Thornbury kicked off downhill with the gale at their backs and immediately set about stretching the home side, the ball being moved at pace with width. Thorns went ahead on eight minutes when good passing from an attacking scrum put Alfie Richardson in at the corner. The conversion didn’t trouble the posts. The lead was doubled a few minutes later when the forwards drove from a driving lineout, the backs went in to help and Mike Beswick touched down for the try against his former club.
The teams took a short breather after twenty minutes and changed ends. Thorns now faced a slope and the gale whilst Chippenham attacked with renewed confidence but an outstanding tackle and counter-ruck from James Phillips prevented a try being scored. Instead Thorns took play upfield and pressurised Chippenham into errors. From a lineout close to the home line the forwards drove Charlie Squier over for the third try.
Thorns’ passes were then intercepted twice in a few minutes, both errors leading to tries and with a conversion Thornbury led 15-12 at half time.
Midway through the third quarter James Wood charged through the home side and Alfie Richardson made good ground before the ball was moved back infield and Phillips opened the defence for Luke Panting to score. Sam Poustie converted for a 22-12 lead. As the third quarter came to an end another burst from Wood created space for Jack Pinker to score by the posts. Poustie added the extras for a 29-12 lead.
Both sides had made good use of their squads with regular interchanges throughout the match and Thorns took several players off for the final quarter. Chippenham scored two converted tries in quick succession to reduce arrears to 29-26 with ten minutes remaining but Thornbury knuckled down and kept the ball tight. After a driving lineout failed to get over the Chippenham line the forwards picked and drove with James Phillips powering over for a thoroughly deserved try. Thorns regained the ball from the restart and closed the game out for a well-deserved 34-26 win.
There was much to take from the game with outstanding performances from James Wood and James Phillips in particular. Alfie Richardson looked a threat whenever he had the ball and the defence was aggressive and well-organised. Bob Adams had an eye-catching match and the new players would feel they played well. Thorns looked a well-drilled outfit.
The match was the first senior game for seventeen year-old Alex Johnson plus the three new recruits, but was also the last for the foreseeable future for James Donohue who is about to spend time working in New York. “Donny” was a popular and committed player whose contribution to Thornbury will be missed.
Thornbury play their second pre-season friendly at Old Halesonians next Saturday.
Thornbury scorers: tries – Alfie Richardson, Mike Beswick, Charlie Squier, Luke Panting, Jack Pinker and James Phillips; conversions – Sam Poustie (2)
Team: Alfie Richardson; Bob Adams, Mike Beswick, Billy Cantin, Mike Johnson; Sam Poustie, Jack Pinker; Henry Low, Charlie Squier, Luke Panting, Tom Constable, James Wood, James Phillips, Tom Williams, Jack Hussey (c).
Replacements: Jack Summerfield, Alex Johnson, Harry Eatock, James Donohue, Dan Hussey, Jonny Sanderson