Two tries in five minutes late in the first half eased Thorns away from Cleve and they never looked likely to lose.
The match was played on a Friday to allow the players and supporters to watch the England – Argentina World Cup match the following morning. Thornbury initially chose a starting XV showing one change from that which started against Newent, with Kieran Wilson coming in for Johnny Heaven. Then late in the week players were withdrawn through injury forcing a reshuffle. James Phillips moved from the back row to second row in place of Jim Massey with Charlie Squier starting at six. Bob Adams was replaced by Mike Johnson on the wing. Then with Louis Osborne wearing his fireman’s helmet rather than a scrum cap Jack Hussey came in at the last minute at No.8. Jack Summerfield, Ollie Critchley and Dan Hussey made up the bench.
Cleve had been relegated from South West Premier at the end of the previous season. Thorns looked to reproduce their Combination Cup Semi-Final win at Cleve from the previous March.
The rain that had fallen for most of the week had stopped and the pitch was in good condition as Thornbury kicked off. Cleve knocked on and the first scrum formed with Thorns facing a lumpy pack. The scrum held and Thornbury immediately attacked through the backs and although it didn’t lead to anything the style of Thornbury’s play for the evening was set.
The early stages were even then Harry Glew and Alfie Richardson combined down the left and a kick ahead gave Thorns good field position deep in the Cleve ‘22’. Thorns attacked through the forwards but Cleve’s defence was good. Then Sam Poustie cross-kicked to Ben Phillips unmarked out wide but Cleve scrambled across and snuffed out the attack.
The first score came after ten minutes when a move from a lineout on the Thornbury line saw the home backs get involved and Chris Brooker scored a try. Greg Welling converted.
Cleve knocked on the restart and Thorns recycled quickly with Alfie Richardson just tackled close to the corner. Then Billy Cantin and Jak Evans combined to break through but as the scoring pass was being made a tackle came in and the ball was dislodged. Thornbury were playing at a pace Cleve were struggling to deal with but try-scoring opportunities were not being taken.
Thorns tied the scores as the second quarter began when after several phases in midfield Jay Burley got his hands on the ball 25 metres out and set off in a direct run stepping out of one tackle, swerving past another and fending off a third to score a wonderful try by the posts. Jack Pinker converted then missed a penalty but Thorns were dominating territory and possession.
Thornbury took the lead on 34 minutes when they attacked from a scrum. Harry Glew came off his wing and scythed through the defence to score out wide. Four minutes later they scored again when Sam Poustie cross-kicked to Glew who fed back inside to Richardson and the try was scored. Neither was converted and Thorns led 17-7 at half time.
Cleve started the second half and Burley caught the kick and charged through the Cleve defence on a fine run that put Thorns on the front foot. Shortly afterwards Thorns had three lineouts close to the Cleve line. They tried to drive over twice but Cleve defended well, then Thorns lost the third lineout and Cleve cleared.
But Thorns continued to apply pressure and Richardson ran back a hurried clearing kick and a diagonal run drew the Cleve defence. The ball was recycled and a fine cross kick from Poustie was well-taken by Mike Johnson who stepped inside the cover to score the fourth try and earn Thorns the bonus point. Pinker converted for a 24-7 lead. Jack Summerfield came on for Kieran Wilson.
With the game in the final quarter Thorns put the game to bed with a second try from set piece. Thornbury attacked from a scrum and Alfie Richardson came into the line and had far too much pace for the Cleve defence and scored out wide. The conversion went wide but Thornbury were 29-7 ahead. Ollie Critchley came on for Charlie Squier and Dan Hussey replaced Richardson thus reducing the risk of Thornbury’s fullback having to buy a jug after the game.
With seven minutes to go Cleve attacked looking to get something from the game. As they eventually went over out wide the referee brought them back for a high tackle from Jack Hussey, awarded Cleve a penalty try and gave Thornbury’s No.8 a yellow card. It was little more than a consolation for Cleve.
As time ran out Cleve tried to use their forwards to batter their way out of defence but Ben Phillips, who had been outstanding all evening, secured a turnover. Thorns closed the game out for a thoroughly-deserved 29-14 win.
The win was more comfortable than the score suggested, and Thorns could say they should have scored a couple more tries. But it was job done. The forwards held the bigger Cleve pack in the tight and their mobility ensured continuity and regular possession. Thornbury’s backs had time and space to run in and looked sharp. Despite the pace and silky skills of the backs the highlight was the try from Jay Burley which emphasised Thornbury’s style in that even the donkeys in the pack possess the feet and dynamism of the delicate and sensitive backs. A memorable score in a fine win.
Thornbury are at home to Newton Abbot next Saturday, kick off 3:00.
Thornbury: tries – Alfie Richardson (2), Jay Burley, Harry Glew, Mike Johnson; conversions – Jack Pinker (2)
Cleve: tries – Chris Brooker and a penalty try; conversion – Greg Welling.
Thornbury: Alfie Richardson; Mike Johnson, Billy Cantin, Jack Pinker, Harry Glew; Sam Poustie, Jak Evans; Kieran Wilson, Sam Evans (c), Jay Burley, Chris Moseley, James Phillips, Charlie Squier, Ben Phillips, Jack Hussey.
Replacements: Jack Summerfield, Ollie Critchley, Dan Hussey.
Cleve: Troy Willis; Brandon Hatt, Dan Norris, Greg Welling, Mike Priday; Chris Brooker, Josh Mortimore, Andy O'Donnell, Tom Gollop, Paul Vinicombe, James Fahey (c), Henry Griffiths, Chris McCann, Sam Slade, Harry Goodfield.
Replacements: Steve Bush, Jake Bush, C J Harrison.
Referee: Ricardo Sant’Anna (Bristol Referees Society)
Yellow Cards: Thornbury – Jack Hussey (73-end)