Firsts Fight Back to Win at Thatcham
By Ralph Smith
A second half resurgence and the prolific boot of Jackson Sayce led to Wallingford coming back from 10-3 down to win 15-10 against Thatcham.
Wallingford travelled down the A34 to high flying Thatcham on a chilly November afternoon. Thatcham have had an impressive season to date, sitting third and picking up some good wins against some of the big teams in the league.
In selection, Captain Phil Dawes was absent so the back line shifted in one with Ralph Smith returning to the side on the wing, whilst both Dave Baxter and Nathan Chapman were missing into the back row so John Hayden returned to the side after his hat-trick for the 2nd XV a week earlier.
The opening exchanges were an even affair, with neither team able to make a decisive incision against well organised defences. Wallingford then strung a long series of phases together, earning a penalty on the Thatcham twenty-two, which fly-half Jackson Sayce slotted with ease.
Thatcham then came back into the game, as Wallingford's indiscipline allowed Thatcham to utilise their strong set-piece game. Despite losing their 10 to the bin for the now to be expected petulant behaviour, Thatcham got the first try following a well executed catch and drive.
Despite plenty of possession, Wallingford struggled to get over the line, as poor hands or flat attack tended to limit their attacking threat.
The second half saw Thatcham apply more pressure through their set-piece, as they had several certain tries denied by a combination of brave refereeing calls and heroic defence, including tackle of the season from replacement Ben Selwood, who managed to hold up the Thatcham full back in a one-on-one tackle over the line.
For all their efforts, Thatcham only came away with one try, following a sharp snipe for the impressive Thatcham No.8 from a 5 meter scrum, as they extended their lead to 10-3.
With their set-piece dominance, Thatcham clearly thought the game was won, but Wallingford came back brilliantly to wipe the smiles off their hosts faces.
With their superior fitness beginning to show, the Wallingford pack then began to dominate in the loose, with the likes of Hayden, Jeffreys and Greenway carrying big yards as Thatcham began to fall off tackles. And with this concerted pressure, Thatcham began to fall foul of the referee, and Jackson made them pay. Four sweetly struck penalties, including one from half-way, put Wallingford back into the lead, and Wallingford continued to apply pressure. It was now Wallingford's turn to be denied over the line by tight calls, with several attempts held up and one harsh call as Hayden touched down for a deserved try.
With one last play, Thatcham looked to attack from their own half, but strong defence resisted them, and a Pete Holton turn over gave Wallingford the chance to end the game, which they took, as the game ended 15-10 to Wallingford.
This was an excellent win against a decent Thatcham side. With injury weakening our front row, the set-piece was always going to be a battle, but to be fair the line-out functioned well on the whole and to only concede one try from the catch and drive was a good effort from the pack.
The Thatcham side line gave the referee a hard time throughout the game, but if they were honest/unbiased/better informed, the referee's calls were generally correct, and he was consistent throughout (albeit a little quiet).
The were some excellent performances from the Wallingford side, with Dan Sadler safe under the high ball and intelligent in his decision-making, whilst Jackson Sayce, with both his goal kicking and booming territorial kicking proving the difference in the match, but Man of the Match went to John Hayden, whose barnstorming runs throughout the game proved a constant thorn in Thatcham's side.