Late Heartbreak for Withies
By Adam Curtis
Two late South Molton tries ends Withies' hopes of a much needed win, despite a strong, determined performance in tough conditions.
It's no secret that the 2018/19 season for Withycombe hasn't been the best, but over the past three weeks, there has been a change in the mindset with performances getting better week by week and a real show of grit and determination, right through to the 80th minute building confidence from within the side.
With the predicted weather undoubtedly threatening trouble the boys knew that they needed to start well and get some early points on the board. This was just the case as on 7 minutes a break away from Ben West set up Jack Fear for a 22yd run directly under the posts at Brook End. Paddy Haddad making sure of the extras.
With a heightened level of confidence and passion, some good attacking play and a strong defensive line, the next 15 minutes was mostly played in the South Molton half. However, with the rain starting to get stronger, the ball got harder to handle for both sides as both teams swapped possession by way of scrums. With the far heavier pack, South Molton were making the most of scrum time and found themselves making ground up the pitch. With the game into its second quarter, the visiting side made their first long-term visit to the Withycombe 22 and started to pile on the pressure. With a driving maul being held-up over the line, the 'All Blacks' earned themselves a scrum on the Withycombe 5m line. The ball was out and quickly spun out to winger Luke Doyle who found some space ahead of him and he dived over the line in the corner. With the difficult kick missing the posts, the home side kept the sight lead with the score 7-5. This try fired up South Molton, but the Withy defence stood strong for the remainder of the half with the half being brought to end with an ambitious penalty attempt from the visitors dropping short and wide.
The second half started with a bang as some superb footballing skills saw the ever-present Danny Sansom landing on his own kick in clubhouse corner, which was welcomed by the cheering fans. With the tough touch-line kick dropping just short the score stood at 12-5 after 42min.
The strong defence from Withycombe continued to be paying off for the next 10min as they forced the handling errors. Unfortunately, with the pitch getting softer underfoot and the withy boys tiring up the slope, the South Molton scrum was working well as a few turnovers in the scrum gave them the chance to narrow the scores as a driving maul found its way over the line. The tough kick missed, keeping the Withies still in the lead. Just.
With the wind and rain now building, it was Withies' Tom Cooke's turn at an ambitious penalty in a similar position to South Molton's in the first half. This also sailed wide courtesy of the wind. Soon after, Cooke got a second chance in front of the posts. Making sure if it this time, the lead was extended to 5pts with the score at 15-10 with just 15 minutes to go.
As the rain became mixed with a little light hail, both teams kept play in the middle of the field. However, South Molton still had fuel in the tank as a huge kick covered some distance to give the visitors good ground deep in the Withycombe 22. The resulting line out was stolen and once again, the difference in pack weight was evident as the ball was walked over the line, bringing the scores level and 15-15.
However, hearts were broken when another South Molton scrum on the Withycombe 5m line minutes later goes well for the All Blacks as the ball bobbles over the line and is pounced on. With the final extras kicked, and the final restart taken, the game was brought to a close shortly after with the final score at 15-22.
Despite the loss, it's a game where the boys in green and black can hold their heads up high and be proud of a great performance of rugby in very difficult conditions.
The boys get a rest next week, but will continue to build and look ahead to their next fixture as they travel to North Devon to take on Bude on the 9th February.