Honour in defeat to Basingstoke
By Martin Pearl
Eton Manor 3 Basingstoke 27
Manor travelled to Basingstoke on Saturday to play the home side in the playoff for National league rugby next season. They faced a team that knew what it was like to play in the higher league as they were in the National league only a couple of seasons ago. Manor were confident but were aware that their opponents were going to be a class outfit, and so they turned out to be.
With the weather unable to make up it’s mind about what it wanted to do, with heavy rain before the kick off followed by bright sunshine, Tryson Goodchild led his side out in a hail storm. Manor kicked off and had the better of the early exchanges as they attacked inside Basingstoke’s 22. The home side showed why they had conceded very few points during the season, as their highly efficient defence kept Manor at bay, until the ball was knocked on giving Basingstoke the opportunity to clear their lines from a scrum. They then gradually worked their way up field with a combination of good forward play couple with intelligent running by their backline which was orchestrated by their hugely impressive fly half. Manor for their part showed that they could also defend and after withstanding a concerted attacked by the home side they eventually won a penalty enabling them to clear the danger.
There was only a temporary rest bite for Manor as Basingstoke continued to attack and although Manor repelled all that was thrown at them, eventually they fell foul of the referee and gave away a penalty, which Basingstoke’s No10 put between the posts to give the home side a 0-3 lead after 7 minutes.
From the kick off Manor managed to turn the ball over and won a scrum. Garth Tucker made ground off of the back of the scrum and quick ball was set up for Manor backs to launch an attack, unfortunately, with a slippery ball the attack broke down with a knock on. From the resulting scrum, Manor won the ball against the head, again freeing their backline to attack. Ben Thomas made good ground before recycling the ball along the backline, only for another knock-on to halt the attack. From the scrum Basingstoke chose to kick deep, Chris Jones spotted the danger and covered the kick and set off on a run that took him to the halfway line before being taken into touch. From Basingstoke’s lineout Ian Edwards got in front of their jumper and won the ball but Manor gave possession back with a series of poorly placed kick’s. This allowed Basingstoke to set their backline off with a flowing move with the ball eventually reaching their winger. He didn’t collect the ball cleanly and knocked the ball forward, something that the touch judge somehow missed, before kicking the ball forward into Manors 22. Basingstoke’s chase was good and although Jones done well to get to the ball first he was unable to gain much ground with his clearance kick. Manor competed at the lineout and drove the opposition back but were again penalised. Up stepped Basingstoke’s fly half and added a second penalty, Manor now trailed 0-6 after 20 minutes of play.
Manor continued to compete and were just shading the contest with Manor’s forwards playing their usual aggressive game, but Manor were having to play at their best to make any sort of ground and some basic handling errors allowed Basingstoke to kick down field and again Manor gave away a penalty with in kicking range. From wide out the fly half made no mistake increasing the home sides lead to 0-9 after 23 minutes of the first half.
Basingstoke now had a period of pressure inside Manors 22 but they were having trouble in the set piece where Manors smaller forwards were causing problems for their bigger counterparts, winning the opposition line outs and competing well in the scrum. Eventually Basingstoke’s pressure told as they won another kickable penalty after 29 minutes, surprisingly the attempt was missed and Manor cleared the danger with a 22 meter drop out. Manor chased the kick well, turning over the ball, then a good kick by Nick Horton allowed Reece Reed to chase ahead and pressurised the defender into knocking the ball on. From the scrum Manor drove the ball forward until a reverse pass by Horton found John Robinson on the charge, he then made the first real break of the game, making 20 meters before trying to pass out of the tackle, unfortunately the ball was knocked on, but Manor were again inside Basingstoke’s 22.
Basingstoke soon turned defence into attack as they worked their way up field and won another penalty, again this was missed and the score remained 0-9 after 33 minutes. From the re-start Manor worked their way into Basingstoke’s half with ground being made by Jones and Michael Eghan before the ball was turned over allowing Basingstoke to kick into Manors 22. Eghan had retreated and fielded the ball, before sending out a long pass to Horton who was close to his own try line. He then set off spotting that he was faced by a couple of forwards. He raced passed these and made his way into Basingstoke’s half, as the covering defenders reached him Horton failed to see the unmarked Reed outside him and was tackled before he could send Reed in the clear for a scoring opportunity.
Manor continued to press and after Basingstoke gave a way a number of penalties, one was eventually awarded in range and Thomas stepped up and struck the ball over from 35 meters out. 3-9 to Basingstoke and with the final few minutes played out, the score remained unchanged until half time.
At 3-9 Manor were still in the game and believed that if they could cut out some of the simple errors that they were making then they would be in with a shout at the end of the match. Basingstoke obviously had other ideas and upped their game in the second half, extinguishing Manors hopes and dreams.
The second half started off badly for Manor when a long kick ahead ended going out on the full bringing play 40 meters back up the field. Basingstoke attacked off of the scrum taking the ball forward with renewed vigour taking play into Manors 22 where they won a line out. Edwards again stole the ball allowing Manor to clear the danger with a kick up field, this was returned with interest by Basingstoke’s backline who attacked with pace and power, eventually working an overlap and they would have scored the first try of the game if it hadn’t been for the final scoring pass being forward. Basingstoke drove the Manor scrum back and were awarded a scrum of their own. Here clean ball was fed along their backline and out to their right winger and as he dived into the corner the touch judge raised his flag for touch then agreed with the referee that a try had been scored. With the difficult conversion missed, Basingstoke had now increased their lead to 3-14 after 8 minutes of the second half.
Manor now had the opportunity to attack, using their forwards to good effect, taking play to within 15 meters of Basingstoke’s try line before a cross field kick just failed to reach Reed who was inches away from gathering the ball close to the line. Manor continued to press with Thomas and Alex Hunter making ground, eventually winning a penalty chance for Thomas from 30 meters out. Unfortunately the attempt went wide and Manor had lost an opportunity to claw their way back into the game.
Still Manor pressed and from the 22 drop out Jones made good ground before Eghan continued the attack, beating three players before making his way across field and passing the ball along the backline with the ball finding it’s way to Reed who was well marshalled into touch. Basingstoke now began building a series of phases, keeping the ball well working their way up field and winning a penalty that was successful increasing their lead to 3-17 after 23 minutes of the second half.
Basingstoke were now playing at a faster pace and getting on top of their opponents, but Manor were still defending stoutly, holding the opposition at bay 5 meters from their line until they were awarded a penalty allowing them to clear the danger, but only for a brief while. Basingstoke missed another shot at goal before Manors cause was hindered by Edwards being shown a yellow card for persistent team offences. The home side sensed their opportunity and began to turn the screw despite Manor still defending well with Kevin Reed and Callum Mckie leading the way with some big hits. Eventually the pressure told and with quick hands Basingstoke took advantage of their extra man to score in the corner. With the conversion missed Manor trailed 3-22, and the game was now beyond Manors grasp with little more than 5 minutes of play left.
Straight from the kick off Manor found themselves under pressure but a thumping tackle from Eghan on Basingstoke’s fly half gave Manor a scrum just outside their 22. With still a man light in the scrum Basingstoke applied pressure as Manor tried to clear the ball and pounced on loose ball and fed their centre who went over the line for the final, unconverted try.
From the re-start with Manor back to full strength, they pressed for a consolation score, but solid defence from Basingstoke held out Manors attack’s with Dan Johnson being held up over the line and Eghan being knocked into touch close to the line. Eventually Basingstoke turned the ball over and cleared it into Manors half, and as they pressurised Manor into a mistake the referee blew for full time.
Basingstoke had won the game 3-27, and on the day were the better team and deserved their place in next seasons Nation leagues, but the score line did somewhat flatter them and didn’t give a true reflection of the closeness of the contest. In the end they were that little bit fitter and stronger than Manor and we wish them every success for next season.
As for Manor the hurt felt by the players at this loss was obvious for all to see, you can only ask that players give their all for the cause, and not one player could have given more than they did, they had nothing left to give.
When the hurt has subsided and players and coaches evaluate what has happened they will realise what a tremendous season they have had. You must not forget that the majority of this team were fighting relegation only a couple of seasons ago. The team spirit is unbelievable, with everyone working for each other. There are no superstars in the side, just honest hardworking rugby players who want to win for each other and for Eton Manor. Manor will learn from this experience and come back better and stronger next season and hopefully go one better and win promotion by right.
Finally a word about the support the team received at the game. There were over 500 people at the game, with possibly 100 of those Manor supporters. They engaged in friendly banter with the opposite supporters and were vocal in their support for Manor. At the end of the game they congratulated the winners and showed how proud they were of the Manor team, something that I am sure that the players appreciated. Lets hope that next season we can establish a traveling band of supporters that support their team both home and away.
The season has now come to a close, the first team have excelled in what they have achieved and will hopefully go from strength to strength driven on by the pain of this final loss and will next season achieve their goals. Elsewhere in the Senior section the second’s won their league winning promotion to the 1st division, and the thirds, just as in the past I don’t know how many seasons, also won promotion. Just as importantly Manor fielded a 4th team for the first time in many a year.
What a year, what a club, until next season UTM.