“War Pigs return North Wiltoned”
Norton On a very blustery day with heavy showers forecast, the weather was clearly going to play a significant part in an encounter that saw Service welcomed Norton to Tewkesbury Road for a local derby.
The visitors arrived with strong squad looking to take the game to, and confront, the home side’s front eight head on. Service had selected a powerful pack and were prepared for a confrontational afternoon. CCSRFC choose to play into the strong wind in the first half, knowing that maintaining possession was going to be key. If they could stay in the game for the first 40 mins then the wind advantage in the second half could be just the difference to go and win the match.
Limiting the number of handling mistakes was always going to be key in such difficult conditions. The opening exchanges saw both sides running hard lines into each other. Defences were tested, this wasn’t going to ‘pretty’. Norton settled and recycled some good ruck ball and, but for some strong fringe defence from CCSRFC, the visitors could have opened the scoring.
Service settled and produced some powerful runs into the heart of Norton’s defensive shape. This saw some big carries from the forwards including Captain Ross Ruck on his return from injury, Matt Baker, and Tom Wood who all drove on to make the hard yards. Not to be out done, centres Paul Bartlett and Sam Eastoe were starting to find gaps in the Norton defence and Service started to apply some pressure in the visitors’ half. 14 minutes in with a scrum in Norton’s 22, Civil Service secured a solid platform from which scrumhalf James Arnold produced a bit of magic when he picked up at the base and found a gap on the fringe and darted through for a great opening score. Try converted by Will Markey. 7 – 0
The game started to get scrappy and forwards fronted up against each other. Penalties were conceded by both sides. Norton wanted a game that was full of local derby tussle and they certainly got it. The visitors were intent on quick ‘tap and goes’ from penalties, a tactic the home side struggled with reacting to defensively. Following a run of indiscipline from Service, 4 consecutive penalties were conceded and Norton carried strongly to score in the corner on 37mins that they failed to convert to go into the break with the home side winning HT: 7 – 5.
After a half where the home defence had soaked up a lot of pressure deep in their own 22 playing into the strong wind, it was advantage Civil Service as they went into the second half assisted by the strong wind. A tactical change was made bringing on Liam Stretton into the back row to add pace and dynamism. A returning Mark Titley was replaced in the second row having had a strong, powerful first half. Service started strong pinning the visitors deep in their own 22. Patience, power and building pressure was what was needed. Unfortunately for Service, the conditions (and Norton’s solid defence) meant they struggled to demonstrate the clinical nature of their game that has served them so well this season. Attempted offloads to isolated runners and some questionable split-second decision-making saw Service unable to turn their dominance into points. Sam Townsend at 15 for the home side made great metres with ball in hand, communicated identified space to his back line and marshalled the defence superbly, putting in solid tackles when his teammates needed them most. The longer the game went on the more tense the outcome felt.
Territory was being dominated by Service, but the conditions made life difficult for both sides. Lineouts all afternoon were disrupted, scrums equally matched resulted in a real battle up front. As the game entered the final 10 minutes, there was a definite feeling there was still a score to be had, but which way? Would the home side secure victory or would Norton steal it from them? Ollie Wilton, who had carried hard all afternoon, took the moment into his own hands on 73 minutes. He found space down the right touchline after some quick handling by his scrum-half, and crashed through two Norton tacklers and set off to the corner with a last defender cutting across to tackle him into touch – or so he thought! Acceleration into contact accompanied by a hand off to the chest of the defender saw the No.8 crash over into the corner. Try unconverted but Service extended their lead with 7 minutes left to play. 12 – 5
Norton threw everything at CCSRFC in the final minutes and some poor kicking and tactical play from the home side allowed Norton, playing into the strong wind, to dominate territory. Would the pressure tell? With 79 minutes on the clock, a strong tailwind saw a Service kick down-field roll dead, resulting in the ball being brought back a full 80 metres for a Norton scrum barely 15 metres from the try line. A solid scrum and a pick and go from the base and try scored. Now the conversion to draw. Into the strong wind and the energetic Civil Service charge down attempt, the kicked was missed and the referee called time. FT: 12 – 10
A tight win for Service, in what was a hard-fought local derby in which both sides threw everything at each other. A punishing home win that keeps title ambitions alive.
MOTM: Sam Townsend – a performance oozing class from the fullback.