Minch in a Pinch – Bonus Point on The Common
Hampton Fields in October, always a difficult place to visit especially when the home side are coming off a week’s rest (with a walk-over victory) preceded by a strong home win against Tewkesbury.
With Cheltenham Civil Service also full of confidence following their own strong performance the previous week, this promised to be a tight, competitive encounter. Against a large, physical Minchinhampton pack, Service would have to match up to give their exciting back line the opportunities to stretch the game. In the first contact area, Service were second to the ruck and the penalty was awarded to the home side for not releasing. The first 10 minutes saw both sets of forwards testing each other; but the visitors were more powerful in contact, driving through the tackles and gaining ground that created quick ball for the backs to punch into the home side’s midfield.
Service were certainly on top and even in the early stages their tempo was starting to tell on their opponents who couldn’t cope with the power and pace at which Service were playing. Defensive line speed, which was excellent all afternoon, saw Service win turnover ball just outside their 22, allowing skipper Angus Guthrie to exploit the space around the breakdown to break away. Two outrageous dummies from the scrum-half said goodbye to the Minch drifting defence, and a simple pass to the tracking Ollie Wilton completed a 2-on-1 that saw the Number 8 stride in from 20 metres.
A quality opening try converted by Jonathan Stickler to give the visitors a 7-point lead. Ed Cooke, leading from the front in the Cheltenham Civil Service pack, claimed the restart (as he continued to do all afternoon) and drove into the heart of the home side’s forwards, making good metres and giving a target from which the Service pack could attack, which they did all afternoon to great effect. Service were in the ascendancy and the home side had no answers to their game plan and its execution.
Even in set-piece Service were dominant, especially at line outs. Francis Cole threw some great arrows from Hooker, allowing Service to build a platform from each throw-in and and Matt Baker did well at the scrum-time against a much heftier pack. After 20 mins of continued pressure near the Minchinhampton line, Cheltenham showed patience and power in their phase play until a hole opened which saw vice-captain Ollie Wilton go over for his (and the side’s) second try of the afternoon. The strong wind blew the conversion attempt across the face of the posts.
0 – 12 After 23 minutes of the game played, a high tackle from winger Jacob Hennessy on his opposite number saw him shown a red card. How would the balance of the game be affected with the visitors down to 14 for the last 60 mins of the game?
The coaches made their decision, asking the backs to play a drift defence on the effected side to keep the full complement of forwards and maintain that area of dominance. This tactic was well marshalled by Number 10 Will Markey and executed excellently by Joe Lucas and Joey Jones who both managed the space effectively and returned any kicks with pace deep into the heart of the opposition, preventing the space out wide being exploited by the home side. Opportunities were still created by the visitors, but a downpour in the last 15 minutes of the first half saw handling become more difficult and chances to extend their lead very literally slipped through their hands. Defensively Service were determined and dogged on their try-line to prevent the home side, who were battering hard in an attempt to get back into the game.
Half Time 0 – 12
The second half started, the skies cleared, and Service picked up where they left off in the previous half with flankers Max Widmer and Sam Eastoe living in the faces of the home side’s midfield, the Front Five dominating set-piece, and Service controlling the tempo of the game through the execution of the game-plan. This was impressive stuff from the visitors and proved to be something the home side just couldn’t deal with.
51 minutes saw the gaps open up in the home side’s defence who were clearly tiring with the pace the visitors were playing at; something Jon Stickler exploited, bursting through in the centres and giving the offload to centre partner Jack Gascoyne to stroll in under the posts. Converted by Stix. 0 – 19 Service were ruthless in their application of defence and continued to press, determined not to let the home side into the game. Following the perfect interception on the visitors’ 22 by Jon Stickler, the Inside Centre saw the length of the field open up in front of him that was mirrored by the fear on his face at the prospect of the 75 yards sprint that awaited. He didn’t quite make it, but the support runners and a building of more pressure deep in the Minch 22 led to Service’s patience being rewarded. With space identified out wide, the away team showed good hands for Joe Lucas to score in the corner. 0-24.
With 20 mins left and tanks running on empty and bodies hurting, changes were made with debutant Sam Townsend accompanying Isaac Lewis and Andrew Lees to replace Jon Stickler, Fran Cole and Harvs Dan – all of whom had shown real quality throughout. The final 20 minutes saw the home side get the referee’s whistle on their side and 50/50 decisions started to go their way. Subsequently they were able to apply pressure deep in the Cheltenham half, pushing hard to get something out of the game as they aimed for a consolation score. Service were determined not to allow them the satisfaction.
The determination, discipline and togetherness demonstrated by the 18 men in a Service shirt was a credit to each of them and the Club. The celebrations following a final knock on by Minchinhampton, a combination of line speed and another big defensive hit that preserved the try line and kept their opponents to nil, epitomised this performance. Some of the best rugby this club has played in years during the journey we’re on. Well done to all 18 men who turned out and thank you to our supporters there on the day who could share this fantastic victory with the squad.
FT: Minchinhampton 0-24 CCSFRC