Bletchley tightened their grip on top spot with a 40-28 victory over Reading Abbey at Manor Fields on Saturday.
With Aylesbury hot on their heels, the home side knew a slip up could mean that they would relinquish their two point lead, despite having two games in hand over their nearest rivals. For Reading Abbey a victory was essential if they were to avoid a relegation dog fight nearer the end of the season.
Reading Abbey defied their position in the league with an opening 20 minutes of play that begged the question why they were struggling to maintain Southern Counties North league status.
Bletchley found it difficult to get into the game and hold onto to any worthwhile possession. With only three minutes played, Abbey’s flyhalf converted a penalty kick from 40m out to take his side into an early lead.
The referee awarded Abbey another penalty from an identical position six minutes later and again the visitor’s flyhalf converted to take the points.
In the 14th minute, Abbey extended their lead to nine unanswered points with a third penalty kick. This was not a position that the home supporters expected their side to be in and Abbey certainly looked the better side, exploiting both territory and possession.
The shock of finding themselves behind galvanised the home side and slowly, but surely, Bletchley worked their way back into the game. Jack Lawrence and Will Garrett linked well and Adam Wilkinson came close to scoring, but Abbey defended well, although conceded the penalty in doing so.
A penalty move by Bletchley was dealt with by the visitors, although a shoulder charge that put a Bletchley on the ground was not seen by the Official and Abbey cleared their 22 with a good kick.
It took 25 minutes before Bletchley got their first score of the afternoon and it came thorough persistent work at the breakdown by the forwards who forced a valuable turnover. Wilkinson made a good break before offloading to Garrett to score in the right hand corner of the pitch. The conversion went wide, but finally the home side were on the scoreboard, albeit 5-9 down.
The restart was fielded well by Bletchley and Gavin Whitehead broke down the left touchline before passing to Garrett. Unfortunately, Garrett just made contact with the touchline and a promising move came to nothing. However, a few minutes later and Bletchley scored their second try of the game as Reggie Njovana picked up a loose ball with no considerable skill for a big man and set Steve Allen on his way, breaking a few tackles on the way. Simon Pitfield running in support also made hard yards before setting the ball up nicely at a ruck.
A couple of phases later and scrum half Kev Turnbull made a telling break from the back of a maul before offloading to Stu Van Royen who in turn found Paul Mellon in support to score out wide in the left corner of the pitch. Despite the conversion going wide, Bletchley were finally in the lead 10-9.
Bletchley were finally playing some decent rugby and having taken the lead, were determined to extend it. The backs and forwards combined well, tiring Abbey as the ball was moved quickly through the phases and gaps opened up for Bletchley to exploit. As the home side came close, they conceded a scrum in Abbey’s 22 for accidental offside; a decision that could quite easily have been a penalty for Abbey.
Bletchley were able to add their third try of the afternoon shortly before the half time whistle. A cross field kick by Mellon was chased hard by Lawrence, forcing the Abbey full back to kick the ball into touch in his own 22. From the resulting lineout, Bletchley moved the ball through the hands and with Njovana securing loose ball, Bletchley maintained the momentum and allowed Pitfield to score to open the gap to 15-9 at the break.
Bletchley carried on from where they finished the first half with a try in the first minute of the second half. Garrett added his second of the afternoon and Bletchley’s bonus point try with a score following a long pass out wide.
With the score now 20-9, Pitfield secured the restart well and Bletchley set up an excellent rolling maul, taking themselves into Abbey’s half of the pitch before securing a penalty to move into Abbey’s 22. The home side could not use the possession effectively and conceded a penalty allowing Abbey to relieve the pressure.
Bletchley soon worked their way back into Abbey’s 22 with a clever box kick from Turnbull that was once again chased hard by Lawrence and Pitfield. Pitfield caught the ball well and offloaded to Lawrence who almost reached the line to score, but a good tackle by Abbey’s covering defence denied the youngster his first try for the team. Lawrence did have the forethought to offload to Pitfield who maintained his running support and he made no mistake scoring his second and Bletchley’s fifth try of the afternoon, taking the score to 25-9.
If anybody thought that Abbey were down and out after conceding 25 unanswered points they were mistaken and Abbey came back with a well worked try of their own in the 14th minute, following an excellent break by their centre, reducing the gap to 11 points.
The final quarter of the match saw five tries scored in total, the antithesis of the first quarter. Whitehead scored two tries in two minutes - the first following good play by the forwards and quick passing through the hands of the backs; the second following an interception to run in and score from 50m. Neither try was converted, but Bletchley led 35-14.
Pitfield added to the try tally with his hat-trick in the 69th minute after breaking through three tackles to score following a ruck in Abbey’s 22 to make it 40-14.
Abbey were next on the score sheet with a well worked try of their own. Once again their inside centre was able to make the most of a dogleg in the middle of the pitch and made a good break. Abbey were able to get the ball through the hands of their supporting runners to score under the posts for 40-21.
There was a sense of urgency about Abbey’s play as they realised that another couple of tries would secure them a try bonus point. They ran hard at Bletchley and made them defend.
A couple of penalty kicks to touch took them into Bletchley’s 22 and from a driving maul, the visitors were able to cross the whitewash and get their third try of the game. The conversion took them close within 12 points of Bletchley with five minutes left to play.
Bletchley sensed the need to keep possession from the restart and almost managed to score their ninth try of the match, but the chance went begging and as Abbey cleared the ball out of their 22, they almost ran in a vital try of their own.
It was only a bone crunching tackle by Matt Nobes that denied the visitors the opportunity. That try would have given Abbey two important league points and it was something they deserved for their tenacity and contribution to a good game of rugby. As it was they left Manor Fields with nothing to show for their efforts.
Bletchley secured maximum league points to maintain a two point lead over Aylesbury with two games in hand and next week travel to Alchester who beat Stow on the Wold 13–9 to move closer to safety in this competitive league.