BLETCHLEY guaranteed their South West 1 East league place for next season by beating High Wycombe on Saturday – a victory that epitomised what has been a record breaking season.
Their 34-28 win at Manor Fields saw them finish 10th in the table and six points clear of the relegation zone. A defeat could have seen them go down if other results had also gone against them.
But in the end the team produced the sort of fantastic performance that has seen them earn plenty of plaudits this season, as well as set a few old records straight.
Saturday’s victory over Wycombe made it a league double against their county rivals, but their earlier away win in south Bucks – on the opening day of the season – was actually the first time Bletchley had beaten them in some 27 years.
If that wasn’t enough, Bletchley also picked up their first ever wins over both Maidenhead, who then went on to win the league title, and Cheltenham, who they thumped 26-18 away from home in their penultimate game of the season last weekend.
The men from Manor Fields also recorded their first victory against Marlow for 25 years when they left Bletchley with a 25-0 defeat in January.
There was also a league double over local rivals Olney – who have been relegated after finishing bottom of the table – but Bletchley saved two of their best performances for the games against a once mighty High Wycombe side that they historically struggle against.
Sponsors, ex-players, vice presidents and supporters enjoyed an excellent lunch before the game and they joined a crowd of over 300 to create an incredible atmosphere at Manor Fields on Saturday.
The noisy home support gave Bletchley a massive boost, but it was the visitors who got the first points on the board with a penalty on two minutes while Mark Sharp was off with a head injury.
Bletchley responded with their forwards matching the physicality of the visitors with John Kirwan and Dagan Probert prominent in the loose and driving into Wycombe’s 22. Phil Harman made further ground before passing the ball to brother George to take advantage of an opening to charge through, with Adam Griffiths in support.
With an outrageous dummy, he cruised to the line for Bletchley’s first score of the day, and Phil Harman converted to give the hosts a 7-3 lead.
Wycombe were strong in the scrum, but Bletchley were dominating the lineout, and their forwards were rewarded when a maul was pulled down and the referee clearly lost patience, yellow carding a Wycombe player.
Bletchley took full advantage and from an unstoppable rolling maul they powered over the Wycombe line for Tom Hannell to touch down and extend their lead. But that wasn’t the end of the first half scoring as Wycombe hit back with two penalties to cut the deficit to 12-9 at the break.
The second half was compelling stuff, with the lead changing hands on four occasions as the two sides produced a fantastic spectacle to finish the season, even though Wycombe had only pride left to play for as their eighth place finish was already secure.
Phil Harman’s superb in hand kicking was to be crucial in Bletchley running home four further tries, to the visitors’ three. The hosts’ first came from Matt Nobes who turned and spun through three Wycombe defenders and scored after Ben Robinson’s tap penalty.
Wycombe responded well with a try inside three minutes to reduce the lead to 17-14 and shortly afterwards they took the lead with a converted try.
But Bletchley replied when Simon Pitfield showed class to evade Wycombe’s defenders and scored to earn his side a bonus point, putting them back in front at 22-21.
Wycombe responded with their final score to re-take the lead with another seven points as Bletchley went into the last quarter of the match trailing 28-22. However, five amazing minutes later Bletchley were back in front.
Phil Harman chipped the ball forward for Tim Stobbs to chase, and with the visitors tiring he was able to collect and touch down, before George Harman took over the kicking and added the extras to put Bletchley into a one-point lead.
Bletchley then managed to steal another Wycombe lineout a couple of minutes later, and with the ball moved swiftly through the hands, Dave Coleman was able to find and make use of a narrow gap to score the home side’s sixth try of the afternoon.
Regardless of results elsewhere, Bletchley had done enough to confirm their spot in the South West 1 East league for a sixth season, much to the delight of coach Pete Garrett.
He said: “It’s been a fantastic season and to finish it by completing the double against Wycombe was tremendous.
“We’re now the only team in the local area playing at Level 6, but we don’t want to stop there. We believe we can build on this and maybe challenge for promotion next year.”