Bletchley kicked off their new South West 1 East league campaign against Bracknell at Manor Fields at the weekend.
Bracknell were relegated from National 3 last season and this fixture was always going to be a tough one for Bletchley, but it would also be an indicator to see how well pre-season had gone.
On a warm sunny afternoon, Bracknell got the game underway and played through several phases before Bletchley were awarded an early penalty which was kicked to touch. The resulting lineout was judged to be not straight and Bracknell had the first scrum of the game. Bletchley defended well from the set piece; Simon Pitfield making a double tackle to make life difficult early on for the visitors. The first few minutes saw possession switch for both sides as they tried to find some rhythm to the game. Bletchley stole a Bracknell lineout and worked their way into the Bracknell 22. With the visitors under pressure the open play led to a penalty in front of the posts. Phil Harman kicked the three points on offer and Bletchley were 3 – 0 up after six minutes of play.
Dave Coleman collected the restart and Bletchley had a good spell of possession before the ball was chipped ahead. Bracknell made the most of their own possession, moving the ball wide quickly and making Bletchley work hard to cover the ground in defence.
Defensive pressure caused a Bracknell knock on, but Bletchley were unable to gain any possession from the set piece as Bracknell piled on the pressure and turned the scrum.
However, they were unable to gain any territory and Bletchley turned over the ball and broke clear with a good run from winger, Paul Sherriff.
Bletchley were awarded a penalty as a result of their tenacity and from open play Adam Griffiths and Steve Allan showed good strength to keep the ball moving.
A chip ahead was chased down by Will Garrett, but unfortunately the ball bounced into touch. However, the Bracknell lineout was stolen by Bletchley 5m from the try line. Bletchley secured the ball through four phases of play, edging closer to the try line, but Bracknell’s defence held firm before they conceded a scrum through a knock on.
Unfortunately Bletchley were not able to deal with the strength of the Bracknell pack and possession was lost.
Despite Bletchley having the lion’s share of possession, they were not able to make any territorial gain and when a penalty kick to touch was fielded well by Bracknell they punished the home side with their own gain in territory. Bracknell centre Tom Saunders found a gap in the middle of the pitch where Bletchley had previously defended well and exploited it well, scoring by the posts in the 23rd minute of the game. The kick was converted to put the visitors into a 3 – 7 lead.
Bletchley had an early opportunity to reduce the deficit when they were awarded a penalty at the restart, but the kick went wide. Bracknell collected the ball and worked it to the edge of the 22 before kicking to touch, making good territory. Bletchley were awarded a penalty at the ruck formed from the lineout and the kick to touch made halfway.
A crooked lineout gave the ball back to Bracknell, but at the scrum it was Bletchley’s turn to apply the pressure and they forced the scrum around to get their own put in. Bletchley secured good ball and slick passing between the backs allowed Bletchley to move back into Bracknell’s half. Unfortunately a pass to centre Allan was forward bringing the move to a halt, but Bletchley’s intentions were clear.
The home side enjoyed a good spell of possession before half time, with several penalties being awarded to them. Bletchley came close with a rolling maul set up from a lineout 5m out, but unfortunately a knock on brought the move to an end.
With 5 minutes remaining of the half, Phil Harman added three points more to Bletchley’s tally with a penalty kick, reducing the defecit to one point at 6-7.
Bracknell retained the ball after the restart when Bletchley knocked on. Despite retaining the ball they were unable to add to their first half try and the scoreline at half time remained 6 – 7.
But it only took eight minutes of the second half before Bracknell did increase their lead through a try by fly half Dan Antonelli. Bletchley were caught offside at a ruck and Bracknell showed skill by moving the ball through 12 phases. The forwards keeping the ball well before the scrum half released the backs and Bletchley were caught in defence, letting Antonelli through to score. The conversion was missed with the score at 6-12.
After the restart, both sides swapped possession, but neither gaining any significant territory with it. Bracknell made a break with good hands, but in making a tackle Phil Harman took a knock to the head and was replaced by Jamie Parker. This was Parker’s return to rugby following a serious injury last season and he was keen to make an impact.
Errors from both sides made the game ragged for several periods of the second half and neither side looked like scoring, but both were trying hard to get on the score sheet. Matt Nobes stole a Bracknell lineout, following a penalty kick to touch. From the resulting possession, George Harman kicked a high ball towards to touch and Bracknell were forced to run the ball out.
An excellent Bletchley lineout followed and with the pack showing strength at the ruck, Bracknell conceded a penalty. Unfortunately the kick did not find the posts and Bracknell held onto to their six point lead.
Bracknell were forced to concede another penalty a few minutes later as Bletchley worked hard at the breakdown. The kick was closer to the posts and George Harman made no mistake to slot the ball over taking the score to 9 – 12 after 29 minutes of second half play.
Pitfield collected the restart, but Bracknell pressure forced Bletchley to kick directly to touch outside their own 22. Bracknell worked their way into Bletchley’s 22, but they knocked on and the pressure was off the Bletchley defence for a few minutes. Bletchley were awarded a penalty at the resulting scrum and this set Bletchley up with territory and possession for the last few minutes of the game. Adam Dempsey and Kevin Turnbull worked well to push Bletchley towards the Bracknell 22. Turnbull’s box kick making good yardage.
A good move by the Bletchley’s backs saw several players from both sides left needing treatment at the end of the phases of play. Allen left the pitch with concussion and Bracknell’s centre Chris Brember needed support after mis-timing a tackle on George Harman. Sherriff was deemed held up over the try line at the end of all the mayhem, despite the vocal support from the Bletchley supporters who were convinced the home side had snatched a lead.
Bracknell turned the 5m scrum, but Bletchley were awarded a penalty soon after in injury time. The kick sailed agonisingly close to the posts and the three points needed for a draw went begging.
Seconds later the referee brought the game to a close and Bletchley finished the match 9 -12 down.
The home side were close, but sadly not quite close enough. Bletchley did secure a losing bonus point, but this will be little consolation for the Manor Field’s side who worked hard and probably felt they had the measure of the former National 2 side. Next up for Bletchley is a trip to Reading.
Team: Phil Harman, Paul Sherriff, Adam Griffiths, Steve Allen, Will Garrett, George Harman, Kev Turnbull, Tom Hannell, Chris Cousell, Josh Sprules, Dave Coleman, John Kirwan, Matt Nobes, Simon Pitfield, Adam Dempsey, Chris Martin, Ian Cope, Jamie Parker.
Referee – Paul Rogers (East Midlands)