Milton Keynes picked up their first win of the season as they beat Gosford All Blacks 34-29.
Under normal circumstances this would have been a grudge match with both teams having gained promotion last season with MK winning two out of the three games, including the Bucks Shield final, but Gosford arguably winning the one that counted to secure the league title
After MK's humbling by Buckingham a fortnight ago and given that both teams were without a win from their first two games this was about more than pride.
MK were without nine regular first team players and handed first team league debuts to Jack Skinner on the wing and Owen Ledger on the bench. It was also a chance for Clubman of the Year Robert Stables to join the squad.
MK made their intentions clear from the start with a good take from the kick off going straight to Brian Purcell who kicked down field for territory so the MK pack could put some pressure on the opposition . The MK forwards were dominant from the off showing the kind of control they had only shown in glimpses in their first two games, and were rewarded with a penalty eight minutes in which was struck over by Brian Purcell.
The forwards continued to dominate from the re-start. They were rewarded on the 24 minute when a strong line out ball allowed Freddie Tomlin starting at 10 for the missing Nathan Thomas to spread the ball wide and some slick hands to Tim Parkinson on the left wing 30 yards out. With a bit of work to do the Deaf Wales international cut inside his winger before stepping round the advancing fullback to score. Purcell slotted the extras to move City 10-0 up.
MK were straight back in the Gosford 22 from a deep re-start and some strong defensive work from Henry Cross and Harry Bissett, back in at hooker after missing the first 2 of the season through injury. Gosford were forced to defend their line from a scrum 15 yards from their own try line.
The dominant MK pack buoyed by the return of veteran prop Richard Hill drove them off the ball and allowed Dave Brown to pick from 8 and feed Rob Lasbrey who launched a quick counter attack. A basketball style pass from Niall McKenzie allowed say Parkinson to gather well and run into the corner for his second of the day for 15-0.
MK were warned in the run up to half time though when talented Gosford fly half Harry Sutton attacked the MK line at pace before throwing a miss pass to Jack Briggs who burst through the heart of the MK defence and fed centre Will Watts to score their first points of the game. They failed to take the conversion which meant the half time score was 15-5.
The second half started with much of the same MK trying to use their bigger stronger forwards and not allow Gosfords powerful back three too much time and space with the ball. Big carries from Captain Ben Fisher and Bissett meant MK were back on the attack, and were granted a penalty, 40 yards out 10 in from the touch line. Purcell struck it well and it bounced of the upright only to be gathered by Niall McKenzie who ran it in for an easy score, as Purcell kicked the converstion for 22-5.
With the game slipping away Gosford seemed to grow with Sutton seeing more of the ball and allowing their backs to get more and more into the game. MK were under pressure defending their own line Purcell with not enough space to clear tried to carry the ball to safety only to be held up and have it ripped off him by Gosford skipper Dan Bullimore for an easy Gosford try. The conversion was added followed by a penalty just minutes later to make it 22-15 with 15 to go and set up a nail biting finish.
Gosford had exerted some pressure and to play in the right areas was the message in the field. Just inside the Gosford half another display of good hands meant Parkinson was one on one with his winger and stormed into the corner for his hat-trick. Ensuring that whatever the final result, the jug of beer was on him. Conversion Missed. 27-15.
Gosford answered back with their own try almost immediately with Jack Briggs. Converted 27-22
MK continued to kick for the corner trying to ensure that Gosford were forced to attack from deep if they got the ball. MK using their bigger pack to barrel forward at every chance. A switch of the play from Rob Lasbrey saw Richard Hill on the blindside and with three players in front of him and it was route one all the way as he trundled it over to score. Expertly converted by Purcell, City moved into a 34-22 lead.
Still with five minutes to go, Gosford were not done trying to get it wide and attack at every opportunity. This time it was powerful fullback Ben Bodinham who burst through and scored under the posts to move within five points.
The biggest cheers of the day came when veteran Stables came on the field for injured Niall McKenzie with minutes to go. Having run most of the back line ragged Bodinham was still trying to find space for the winner only to have the door slammed shut by Stables the wise old owl, a vital contribution as Gosford tried to nick all the points. They had to settle for two though and despite dominating up front for most of the game it could have gone either way in the end.
MK move up the table to ninth, taking on High Wycombe next Saturday.