MILTON Keynes passed the first of their two promotion credential tests with flying colours on Saturday – thrashing rivals Grove 57-18 to strengthen their grip on second place in the Southern Counties North League.
With three fixtures left to play, City know for the first time this season that maximum points in those remaining games will be good enough to see them finish as runners-up to champions elect Beaconsfield, booking them a place in the promotion play-off against their Southern Counties South counterparts.
City aren’t there yet though, and will need another quality performance when they visit nearest challengers Windsor next Saturday to avoid losing their advantage. They then finish the regular season with back-to-back home games, with Wootton Bassett and Alchester visiting Emerson Valley where City have lost only once this season – 31-5 to Windsor in December.
But City are a different side now – indeed that defeat sparked an eight-match winning run for the team, culminating in Saturday’s demolition of a Grove side they also lost to before the turn of the year.
The game took a while to get going – not least because of a lengthy delay following an injury to one of the visiting players that saw him leave in an ambulance and both teams return to the changing rooms.
But when the game restarted it wasn’t long before the City forwards showed their dominance as they worked their way up the pitch in what was a quintessential display of scrummaging, followed by a fast backs move culminating in a breakaway move from Rob Lasbrey to go over for the first try of the day, converted by Phil Powell.
Grove responded well with a strong period of pressure, but the tackling from the hosts’ backs was probably their best of the season as City somehow managed to first survive, and then break down the other end of the pitch to score again – Rob Matthews going over in the corner, with Powell’s conversion attempt missing in the wind.
Grove’s pressure was soon rewarded with a penalty, but with the City pack again showing their dominance in the ruck, the hosts were soon in for their third try as Lasbrey released Scott Aspinall to go over near the posts, and Powell easily converted.
Things would become a bit tougher for City when Dan Rolfe was involved in an altercation and was sent for a 10 minutes rest in the sin bin – allowing Grove to take advantage with their first try of the day in the corner which went unconverted.
With Rolfe back for the start of the second half, City increased their intensity further as good work from Kieran McConnell, Stuart Tomkinson and Lasbrey set Rolfe through to score, converted by Powell to make it 26-8.
Further scores from Myles Donnelly and Aspinal – with one Powell conversion – soon followed, before Grove got some reward for their efforts with another unconverted try.
However, by now the game was up for the visitors and City finished strongly with two further converted tries – Rolfe and Darren Brodrick going over before Grove hit back with a third try.
But fittingly City would have the final say, with Aspinall forcing his way over for another score to complete a memorable win at just the right time.
Windsor fulfil their game in hand before City make the trip to Berkshire next Saturday, meaning they could go back above City into second before their crunch meeting. But the advantage is still with City – win their three games and second place is theirs.
Bletchley have met the top three teams in the South West 1 East league in consecutive weeks, but after defeats to Maidenhead and Salisbury, they produced a superb display to topple Coney Hill 26-0 at Manor Fields.
After a lively start to the game without score, proceedings were brought to a halt when a Coney Hill player suffered a serious head injury and play was suspended for 25 minutes.
And the visitors struggled after that, with Dagen Probert giving Bletchley the lead and Phil Harman converting, before a second try quickly followed from Adam Griffiths.
Will Garrett touched down to extend their lead early in the second half – converted by Harman – and the Bletchley fly-half put the icing on the cake by scoring and converting his own try to cap a superb performance.
That victory keeps Bletchley ninth in the South West 1 East league while Olney – long cut adrift at the foot of the table – lost 24-14 to Reading in their last outing.