Rugby round-up: Bletchley beaten as City start with a win

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AFTER their heroic win at High Wycombe on the opening day of the new South West 1 East season, Bletchley came crashing back down to earth with a 35-19 home defeat to newly promoted Swindon on Saturday.

Bletchley saw off their Wycombe rivals for the first time in 27 years when they ran out 35-20 winners last weekend, but Swindon put an end to their dream start to the season by convincingly winning at Manor Fields.

The game began well for the hosts though as their early pressure was rewarded with a penalty converted by Phil Harman. However, the visitors soon hit back with a penalty kick in front of the posts after Bletchley had been caught offside.

The strong winds were playing a part, with Swindon missing the chance to take the lead for the first time when a penalty attempt saw the ball pulled wide of the posts. They quickly made up for that miss though by converting from their next effort to lead 6-3.

Bletchley went close to scoring the first try of the afternoon when the ball was secured at a lineout and Matt Nobes chased down a kick towards the line, however he was blocked off and the hosts had to settle for a penalty again converted by Harman on the half hour.

Bletchley centre George Harman and lock John Kirwan were both making good inroads into the visitors’ territory, but Swindon were strong with the ball and only some desperate defending from the hosts kept them at bay.

They didn’t have to wait long for their first try though as two missed tackles let Swindon in and this time they made no mistake to race over and secure an 11-6 lead.

But it was in the second half that the game really exploded into life – mainly because of unforced errors from both sides. And it was Swindon who made the most of their chances early in the second as the visitors’ winger ran over 50 yards to score their second try, this time converted.

That provided a wake-up call for Bletchley as they finally managed to put together some good phases of play. Their scrum was firmer and possession for scrum half Kevin Turnbull more controlled. Swindon were under serious pressure for the first time and Bletchley made the breakthrough 17 minutes into the second period when the hosts secured the ball from a scrum and centre Simon Pitfield was released to score near the posts. Phil Harman kicked the extras and the gap was cut to 18-13.

And the arrears were reduced further 10 minutes later with an excellent penalty kick from Phil Harman inside his own half – that after the hosts had been reduced to 14 men following a yellow card.

As Bletchley applied further pressure, the visitors lost their shape and conceded several penalties. That saw Bletchley gain territory and possession, and another long range effort from Phil Harman saw them go back ahead at 19-18 with only six minutes to play.

However, Swindon were clearly not going to be content with a losing bonus point and secured the ball at the restart and took the game back into the Bletchley half. And their tenacity was rewarded with a penalty which was scored to move them back ahead with only three minutes remaining.

Suddenly Swindon had the bit between their teeth and played with renewed energy for the closing stages. And with possession secured at the restart, the Swindon winger ran 60 yards down the line – evading poor attempted tackles from Bletchley – before passing inside for a third try to be scored.

The successful conversion made it 28-19, but Bletchley were left furious that a forward pass had been made – missed by the referee but not the home supporters. With the home team all over the place Swindon managed to extend their margin of victory in added time to score another converted try to further rub salt into the Bletchley wounds.

Happy with the positives from the game, Bletchley travel to Witney this Saturday with the confidence to maintain their good away form after the win at Wycombe. But they face a tough test against a side sitting joint top of the table with two wins from two. Swindon’s win also saw them make it two in two, but it’s Coney Hill who lead the way with a superior points difference at the early stage.

At the other end of the table it’s Olney who sit rock bottom after two defeats from their opening two games. They were on the end of a thrashing by Witney on the opening day and things didn’t get much better for them away at Marlow, losing out 34-0.

Milton Keynes enjoyed the perfect start to the new Southern Counties North season on Saturday as they won 27-16 at promoted side Alchester.

The league’s new boys may have won all of their matches last season, but they came up short against a City team high in confidence going into a season when promotion is their target.

The hosts were made up of what used to be Bicester Colts who after a falling out with that club all moved to Alchester to form the team they are now, with a side comprising of young, fit and fast players.

The game was played on quite an uneven pitch, which played a small part in the game with a few injuries picked up by the visiting players. The match started with MK proving their strength in the pack, winning all their set pieces and driving Alchester back every time, but not always with reward.

The first try came from Kieran McConnell, with Wayne Kelly kicking the conversion for City. They weren’t having it all their own way though as the visitors were reduced down to 14 men thanks to a yellow card for what the referee said was a high tackle, and Alchester quickly took advantage to convert a penalty.

More bad news was to follow for City with Dave Matthews suffering an ankle injury and having to be replaced by Neil Haynes. It was then Alchester’s turn to score as they raced home a converted try after a couple of poor tackles from the visitors.

The game became really scrappy after that and the hosts extended their advantage on 35 minutes with another converted penalty with City again reduced to 14. That saw Alchester lead 13-7 but it was as good as it would get for the hosts as City hit back in style. Two kicked penalties before the break by Phil Powell and Kelly saw the scores tied going into half time and it was all MK after the break.

The full strength of the City pack was too much for Alchester and a strong move saw Ash Hill score, converted by Kelly. The tables had now turned but there was to be one final scare for City as they were again reduced to 14 men and the home side converted another penalty to claw them back to within touching distance at 16-20.

That was the end of their scoring though as City made a couple of changes and took control – Neil Forton replacing Hill and Kieran McConnell moving over to prop, with Simon Kockelburgh replacing Dan Edwards in the second row. And the change worked a treat with Kockelburgh running all the way from the Alchester 10 yard line to score under the posts – the conversion from Kelly taking the score to 27-16.

That wasn’t quite the end of it though as City were awarded a final penalty and much to the consternation of the supporters, Phil Powell elected to kick for goal rather than the corner to push for a bonus point. The ball hit the post and the following play saw Alchester recover the ball and very nearly score at the other end of the pitch, although after the ball went loose it was recovered by Dan Walker and was kicked into touch to end the game.

Next up for City is their first home game of the new season with Marlborough the visitors to Emerson Valley after their heavy defeat to Wootton Bassett on the opening day.

City coach Sam Viggers said he was happy with the result against Alchester, but not too pleased about the performance.

“Against better teams we would have had big problems,” he said. “One of the negatives of the game was the one-on-one tackles that we missed – but it was the first game of the season and away from home so I guess we should be pleased just to start with a win.

“We didn’t stick to our game plan that we had worked on in training – especially in the first half – and they managed to get amongst us to cause problems. But in the second half we knuckled down and scored a good try, so there were positives to come out of it.”

After declaring that promotion this season is a must, Viggers believes City’s main rivals for the title will be Aylesbury and Grove.

“We’ll be one of the best three sides in the league,” he said. “There are a couple of other teams you can’t rule out, but we would like to think that other clubs are looking at us as one of the sides to fear.”