Pertemps Bees 27 Newbury Blues 33
How Pertemps Bees must dread playing Newbury. This quite bizarre match was the third time they have played the Blues in the last 12 months and on each occasion they have found a way to turn a decent win into something considerably less handsome.
The corresponding fixture last year saw Bees draw 22-22, having wasted a dozen-point lead and leaked the crucial try with the last action of the game.
Five months later, Bees actually won in the penultimate fixture of the campaign only for the Rugby Football Union to overturn the result because the victors had fielded a gaggle of unregistered players.
Yet even by Bees’ brilliantly creative standards the events that unfolded on Saturday amounted to biscuit-taking on a scale sufficient to persuade Messrs McVitie and Jacobs to order a wholesale review of security. The men from Sharmans Cross really have distilled foot-shooting into a fine art.
Not only did they waste a 27-6 lead, concede two tries in injury time and play an entire second half without troubling their visitors’ line once, they did so despite near-total dominance in the scrum and lineout.
By the time Bees had opened up their yawning advantage — through Reece Spee’s 70-metre scamper a minute before the break — Newbury’s supply of possession had slowed to a trickle. Their lineout had been rendered useless and more than once they had been pushed off their own put-in.
Yet their ability to exist on scraps would have impressed even the most resourceful stray and for the second week running it was the mercurial Tim Walsh who massaged openings and conducted attacks from deep.
The former Bee has been liberated by Newbury’s chaotic approach to the game where a broken field is the desired state of affairs and where the ball is kept alive at all costs.
If the hosts had been as clinical with their possession as Newbury had been with theirs they might have racked up the proverbial cricket score.
Instead after a hatful of wrong options, a lack of care at the ruck and enough knock-ons to make the eyes water, Bees were left holding on at 27-19 with the match entering added time.
Even though they had offered little in the second period, Steve Williams’ men did not look too inconvenienced as Newbury probed for an opening.
But when Walsh, positioned just outside the Bees 22, released a delightfully-weighted kick to the wing there was no one in sight to disrupt Ken Bingham’s pursuit.
The ball landed in goal and the substitute wing flung himself to ground just ahead of full-back Dave Knight. Incredibly Walsh landed a touchline conversion and the deficit was down to a point.
No matter, there was still time for Bees to create a final opportunity to not only make the game safe but to secure a try bonus in the process.
Four minutes after the 80, Rod Petty won a penalty just outside the Newbury 22, when a visiting defender failed to roll away.
But instead of punting to touch and not only giving themselves a relatively straight forward lineout — remember Newbury had been routed in this area — but also eating vital minutes, Bees elected to go for the posts and the comfort blanket of a four-point lead.
Unfortunately Petty’s attempt drifted wide and the chance was wasted. He followed that up with a kick for position that sailed out on the full.
Newbury counterattacked from their own territory, Mal Roberts scooted round the outside, chipped over the top, hacked on and won a 50-metre race with Knight to get the important touch. Walsh’s conversion made it 33-27. Game, set and match and the little Australian saluted the crowd.
But how Bees fumed. While some spectators directed their anger at the officials — referee Bruce Robertson and his touch judges were shamefully harangued as they left the pitch — the coaches and players knew they were the ones to blame.
Mr Robertson did not have the finest afternoon and the penalty and free kick count went wildly against the home team, particularly in the second half, but it was not he who missed the sticks and the sideline and not he who dropped so many passes.
Yet it seems incredible to say but this narrow defeat could have been considerably worse but for a couple of spurned golden opportunities and two quite remarkable try-saving tackles.
The first came in the first period when Dan Smaje intercepted Jon Higgins’ loose pass, only to be caught 20 metres out by Matt Nuthall.
The second occurred seven minutes from the end when Walsh and Ali James carved open the Bees centres to such an extent that when the fly half passed to Isoa Damudamu everyone but Knight supposed a try would result.
Instead Knight flew across and cut the Fijian off at the ankles. It was a quite remarkable piece of defending.
At that stage it looked as though two penalties from Higgins and converted tries from Jon Goodridge, Nuthall and Spee — set against six points from Walsh — were enough to give the Solihull side their fourth win of the season. Incredibly it was not.