Berkshire Shield Final
Saturday 30th April
Thatcham 41 Hungerford 21
The result of Berkshire’s junior club competition ran true to form as a competent Thatcham display proved enough to beat Hungerford for the third time this season. Both sides contributed to what was a compelling but hardly a classic contest: plenty of commitment, but a few too many end of season slip ups.
Hungerford started with a charge that took them to the Thatcham goal line, but the home side’s defence proved solid and the danger was cleared. From that point it was Thatcham that piled on the pressure with repeated 5 metre re-starts until Ash Taylor on the right wing finally went over for the first of his three tries for the afternoon. Taylor was soon on the scoresheet again to give a ten point lead. But the margin was shortlived as Thatcham put up a poor high ball from mid way in their half – the troublesome breeze denied it any forward progress and a good bounce ensured Hungerford’s first points under the posts: 10 – 7. Autodata man of the match, Matt Billinghurst’s strong running at inside centre was rewarded with a try to restore some advantage to the home side, and as the half came to a close Mark Smith found the gap to touch down under the posts and Billinghurst was able to supply the extra two points to take a 22 – 7 lead into the interval.
With the breeze at their backs Thatcham looked to be about to run away with the game as Billinghurst, then Allen both came close to extending the lead, but the Hungerford defence stayed firm. Thatcham brought on some fresh legs, but it was the Evans, Billinghurst , Taylor combination that brought the next score. Taylor still had some distance to cover but outpaced his pursuers to ground under the posts. Hungerford weren’t finished, however, and a great solo effort that carved through the home defence produced another seven points to make it 29 - 14. But the bulk of the traffic was in the other direction and further tries from Nick Rance and Mark Smith took Thatcham to 41 points. Hungerford still weren’t finished, though, and were rewarded with a consolation score at the death as a fine forwards ruck and maul took them over the line to provide a fitting reminder of their contribution to the afternoon’s entertainment.
1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. S Oakham (65, D Cameron); 4. M Smith; 5. M Grogan; 6. J Renshaw (50, B Broughton); 7. J Thorogood (55, R Downing); 8. T Allen; 9. L Evans (70, O Hampson); 10. D Tingle;11. A Hunter (50, D Goater); 12. M Billinghurst; 13. D Hudson; 14. A Taylor; 15. T Littlechild (50, N Rance).
Tries: Taylor (3); Billinghurst; Smith (2); Rance;
Conversions: Billinghurst (3)
Berks, Bucks & Oxon Premier
Saturday 16th April
Thatcham 22 Drifters 29
Thatcham ended their league campaign with a below par performance that saw them concede their unbeaten home record at the final hurdle. In spite of winning the try count by four to three, Thatcham failed to impose themselves on this game and it was Drifters for whom the result seemed most important. But despite all that, Thatcham, have had a tremendous year and can look forward with real anticipation to next season when they will expect to be among the front runners. And Thatcham still have the Berkshire Vase competition to look forward to as the season comes to an end this month. Thatcham’s Autodata man of the match was awarded to loose head, Matt Langdon.
At Henwick, Drifters started like a bullet and raced into a 16 – 0 lead with two penalties and two unconverted tries that rocked Thatcham on their heels for the first twenty minutes. Both Drifters tries came from avoidable Thatcham errors in their own 22, but forced errors brought about by concerted Drifters pressure. It was well into the third quarter before Thatcham began to find their stride, but came up against a resolute visitors’ defence. Thatcham were too often late or unsupported at the breakdown and were repeatedly turned over or forced to concede the penalty. In the end it was down to two examples of individual flair that broke Thatcham’s duck, with two tries in quick succession. Tom Allen made the break first and put Matt Billinghurst away to offload to skipper, Mike Grogan, at lock, to touch down. Then Martin Reeve, who’s had such a big impact this season, at hooker, took a great catch on his 22 and made the initial break for Tom Allen again to feed to Billinghurst to punch through the gap and score, this time converted. At 12 – 16 there was hardly enough time for the re-start, but from the kick off Drifters won a scrum on the Thatcham 22 and carved through the home back line rather too easily for a seven pointer under the posts.
The Drifters goal kicker was on song, but the penalty awarded straight from the start of the second period was no challenge and Thatcham found themselves 26 - 12 down. With five minutes gone Thatcham brought Luke Evans on at scrum half and he made an immediate impact. Throughout the season Damian Hudson has been played out of position at scrum half and done a tremendous job, but having Evans back for only the second time this year showed the importance of giving just a bit more pace on the ball and an extra couple of metres to the back line: within ten minutes Thatcham were back in the game with two tries. The first from Rob Horne who was put away by Matt Billinghurst, and the second from a great combination between Horne and Andrew Mitchell. Both conversions were missed, but Thatcham were within sniffing distance at 22 – 26. Into the last quarter and the Drifters kicker landed a precocious penalty from the halfway to rub salt in the wound. As the clock ran down, Mark Smith launched a final attack and looked through for the dream finish, but it wasn’t to be as he was pulled down 10 metres short and only defenders in sight to make the clearance before the final whistle.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. D Chambers (70, D Robson); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7. J Evans; 8. T Allen; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle; 11. R Horne; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell; 14. A Hunter; 15. A Taylor (45, L Evans).
Tries: Grogan; Billinghurst; Horne; Mitchell
Saturday 9th April
Swindon College Old Boys 22 Thatcham 28
Thatcham put enough distance between themselves andSwindon in the first half to secure the win, in spite of the home side’s resurgence in the second period. Swindon won the try count by four to three, but Thatcham would have secured the bonus point but for some wayward passing.
The visitors began at a gallop and took the game to Swindon from the start. The Thatcham pack was on song and steamrollered the opposition with some unstoppable driving mauls. Swindon were forced into conceding penalties and Autodata man of the match, Matt Billinghurst, kicked three out of four to give the early lead. Swindon were gifted seven points and allowed to peg Thatcham back, by taking advantage of a careless offload that put the home side straight through to touch down under the posts. But this was practically the only venture out of their own half in the first twenty minutes, apart from a couple of long 22 metre re-starts. Mike Grogan and Mark Smith made some penetrating runs and it was from one of these that Matt Billinghurst put Rob Horne away on the wing for the first try. Tom Matthewson, making his first start in the back row, combined well with Billinghurst and Mitchell, who posed lots of problems for the Swindon defence. As the half drew to a close Rob Horne again went clear wide on the wing and looked in for the score, but was taken out with a high tackle 2 metres short and the referee awarded a penalty try. Billinghurst slotted a simple second conversion
Things looked rosy for Thatcham with a 7 - 23 lead at half time, but Swindon made a powerful comeback with two unconverted tries to reduce the deficit to 17 – 23. Territorially the tables were turned in the second half, with Thatcham defending for long periods. Mid way through the half they forced their way into the Swindon 22 and won a penalty, kicked to touch. The Thatcham lineout had been working well all afternoon and this time from 5 metres Thatcham took it cleanly off the top and drove over for Arron Butt to touch down as a fitting reward for his afternoon’s graft. Swindon never looked likely to overhaul Thatcham’s lead, but they weren’t finished and claimed their fourth try in the final play of the game. Ash Taylor once again had a near faultless performance at full back and on the hottest day of the season the Thatcham pack could feel satisfied with a sound all round performance.
With third pace in the league secure, Thatcham look forward to their final league outing of the season at home to Drifters on 16th April.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. D Chambers; 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7 J Evans; 8. T Matthewman; 9. D Hudson (60, L Evans); 10. D Tingle;11. R Horne; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell; 14. A Hunter; 15. A Taylor.
Tries: Horne; Penalty try; Butt
Conversions: Billinghurst (2)
Penalties: Billinghurst (3)
Saturday 26th March
Thatcham 34 Stow on the Wold 5
Early indications of Thatcham’s superiority proved correct as the home side maintained their season long unbeaten home record against their opponents from Gloucestershire. With the game barely five minutes old, penetrating runs from Tom Allen and Andrew Mitchell almost broke through the final line of defence, but Stow were penalised in front of their posts to give Matt Billinghurst a simple tap over opportunity to open the scoring.
Playing at inside centre, Matt Billinghurst was in blistering form and soon put Thatcham further ahead as they worked a big overlap. The Stow line moved across in a vain attempt to provide cover, but Billinghurst turned on the pace to power through the gap and score. The conversion from a wide angle proved too much, but Thatcham continued to look the more likely to go further ahead as a good combination between outside half, Toby Littlechild, winger Simon Niven and full back Ash Taylor almost broke through with only a few metres to the line. The Thatcham scrum was working well, but it was an off day for line-outs, which had been so slick only a fortnight before at Slough . Stow certainly profited from Thatcham’s mistakes and started to look enterprising mid way through the half, running at the home defence and forcing their way to within 5 metres. But Thatcham held the line and Stow were twice repulsed before the danger was cleared. With thirty minutes gone Thatcham turned the screw tighter as Ash Taylor, who looked very sharp all afternoon, set up Rob Horne to round his wing marker and streak clear to ground under the posts. Billinghurst’s conversion gave a 15 – 0 advantage going through to half time.
The first exchanges of the second period were scrappy and resulted in both sides losing players to the sin bin, a sign of a more general lack of discipline than any great misdemeanour by the individuals concerned. But within ten minutes Thatcham tightened their grip on the game. Autodata man of the match, Arron Butt, ably assisted by his fellow back rowers were starving Stow of possession. Thatcham won a short tap penalty and Stow had no answer to the Thatcham no 8 Tom Allen as he crashed over to score, Billinghurst adding the two points. Soon after it was hooker Martin Reeve’s turn as he turned on the after burners, having been set up by another great run from Niven. With a further Billinghurst conversion, the game looked out of sight at 29 – 0, and so it proved as Rob Horne was put away for his brace to extend the lead to 34 points. The home side were disappointed to concede a late consolation to Stow , but it was a fair reward for their contribution to what had been a fast flowing and entertaining encounter.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. P Goater (55, S Oakham ); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7. J Evans; 8. T Allen (55, T Matthewman); 9. D Hudson (60, N Rance ); 10. T Littlechild; 11. S Niven ; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell; 14. R Horne; 15. A Taylor .
Tries: Billinghurst; Horne (2); Allen; Reeve;
Conversions: Billinghurst (3)
Saturday 12th March
Slough 21 Thatcham 21
In a fascinating contest between two well matched sides, Thatcham snatched a deserved draw in a dramatic finale. Slough should now claim promotion back to Southern Counties, but Thatcham will need to wait another season before they can build on a likely third place finish.
Making a good, solid start, Thatcham had the better of the early exchanges and pushed forward menacingly, only to be denied a try by an accidental offside on the goal line. The Thatcham lineout was slick and remained secure throughout, but the scrum was another story as the visitors struggled to contain the well drilled Slough pack. But Thatcham held their own in the loose with some towering performances from the back row of Butt, Evans and, Ball, this game being Bally’s last before a tour of Afghanistan .
Slough were first to get points on the board after 13 minutes: winning their own scrum wide on the Thatcham 10 metre line, the no 9 put away his winger on the blind side, who showed good pace to touch down in the corner. Thatcham were soon back in contention and winger Simon Niven looked clear but was caught and bundled into touch 15 metres short. On the half hour, Thatcham, got back on terms. The visitors looked to be through as Jamie Evans found the gap, but with the Slough defence in pursuit he tried an enterprising loop pass to winger Horne, which didn’t quite come off. But from the resulting lineout Thatcham regained possession and an impressive drive was finished by Jamie Evans, Matt Billinghurst converting comfortably to put the visitors 5 – 7 ahead.
With the game finely balanced, both sides made opportunities and both defended resolutely. With the half coming to a close, Slough began an attack from mid way in their half. A poor attempted boot forward struck and stuck to Autodata man of the match, Martin Reeve, at hooker. Clear through a flat Slough defence he showed excellent pace to outrun his pursuers from 40 metres to ground under the posts, Billinghurst converting two from two.
Thatcham turned round 9 points to the good, but within ten minutes they had slipped behind as Slough scored two unconverted tries. The first after Thatcham failed to clear a loose ball that bounced kindly for the outside centre to jink clear. The second was a brilliant solo effort from the Slough scrum half, breaking through from a scrum on the Thatcham 10 metre line. The war of attrition continued but it seemed the game might be drifting away from Thatcham as little mistakes crept in.
At last Martin Reeve was able to put winger Ron Horne away and he looked home and dry, until a Slough defender raced in at lightning speed to make the tackle. Still only a point in it, but with three quarters of the match gone Slough profited from a penalty, then with only ten minutes remaining, a further penalty to go 21 – 14 ahead. Thatcham turned up the pressure but again mishandled when only ten metres short. Finally awarded a penalty 30 metres out, Thatcham took the lineout which proved as reliable as it had all afternoon. Martin Reeve took the ball from the back of the line and forced his way over for his second try of the game. They still needed the conversion to pull the scores level, but Matt “Mr Cool” Billinghurst stepped up to bisect the uprights. No sweat. At the end of an absorbing and entertaining encounter, few could begrudge a share of the spoils.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. D Chambers (50, J Abraham); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7. J Evans; 8. D Ball; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle;11. S Niven ; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell; 14. R Horne; 15 A Taylor Replacement: J Thorogood
Tries: Evans; Reeve (2)
Conversions: Billinghurst (3)
Saturday 6th March
Thatcham 81 Phoenix 20
Thatcham continued their quest to close the gap on the top 2 in a 14 try thriller against Phoenix. Spurred on by memories of a sloppy defeat away to the visitors in December, Thatcham were impressive in all facets of the game and ruthless for the full 80 minutes.
The home side started strongly and were soon causing trouble in the Phoenix half. Centre Billinghurst slotted over a 30 metre penalty courtesy of the right hand post after 2 minutes, for the first of his 21 points with the boot, and Thatcham were on their way.
Almost straight from the kick off the red & blue’s were back in offensive territory and with Tingle putting his forwards in the corner number 8 Allen crashed his way over the line after 3 phases following a lineout. Thatcham’s lineout was impressive all day with Skipper Grogan and Autodata Man of the Match Mark Smith towering over their opposite numbers and with Langdon and Chambers dominating the scrums the home side made sure they secured more than their fair share of possession all afternoon.
More tries followed quickly, firstly with twinkle toes Taylor starting and finishing a counter attack and minutes later Niven got the step on the outside of his man to finish with panache. The forth and bonus point try came after only 20 minutes as Horne finished another free following move to score out wide.
With all 5 points seemingly secure Thatcham could have slipped into their old ways and taken their foot off the gas. This is an ever maturing side however and they were guilty of no such thing as Niven and Horne both crossed the whitewash again before half time to leave a turnaround score of 39-3.
To Phoenix’s credit they didn’t give up and contributed to a pulsating second half for the spectators. The half started with Thatcham landing another blow with player/coach Reeves showing how ‘slippy’ he can be by somehow emerging on the Phoenix side of a maul with the ball and sprinting over to score.
Allen then got himself on the score sheet twice in 5 minutes to complete his second successive hat trick after Evans and Butt turned over good ball in midfield that allowed the big man to capitalise. Phoenix showed signs of a mini recovery with a penalty followed by a neat try from their powerful Prop before Allen halted them in their tracks and crossed the line again for his forth solo try of the day. Phoenix refused to give up however and a superb solo try from their fullback started the dreams of a bonus point of their own, but it wasn’t to be as the Henwick boys resumed control.
The final 2 tries of the game came from deep in Thatcham territory and were both finished by Niven to complete another 4 try collection for the day. The first was born out of quick ball from Hudson and a line break from Billinghurst to send Mitchell away to execute a text book two on one and the second was a cruel interception during the last play of the game that allowed the speedster to sprint the length of the field and emulate his new found love Ashton with a swallow dive.
Thatcham can be pleased with their days work, and enjoy their two hat trick jugs in the bar, but they are all more than aware that next weeks trip to promotion rivals Slough is where it really matters.
Thatcham Team: Langdon, Reeves, Chambers, Grogan, Smith, Butt, Evans, Allen, Hudson, Tingle, Horne, Billinghurst, Mitchell, Niven, Taylor. Subs: Goater
Tries: Allen (4), Niven (4), Horne (2), Taylor, Reeves
Conversions: Billinghurst (9)
Saturday 19th February
Hungerford 0 Thatcham 45
Thatcham tightened their grip on third place in the league with a comprehensive demolition of a Hungerford side that looked more lacking in confidence than skills. Thatcham on the other hand have confidence in shedloads, which makes them a side worth watching, with plenty of variety, invention, running off the ball and good levels of support, which brings its reward in points.
Playing on a very sticky surface, both sides had to work hard to keep hands on the ball, but it was Thatcham who made the running and first signalled their intent through winger, Ash Taylor, who put in a fine afternoon’s performance. Thatcham pushed deep after a good combination between full back, Toby Littlechild and centre Matt Billinghurst. The visitors went ahead after ten minutes, when Thatcham stand off Dan Tingle floated a perfectly weighted ball for Ash Taylor to post the first score, Littlechild converting. Tingle’ distribution was slick and confident throughout, always looking to put his backs away. Autodata man of the match, Tom Allen was next to score with the first of a hat trick, picking up at the back of the scrum from 10 metres. For the remainder of the session, Hungerford struggled to get out of their half and an elusive 35 metre run from full back, Littlechild, nearly put Allen away again. Thatcham’s no 7, Jordan Abraham, was next to strike, under the posts. With half an hour gone the visitors were 19 points to the good and Hungerford had barely made it out of their own half other than at kick offs. Thatcham had the last word for the half as Andrew Mitchell intercepted and had a clear run through for try number four under the posts, offering a simple third conversion for Toby Littlechild.
Turning round at 0 – 26, Thatcham reasserted their superiority. Ash Taylor , on the right wing, took the ball with very little room and tapped forward, beating his man and taking the pick up, passing selflessly to Tom Allen, when he was already through. Littlechild’s fourth conversion effectively put the game out of sight at 33 – 0, but this was the signal for a Hungerford revival. Thatcham were forced to defend deep for the first time and only narrowly avoided conceding. Hungerford were worth a score, but it just didn’t happen for them and Thatcham broke out from their 22 through number 8, Tom Allen, again, this time he shipped the ball to Rob Horne on the wing who found space and cruelly ran the length of the field to score. Normal service was resumed from this point and within five minutes Horne and Allen combined again, this time for Tom Allen to convert and secure a deserved hat trick.
Next week ,Thatcham face Alchester in the cup at home. Thatcham were drawn against Gosford All Blacks, but being due to play in an Oxfordshire competition, regulations have allowed them to nominate Alchester (who hadn’t previously entered the cup competition) as a substitute opposition. Very strange, but a testing work out nevertheless, and trial of Thatcham’s true strength in what should prove an absorbing encounter.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. P Goater (H/T D Chambers); 4. M Grogan; 5. D Ball; 6. A Butt 7. J Abraham (60, J Thorogood); 8. T Allen; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle;11. R Horne; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell; 14. A Taylor; 15. T Littlechild.
Tries: Taylor; Allen (3); Abraham; Mitchell; Horne
Conversions: Littlechild (5)
Saturday 5th February
Thatcham 38 Gosford All Blacks 22
Thatcham had stormed into an almost unassailable lead within 20 minutes of the start with four tries and no response from the visitors. And although the Thatcham scrum struggled to boss the set piece, they dominated possession and kept the scoreboard ticking over nicely throughout the first half.
Autodata man of the match, Tom Allen, at number 8, started the scoring after only four minutes, twisting free from a scrummage just over halfway and bullocking his way through 30 metres, Toby Littlechild converting. Within five minutes Thatcham went further ahead after winning a line out on the 22. Stand off Dan Tingle hit the gap, and was caught by the full back five metres short of the line, but Darrell Ball was in support to pick up and go over in the corner. Another period of sustained attack saw the ball moved wide to Simon Niven who escaped his markers in traditional fashion to finish under the posts.
Just after the 20 minute mark it was Dan Tingle’s turn to get on the score sheet. Mark Smith stole an All Blacks line out on the 10 metre line and after fine handling the ball found its way back to Tingle who took advantage of a ragged Gosford defensive line with a fine angled run. Not long after the half hour mark Arron Butt took a catch and drive to post the fifth try for the home side, four of which were converted by Toby Littlechild. With moments left on the clock Thatcham let down their guard to allow a Gosford strike and the sides turned round at 33 – 5.
The second period started in the same vein as before the break as hooker, Martin Reeve was the recipient of a strong pick and drive to push Thatcham into a 38 – 5 point lead. At this point, the home side sat back and took their eyes off the game, believing job done. But the story of the second half was of a sloppy and rather lacklustre display from Thatcham as Gosford picked themselves up and realised there might be something in it for them after all. So it proved as they picked up a bonus point for their second half effort of three tries and four in all.
Thatcham entertain Gosford All Blacks at Henwick again on 26th February in the South West Cup and will need to produce their form of the first half for the full 80 minutes if they are to progress in the competition.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. D Chambers (60, P Goater); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7. D Ball (30, J Abraham); 8. T Allen; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle;11. S Niven (60, A Hunter); 12. J Evans; 13. A Mitchell; 14. A Taylor; 15. T Littlechild
Tries: Allen; Ball; Niven; Tingle; Butt; Reeve
Conversions: Littlechild (4)
Click here for opposition match report,
Saturday 15th January
Bicester 17 Thatcham 0
Thatcham travelled to Bicester full of confidence off the back of 3 straight wins at home but had to field 3 forced changes due to injury and unavailability. A poor all round performance and controlled Bicester display put pay to extending their unbeaten run in a game that never really got going for the visitors.
Playing head on into a howling wind, Thatcham started brightly forcing a penalty for holding on directly from the kick off. Littlechild took aim from 35 metres but the wind proved too strong as his effort dragged wide of the posts.
With the wind and clever tactical kicking from the Bicester 9, Thatcham spend most of the first half defending territory in their own half and were forced to run with ball in hand to clear their lines. This seemed to suit the visitor’s style of play with the backs combining well to break the gain line a number of times out wide. One slick move saw Niven expose his opposite number on the wing and looked certain to score in the corner until he was thwarted by a superb covering tacking by the Bicester full back flipping him into touch inches from the line.
This move gave Thatcham confidence and 5 minutes later it was the forwards turn to go close when a 5 metre line out resulted in good driving from a series of rucks only to be held up over the white wash.
Bicester’s defence was solid and after clearing their lines spend the final 10 minutes of the half deep in Thatcham territory. By this time Thatcham and the referee were far from friends and started to become confused with a number of inconsistencies at the breakdown. One such event resulted in a penalty in front of the posts which the home side dispatched for 3 points. Bicester looked odds on to extend their lead with the final play of the half but were forced into making a handling error by good Thatcham line speed despite having a 3 man overlap.
Turning round only 3-0 down Thatcham were content and looked forward to having the wind at their backs during the second half. It was Bicester however who took hold of the game as Thatcham gave away penalty after penalty both attacking and defending the ruck area. On 48 minutes Bicester got their backs away for the first time when a clever move, and a more than a hint of a forward pass, resulted in a line break that ended in a well worked try under the posts.
10-0 ahead, Bicester settled into a rhythm of working the fringes and frustrated Thatcham by controlling the ball, the clock and the referee. The remainder of the half was very much uneventful and was played in neither sides red zone. Looking for a miracle finish Thatcham tried to force the game but it wasn’t to be their day when with 4 minutes to go a sloppy scrum ended with the Bicester blind side winger running in unopposed to seal the victory. 17-0.
Thatcham will now look to regroup during the week and try to find the secret of taking their home form on the road with a trip to Stow on the Wold on Saturday.
Thatcham Team: Chambers, Reeve, Goater (Amor 40), Smith, Langdon, Butt, Thorogood (Lyons 55), Grogan, Hudson, Tingle, Taylor, Evans, Billinghurst, Niven (Hunter 70), Littlechild.
Saturday 8th January
Thatcham 16 Alchester 7
Thatcham knocked league leaders Alchester off the top spot and moved into third place themselves with this hard earned victory. It was the first outing after a four week lay off, but both sides managed to dust off the cobwebs and get into the groove pretty quickly, with Thatcham having the best of the early encounters.
Looking to extend their unblemished home record Thatcham fielded a largely unchanged side, but for the addition of exciting new signing, Darrell Ball from London Scottish and the Army. Having recently played for Combined Services against Samoa and Barbarians, he appeared to cope well with the heady atmosphere of Henwick! Ball certainly found himself with plenty to do in what proved an impressive debut, but the team as whole fronted up superbly against an Alchester side that imposed long periods of relentless pressure on the home team.
Thatcham started well and converted early advances with a well taken penalty from the boot of fullback, Toby Littlechild. With fifteen minutes on the clock Thatcham won a quick line out on the Alchester 10 metre line with Darrell Ball breaking through and putting Autodata man of the match, Ash Taylor away to score, Littlechild converting. Thatcham resumed their assault on the Alchester line, but were pushed back and Littlechild went for the dropped goal. It looked like the wrong option as the ball sailed tantalisingly wide of the uprights. But Alchester were careless at the restart as the 22 drop out was charged down and the visitors penalised for offside, leaving Littlechild a simple three points in front of the posts. 13 – 0 in arrears and Alchester at last began to stir and for much of the second quarter they subjected Thatcham to long periods of concerted pressure deep into home territory. But Thatcham manned up immensely in the face of this onslaught, and held the clean sheet to half time demonstrating a good level of fitness and resilience. As the half came to a close, Andrew Mitchell at outside centre and flanker Darrel Ball combined well to break out and come close to extending the home lead.
Alchester resumed the second half where they had left off in the first with a concerted attack pushing up to the Thatcham try line. Desperate defending looked to have saved the day, but Alchester worked the ball neatly into centre field and found the gap directly in front of the posts to run in for a seven pointer. For large tranches of the second period this was the story as Thatcham defended stoutly, but often not so deeply. Nevertheless the visitors certainly had the bulk of possession, even though they struggled to make any telling inroads into home territory. The real test came mid way through the half when Ball was binned leaving Thatcham with fourteen men, but the defence remained solid. It was certainly an absorbing encounter if not the most attractive of games and, at 13 – 7, the margin of six points ensured the game was finely balanced. Finally, from a rare Thatcham attack, Jamie Evans made the decisive break and chip forward to the opposition 22 for Alchester once again to be penalised. Littlechild maintained his 100% record for the afternoon with the kick that meant that the visitors were going to need two scores to nick it. Thatcham found the remaining time less pressured but were not unhappy to hear the final whistle and know that four points were in the bag from what had been a very impressive defensive display.
Thatcham Team: 1. D Chambers; 2. M Reeve; 3. P Goater (40, M Langdon); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt (65, J Thorogood); 7. D Ball; 8. T Allen; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle;11. S Niven; 12. J Evans; 13. A Mitchell (65, Billinghurst); 14. A Taylor; 15. T Littlechild
Penalties: Littlechild (3)
Saturday 11th December
Thatcham 21 Swindon College Old Boys 5
After three weeks of inactivity, both teams showed plenty of appetite to get stuck in to what proved a robust encounter, but it was Thatcham who made the most of their opportunities without really imposing themselves over the visitors. Fielding an unchanged team, Thatcham skipper Billinghurst found himself on the bench, with Jamie Evans occupying the no 12 berth, a position to which he looks well suited. Mike Grogan skipper for the day, at lock, once again leading from the front, on an afternoon designed mostly for those in the boiler house. So fittingly, it was the mobile tight head, Jordan Abrahams, who won Thatcham’s Autodata man of the match award.
For the most part Swindon played a tight ten man game, but the home forwards were a match for the visitors in most departments. As a consequence Thatcham were able to profit from Swindon ’s lack of width and played most of the first half in opposition territory. The Thatcham pack were kept busy throughout, and they kept up a steady supply of ball for Hudson at scrum half to distribute. Thatcham were rewarded for their adventure either side of midway through the half, with two 30 metre penalties, which Toby Littlechild ably dispatched. Then after 30 minutes Thatcham put together a fine move that culminated in Grogan charging through from ten metres to ground between the uprights. Littlechild’s simple conversion put the home side 13 – 0 ahead. Thatcham looked to be extending their lead further towards the end of the half as Littlechild and Ash Taylor combined well, but some desperate defending on the try line from the visitors forced a turnover from which the Old Boys broke out and looked clear themselves, but for a fine tackle into touch on the halfway from Jamie Evans. The last minutes of the half saw the first real penetrating attack from Swindon, but Thatcham’s defence held out until a Swindon handling error gave full back Littlechild the chance to hack gratefully clear to preserve the 13 – 0 advantage at half time.
With a strong looking bench, Thatcham brought on Billinghurst and Chambers early in the second period, with Goater coming on for the injured Smith after 55 minutes. But Swindon College had stepped up a gear and looked the more menacing, so it was against the run of early play that Thatcham went further ahead after ten minutes. The Old Boys were dispossessed deep in Thatcham’s 22 by no 8 Tom Allen and Littlechild kicked ahead. Although the kick had good distance it looked to have simply returned possession to the visitors, but Andrew Mitchell following up hard, took advantage of a Swindon handling error to show his pursuers a clean pair of heels down the far right touchline. With no conversion, but 18 - 0 down this should have knocked the stuffing out of Swindon , but they kept coming forward as Thatcham lost rhythm. The Old Boys eventually breached the home defence, but the visitors consolation try came too late to make an impact on the result. Thatcham were being penalised in the ruck and, Arron Butt, having put in another fine performance, was binned with under five minutes left on the clock, after Thatcham had been warned by the referee. Finishing with fourteen men Thatcham still had the last word as Matt Billinghurst slotted a fine penalty kick in the last move of the game.
Thatcham deserve to enjoy their Christmas break, but had better go easy on the pudding as the first fixture of the new year sees them entertain league leaders Alchester at Henwick on January 8th.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon (45, D Chambers); 2. M Reeve; 3. J Abraham; 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith (55, P Goater); 6. A Butt; 7. J Thorogood; 8. T Allen; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle (43, M Billinghurst);11. S Niven ; 12. J Evans; 13. A Mitchell; 14. A Taylor; 15. T Littlechild
Tries: Grogan, Mitchell
Penalty: Littlechild (2), Billinghurst
Saturday 20th November
Thatcham 22 Slough 0
This was a truly awesome display from Thatcham, who played with a steely determination and conviction that secured an unexpected but deserved victory to nil against the previously unbeaten table toppers from Slough . With several regulars unavailable through injury, including skipper, Billinghurst; two debutants at tight head and No 8, and players out of position at scrum half and inside centre this looked on paper as if it might be a car crash waiting to happen. Thatcham were made to struggle in the set scrums against a very well drilled Slough pack, coached by former England prop Paul Rendall. But the home side were simply superior in every other department and, aside from a narrowly missed penalty, Slough rarely threatened to score a point. This is the measure of the control exerted by a confident and improving Thatcham side. If they can bottle whatever it was that provided the spirit and belief they showed, they should take a sniff of it every week.
Led from the front by stand in skipper, Mike Grogan, at lock, this was a day for heroics and every Thatcham player stepped up to the mark. Jordan Abraham making his debut at tight head looked like a man for the future, and new signing from Hungerford, Tom Allen, at No 8, showed the potential to become a massive asset to the club as his technical skills improve. Allen marked his debut with the first try after 20 minutes, but Thatcham had already taken the lead through a Toby Littlechild penalty, and the subsequent conversion put them 10 – 0 up mid way through the first half.
Slough had a good share of possession, but Thatcham’s defence was solid and committed throughout the afternoon, allowing little measure of comfort to the visitors, who were harried and forced into errors. Shortly before half-time one such error on the half way saw the elusive Simon Niven claim possession and evade his pursuers to ground out wide.
Restarting with a 15 – 0 lead at halftime gave Thatcham some margin of comfort, but all awaited a renewed effort from Slough . Somehow, Slough ’s attempts to make an impact proved hardly more effective than in the first period, and so the expected onslaught never materialised. Although Thatcham were out-scrummaged, the solidity at the back of the scrum from No 8, Tom Allen, and the out of position Damian Hudson was critical in helping neutralise Slough ’s dominance in this area. Flankers Arron Butt and James Thorogood worked tirelessly and the Thatcham backs, when defending, put in some big hits, none less so than Jamie Evans, also playing out of his usual wing forward position at inside centre. This was a day on which it seemed invidious to pick out one player for man of the match, but club coach and hooker, Martin Reeve won this week’s Autodata man of the match award for character, work rate and ball winning skills.
And so it was Thatcham who again made the running and opportunities to extend their lead. Littlechild saw two penalty attempts go narrowly wide, but mid way through the half Thatcham added a further seven points: Tingle kicked a penalty deep into the Slough 22. Grogan took the lineout cleanly off the top and the pack drove over with Arron Butt touching down and Littlechild converting. As the game drew to a close, Thatcham looked to have gone further ahead as Simon Niven again outpaced the defence to be caught at 5 metres. Thatcham won the lineout but the referee judged they had used the “truck and trailer” to get the ball over the line, so a bonus point was denied. Thatcham’s best performance this season by a street! Lets hope they can maintain it.
Thatcham Team: 1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. J Abraham (65, A Holbrook); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7. J Thorogood; 8. T Allen; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle;11. S Niven ; 12. J Evans; 13. A Mitchell; 14. A Taylor; 15. T Littlechild
Tries: Allen; Niven; Butt
Conversions: Littlechild (2)
Saturday 13th November
Phoenix 27 Thatcham 24
Thatcham had led for most of the game, but with ten minutes remaining Phoenix finally got their noses in front and in fairness it was only what was deserved. The winning margin was a reflection of how little there was between the two teams, but it came as no real surprise to see Thatcham finally relinquish the advantage after the mauling they took in the second period.
Thatcham’s half time lead of 24 – 15 was thanks in large part to two precocious tries from the talented Autodata man of the match, Toby Littlechild at full back. His first put the visitors ahead early on after he took possession out wide on the half way line to outpace the home defence and ground under the posts. Skipper Matt Billinghurst slotted a simple conversion on what proved a faultless afternoon of kicking for him. With the two sides evenly matched Phoenix were soon on the attack and Rich “I’ll play nine” Jones returning from injury made a great try saving tap tackle. But Phoenix weren’t to be denied and a useful set of backs made space wide to the left to force a score in the corner. The conversion was missed, but Thatcham soon extended their lead with a Billinghurst penalty. At this stage both sides looked dangerous in possession and once they got their backs moving, with Thatcham’s Frankie Green looking particularly useful. Phoenix forced their way back into the game with a converted try after pinning the visitors down on their line for several minutes. But Thatcham soon redressed the balance when Billinghurst offloaded nicely to Andrew Mitchell on the wing, showing good hands and forcing over in the corner. Billinghurst stepped up to kick Thatcham into a 17 – 12 lead. Once again Phoenix countered, but tackled deep into Thatcham’s half, Toby Littlechild ripped away possession and legged the length of the park to ground under the posts. Another simple conversion followed by a penalty for Phoenix saw the sides turn around at 15 – 24 in the visitors’ favour.
A comfortable lead for Thatcham and both sides appearing evenly balanced meant few were prepared for the demolition job meted out by Phoenix in the second half. Thatcham found themselves under immediate pressure and were forced to defend a series of scrums on their own 5 metre line in the first ten minutes. When Phoenix missed a kickable penalty after 15 minutes it looked as if Thatcham might just have weathered the storm. By now Phoenix were the masters at the scrum and forcing mistakes from Thatcham who were having to live off scraps. With no possession, Thatcham were playing catch up in their own half and there was an inevitability about the Phoenix try 20 minutes into the half. Thatcham had defended resolutely and still held a four point lead, but with 10 minutes to go the Phoenix maul overpowered a tiring Thatcham pack and the seven pointer proved the decider. With the clock rapidly ticking down it fleetingly looked as if there might be an unlikely revival from Thatcham. The ball went through hands for practically the first time in the half, but Thatcham lost possession on the try line and were unable to sustain the attack. With the visit of high flying Slough to the Henwick next week, Thatcham will need to look at how they can restore some solidity to the front five, or it will prove another difficult afternoon.
Thatcham Team: 1. S Oakham (60, M Landgon); 2. M Reeve; 3. J Thorogood; 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. B Broughton (70, J Evans); 7. D Thomas; 8. A Butt; 9. R Jones; 10. D Tingle;11. A Mitchell; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. B Green; 14. C McGregor (60, A Taylor ); 15. T Littlechild
Tries: Littlechild (2); Mitchell
Conversions: Billinghurst (3)
Click here for opposition match report
Saturday 30th October
Thatcham 31 Hungerford 13
The dominant Thatcham pack ensured that there was only ever going to be one winner of this game as the home side took the lead from a pushover try after five minutes, converted by Arron Butt, Autodata man of the match, who finished with a tally of three tries from his No 8 berth.
Hungerford struggled all afternoon for parity in the scrums, but it never came, and even when they did win their own ball, the scrum half had to pluck it from a rapidly backward moving sea of legs. When they got the ball to hand, Hungerford moved it well and showed Thatcham the art of the hand-off to good effect. Repeatedly slipping tackles early on saw Hungerford get a break down the left wing for a well deserved try after 15 minutes.
This was a more resistant Hungerford to the side that appeared two weeks ago in the cup game, but Thatcham nevertheless dominated possession and with some excellent line kicking from stand off, Dan Tingle, worked their way into Hungerford’s red zone for a line-out. Thatcham’s line out was very solid throughout and on this occasion Mike Grogan took it off the top to scrum half Toby Littlechild, still 15 metres from the line. Littlechild weaved sublimely through the packed defence to touch down almost unchallenged under the posts. A second conversion from skipper Matt Billinghurst sent Thatcham into a 14 – 5 lead. The home side extended their advantage soon after from another line-out; this time with a catch and drive, again converted by Arron Butt. A Hungerford penalty shortened the odds to 19 – 8 at half time.
Thatcham put their visitors under pressure right from the start of the second period. With the home side’s backs moving effectively, winger Charlie McGregor was stopped on the line twice in succession, but wasn’t to be denied. Dan Tingle at stand off spotted a gap had opened on the right and sent a perfectly weighted chip into the path of McGregor for him to finally nail his try, Billinghurst converting. There followed an indifferent spell for Thatcham, who were repeatedly getting pinged for infringements in the ruck. Hungerford took good advantage and reduced the deficit with a second try, but Thatcham soon restored their superiority with a last forwards try, again converted by no 8 Arron Butt, twisting cleverly to get the touch down.
Hungerford battled to the whistle and it took a fine try saving tackle in the corner from winger Charlie McGregor to ensure Thatcham’s 31 – 13 advantage remained intact.
Thatcham Team: 1. D Chambers; 2. M Reeve; 3. P Goater (60, S Oakham ); 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. M Lyons (40, D Thomas); 7. Jamie Evans; 8. A Butt; 9. T Littlechild; 10. D Tingle;11. S Niven (55, A Mitchell); 12. M Billinghurst; 13. B Green; 14. C McGregor; 15. A Taylor .
Tries: Butt (3); Littlechild; McGregor
Conversion: Billinghurst (3)
Berks, Bucks and Oxon Premier
Saturday 23rd October
Gosford All Blacks 17 Thatcham 29
Thatcham hit the road for the 4th time in 5 games on Saturday and came away with a maximum point hall, despite an under par performance against Gosford All Blacks.
The home side started the strongest with the Gosford 10 using the strong wind to his advantage pining Thatcham into their own half early on. This pressure paid off on 10 minutes with the All Black outside centre cutting a line through weak Thatcham defence out wide to score in the corner. 5-0.
This try seemed to wake Thatcham up from their travels and it wasn’t long before the visitors were on the front foot sending speedster Niven down the line only to be assaulted round the neck by desperate All Blacks swinging arm. This high tackle led to the 1st of Gosford’s two yellow cards and allowed Tingle to send the Thatcham forwards into the opposition 22. The big men of Thatcham duly obliged with a forceful catch and drive sending over Mark Smith for his 5th try in as many games to level the scores.
Thatcham looked to use their extra man advantage to full effect, and before too long were back in the home red zone. After a strong scrum from the Thatcham front 5 that ended inches short the backs ran a textbook move with Tingle lining Matt Billinghurst up to break a tackle in the centre and score unopposed under the posts. 5-12 after 20 minutes and a lead that was taken into half time.
After strong words from Thatcham’s management the Berkshire boys started the 2nd period with renewed vigour that resulted in a series of wide moves being thwarted close to the line. Taking control of the game the Thatcham forwards probed with a series of close carries before prop Dave Chambers barged his way over from close range, diving under his opposite number from the base of a ruck.
5-17 up and seemingly cruising Thatcham slipped into their traditional lulled period allowing Gosford back into the game. Firstly with a champagne try snaking the length of the field finished with a collected chip over the top, followed by a darting run from their fly half through the heart of Thatcham’s defence to level the score at 17-17 with 20 minutes to go.
Spurred on by their dominant set piece, superior rucking and a tireless performance from Autodata Man of the Match James Thorogood, Thatcham wrestled control of the game back from the hosts. After a series of 5 metre scrums the forwards were awarded a penalty try when the Gosford front 3 stood up unable to hold on against the heave.
The game was sealed with 10 minutes to go when a well worked short side break had Grogan handing off the winger with his left before flicking the ball out of the back of his right hand for Hooker Martin Reeves to collect and slide over the line in a passage of play that would have been at home in the Super 15. The conversion was narrowly missed from out wide for a final score of 17-29.
Thatcham have now won three games on the spin propelling themselves to 5th in the league with a game in hand on their rivals. Next week sees Thatcham entertain Hungerford at the Henwick.
Thatcham Team: Chambers, Reeves, Goater (Oakham 10), Grogan, Smith, Thorogood (Lyons 70), Evans, Butt, Rance, Tingle, Taylor, Billinghurst (Hudson 2-10 mins blood), Mitchell (Hudson 60), Niven, Littlechild
Try scorers: Smith, Billinghurst, Chambers, Penalty Try, Reeves
Conversions: Littlechild, Billinghurst
Southern Counties Senior Vase
Saturday 16th October
Hungerford 7 Thatcham 38
Thatcham turned up at Triangle Field knowing that they couldn’t afford their traditional slow start in this local derby cup match. The travelling fans were not to be disappointed as with the wind at their backs Thatcham soon had the wind in their sails putting Hungerford under instant intense pressure.
It took less than 5 minutes for Thatcham to make their first breakthrough when James Thorogood, coming of age on Saturday making his starting debut for the 1st XV, was mauled over the line by his fellow forwards to swivel and touchdown in the corner. The conversion narrowly missed.
The blue and reds refused to let up, taking advantage of a sliced Hungerford clearance to camp themselves back in their opposition 22 from the restart. Once again the forwards made the hard yards resulting in 2nd row Mark Smith diving over from a ruck close to the line for a converted try.
Smith was on the score sheet again minutes later, after the first backs move of the day saw winger McGregor make a break out wide before shipping the ball back inside to Taylor who send the 6”4 2nd row away to round the full back and score his second converted try with a classy finish. 19-0 after only 13 minutes.
Fully into cruise control Thatcham took their foot off the gas letting Hungerford back into the game and both teams traded yellow cards during a very scrappy period of rugby. It wasn’t until the last play of the half from a scrum 40 metres out that Thatcham once again turned on the style. Committing multiple Hungerford players into the breakdown area with a number of phases right before spotting a miss match left that was well worked with 2 miss passes from Tingle and Reeves to send Billinghurst away who calmly held the full back before flipping the ball to Niven to evade a last ditch tackle from the covering winger and score Thatcham’s forth try of the half. The try was converted for a half time score of 26-0.
With the game seemingly won, Thatcham rung the changes in the second half giving all seven subs an opportunity to impress the coaching staff. Shortly after coming on, Horne pounced on a dropped Hungerford pass to fly hack the ball forward twice before winning the foot race and touching down over the line. Littlechild stepped up to draw the conversion in on the wind with pinpoint precision from the touchline.
To their credit Hungerford kept trying to play and after some good phases of rugby applied an element of pressure winning territory. On 70 minutes, the home side got their reward with their 2nd row bursting through the fringes to give them a seven point score.
With the final whistle closing in scrum half Littlechild spotted a gap over the top of the home defence and chipped the ball into space. Thatcham’s resident playmaker Tingle this time became scorer being the quickest man to react and collected the bouncing ball before out pacing the winger to score under the posts. A tired Littlechild missed the conversion from straight in front much to the amusement of both sets of supporters.
Much of the credit for the win must be given to the Thatcham forwards who controlled the set piece all day, led by Autodata Man of the Match Dave Chambers at loose head.
Focus returns to the league this week as Thatcham travel to Gosford All Blacks looking to continue their winning run.
Thatcham Team: Chambers, Reeves, Goater (Oakham 40), Smith, Grogan (Osbourne 65), Thorogood (Broughton 55), Evans (Lyons 60), Butt, Littlechild, Tingle, McGregor (Horne 60), Billinghurst (Hudson 45), Mitchell, Niven (Weithers 55), Taylor.
Tries: Thorogood, Smith (2), Niven, Horne, Tingle
Conversions: Billinghurst (3), Littlechild
Berks, Bucks and Oxon Premier
Saturday 2nd October
Thatcham 39 Bicester 24
First blood went to Bicester, but it all came good for Thatcham as they eased away to claim victory by a comfortable margin, having put on the familiar second half quality display that brought four tries in reward. In spite of Bicester’s early lead, this was a very different showing from Thatcham who were positive and penetrating right from the start with promising runs from hooker, Martin Reeve and wing, Simon Niven. Liam Asquith celebrated with the Autodata Man of the match award, in his last game before a two year foreign posting.
Plenty of good quality possession was the key for the home side, dominant in the scrum for the most part, and having ironed out some of the line-out glitches from last week, coupled with a solid performance from Damian Hudson at no 9. Credit to the visitors for two well taken tries within ten minutes, but both were poached from play in the Bicester half from Thatcham attacking breakdowns. Thatcham kept in touch as the tries were interspersed with a decent penalty from Matt Billinghurst and the deficit was reduced further as the upwardly mobile Mark Smith capitalised on Bicester’s indecision to touch down. Smith looks very much at home in his new second row berth, and adds useful pace, as well. With no conversions and the score standing at 8–10, Thatcham looked the more likely to be cruising ahead, but were turned over on the halfway and with defence exposed, were undone by a delightfully worked overlap for a seven pointer. Thatcham were frustrated in their efforts to get the ball out wide until the closing moments of the half, when Simon Niven eluded his markers only to be brought down inches short. From the ensuing scrum Thatcham got their reward as Damian Hudson touched down from the pushover. The sides turned round at half-time with the score at 13 – 17.
Bicester came out determinedly from the re-start and the Thatcham line was all but breached in what was one of the visitors’ most sustained attacks of the game so far. But the defence held out and Thatcham were able to regain more familiar territory in the opposition half. With five minutes gone, skipper, Matt Billinghurst pushed forward strongly, beat his man and offloaded perfectly to Ash Taylor running in to the line from full back to score. Billinghurst kicked the conversion and Thatcham at last took the lead. By now there was only one side coming forward, but a cruel interception saw Bicester gifted an unchallenged try under the posts, to put Thatcham back into arrears 20 – 24. Scant consolation that it was against the run of play, but Thatcham were far from finished and resumed their offensive. From this point it was all one way traffic as Thatcham retook the lead after Damian Hudson made a break from the back of the scrum. A pop up to Mike Grogan was enough, even though he still had a bit to do. Another conversion from Billinghurst, but a three point lead wasn’t enough so the skipper took matters into his own hands with the next score. Thatcham’s last try was a little bit of inspiration and quick thinking from Martin Reeve throwing into the line-out to lock Mark Smith at the front of the line. With 30 metres to go he almost made it to the line, but Jamie Evans was following up in support and gratefully took the pass to go under the posts. Billinghurst planted the kick and the referee brought the game to a close. A satisfying victory for Thatcham and a deserved bonus point for six tries.
1. S Oakham (50, J Thorogood); 2. M Reeve; 3. P Goater; 4. M Grogan; 5. M Smith; 6. L Asquith; 7. Jamie Evans; 8. A Butt; 9. D Hudson; 10. D Tingle; 11. S Niven ; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell (50, C Stewart); 14. C McGregor; 15. A Taylor
Tries: Smith; Hudson; Taylor; Grogan; Billinghurst; Evans
Conversion: Billinghurst (3)
Saturday 25th September
Alchester 34 Thatcham 7
Thatcham needed to be a bit more battle hardened for this game, but as it was it came in only the second competitive fixture of the season and after a week’s lay off. So perhaps it was no surprise the visitors started as they had done at Drifters a fortnight earlier and by the end of the first period had just left themselves with too much to do.
Thatcham were behind after only 3 minutes and the next 15 saw them defending grimly but not conceding. Thatcham finally saw some possession and broke out of their own half, but were unable to get points on the board and shipped another three tries before half-time. Without a recognised scrum half, Damian Hudson and Nick Rance both performed well at number 9 for Thatcham, but the ball that did come back was often from a retreating scrum and just a wee bit too slow. Four tries to nil was a fair reflection of Alchester's superiority, but in the last ten minutes of the half, Thatcham forced three 5 metre line outs, the first real pressure that they’d been able to exert - enough to give a flicker of hope for the second period, but still without reward.
Restarting at 22 – 0 down, the visitors had a lot to do, but started on the offensive and looked to have discovered some self belief. Despite their greater resilience Thatcham conceded a further two tries and found themselves 34 points down after 55 minutes of the game. It could have all turned very sour, but the visitors improved as the half progressed, gaining superiority in the scrum and with more possession they finally found opportunities to run at the opposition. In the centres, Matt Billinghurst and Autodata man of the match, Andrew Mitchell, had a taste of attack, after dogged defence, and the pacy Ash Taylor and Simon Niven both found chances to stretch their legs. With the clock running down Thatcham were finally rewarded with a fine try from Mitchell, converted by Billinghurst. All they need to do next week is play like this from the start!
1. M Langdon; 2. M Reeve; 3. P Goater (55, S Oakham); 4. D Amor (50, B Broughton) 5. M Smith; 6. A Butt; 7. Jamie Evans; 8. M Grogan; 9. D Hudson (50, N Rance ) 10. D Tingle; 11. R Horne; 12. M Billinghurst; 13. A Mitchell 14. A Taylor; 15. S Niven
Saturday 11th September
Drifters 42 - 29 Thatcham
In the first week in Thatcham history where 3 teams played league rugby, the 1st XV took to the field against Drifters with high hopes of a fast start to the season. What encountered the blue and red’s was a well drilled Drifters outfit who seemed better prepared from the outset to apply the intensity needed for BBO Prem rugby.
With the wind in their faces Thatcham had their backs to the wall early on, as Drifters made the most out of the windy conditions and dominated early territory. This dominance was rewarded after 10 minutes when Drifters broke through via a neat chip and chase to score under the posts.
Thatcham recovered well and despite being pushed back to their 10 metre line, broke from the back of the scrum in midfield to send Ashley Taylor on his way to bounce one tackle and round another defender to expertly finish in the corner - 7-5.
The following 20 minutes of the game showed the worst of Thatcham as missed first up tackles and unforced errors allowed the home side to pile on the pressure and work three unanswered tries that were all converted - 28-5.
With strong words spoken behind the posts Thatcham had it all to do. Putting together their first real passage of controlled play, blind side winger Niven made a creative break through the defence setting up a penalty 22 metres out from the Drifters line. Aggressively kicking to the corner the Thatcham forwards called a catch and drive which saw, Autodata Man of the Match Mark Smith power away from the resulting maul and over the line allowing Littlechild to convert – 28-12.
With 5 minutes till half time on the clock the call was to consolidate however a charge down on half way allowed Drifters to gather the ball and strike another sucker blow before the break. Halftime 35-12.
With more than it all to do Thatcham came out of the blocks much stronger with the impetus to salvage something from the game. The first 10 minutes of the half were a much more even contest with an improved defensive effort from the visitors. What resulted however was a freak home try after the ball shot out the back of a scrum only for the Drifters 9 to snap up the opportunity and dart over the line. 42-12, game over?
Spurred on by the glimmer of better rugby Thatcham finally took the game by the scruff of the neck and started to play. Tingle kicked the forwards deep into enemy territory where a series of penalties led Grogan to send his front 7 over the line from a 5m scrum allowing him to touch down from number 8.
With renewed fire in the heart Thatcham went straight back into the depths of the Drifters defence where another series of penalties were conceded with Drifters being reduced to 14 men for persistent infringement. From a quick tap and go Grogan crossed the line again in the corner sending the score to 42-22 and securing a 4th try bonus point for the visitors.
Still unhappy with the game flow Thatcham pushed again with their renewed vigour that put them back into the Drifters 22. A clean lineout and swift backs running opened up a gap for Littlechild to exploit from fullback and touchdown under the posts – 42-29.
13 points down and 15 minutes to go Thatcham felt back in the game and it was only strong Drifters on the line defending that kept out another comeback try. 3 chances went begging before the home side could clear their lines and breathe a little easier. The final 5 minutes were played in midfield as the clock ticked away before the whistle was blown on a game of 2 halves and a try count of 6-5.
TRFC left the field with a losing bonus point, disappointment in a very slow start but self belief in their attacking ability. Next week sees a rest week following the withdrawal of Wheatley from the league before another testing trip to Alchester on the 25th September.
Thatcham Team: Chambers, Reeve, Goater (Langdon 35), Smith, Wells, Cartland (Broughton 55), Evans, Grogan, Jones, Tingle, Taylor, Billinghurst (C), Mitchell (Hudson 60), Niven, Littlechild
Tries: Taylor, Smith, Grogan (2), Littlechild