Thatcham flatter to deceive
By Damian Hudson
Thatcham 17 Buckingham 19
It was case of Thatcham flattering to deceive once again against a strong Buckingham side that had held second spot in the league for most of the season. If Windsor were toppled at home Buckingham still had a chance of a play off place, but for Thatcham it was a matter of pride. Either way, this final league game was played with a real intensity from the start, but once again Thatcham contrived to let it slip in the final stages. Thatcham’s seven losing bonus points for the season shows just how many times they’ve come close, but as a result the club has earned a creditable, but ultimately disappointing fifth place finish.
There will, of course, be changes next season, but perhaps the biggest challenge for the club will be to replace skipper, no 8 Mark Smith, who has been such a commanding influence throughout the season and takes much of the credit for the set piece mastery enjoyed by the pack in most games throughout the year, this game being no exception. Mark plans to retire at the top of his game, having this season made the most carries and top try scorer with 15 tries, equal with winger Liam Rowland.
On a great day for open, running rugby Thatcham made a promising start and were rewarded early on with a penalty from the boot of Joe Leadley, playing at full back. With lots of early possession, Thatcham looked confident with the ball in hand. Buckingham used their powerful kickers to make ground and winning a penalty on the halfway fancied their chances at the posts, but went wide. By midway through the half the visitors were in the ascendancy and pressed deep, twice looking certain to cross the whitewash, but determined, all be it last gasp, tackles saved the day for Thatcham who responded well into the second quarter. A penalty took the game to a line out on 30 metres and Danny Shaughnessy and Derek Allan showed again why their partnership is growing in strength by getting their backs moving sharply, as Nick Rance was tackled high into touch 5 metres from the line. Thatcham opted for the scrum , but although this time Buckingham held the shove, Mark Smith, this week’s Newbury Building Society man of the match, picked up at the back of the scrum and went over, with Joe Leadley adding the extras for a 10 – 0 lead.
As the first half drew to a close both teams had long range penalty attempts that shaded the posts leaving it 10 – 0 at the break. Things looked even brighter for the home side five minutes after the re-start as Danny Shaughnessy planted a massive clearance kick up to the Buckingham 22. With the bit between their teeth, the home pack forced a penalty for a line out on 5 metres. Smith took it cleanly and the home pack got the shove on for loose head Dave Chambers to score and Joe Leadley once again adding the conversion.
Ten minutes into the second period, Buckingham turned the tide with a good move through the hands to touch down in the corner. No conversion, but first points on the board. Soon after, Thatcham were caught offside and from the ensuing penalty Buckingham went for the short line out and produced their own effective catch and drive for a seven pointer to bring the score to 17 -12. Thatcham were still competing well at this point, but as the game moved into the last quarter Buckingham gained the upper hand and Thatcham endured a long spell on the rack. Derek Allan, Martyn Doolin and Luke Higgs stood out for their defensive work, and Joe Leadley looked secure under the high ball, but things failed to click for the home side. Buckingham were enjoying the bulk of possession and territorial advantage and little mistakes and frustrations began to creep in, affecting Thatcham’s decision making. The game was on a knife edge and so it proved as Buckingham found the gap in the corner with only two minutes left on the clock. With the score level at 17 points all it was all down to whether the Buckingham kicker would hold his nerve, and sure enough he did.
1. Dave Chambers; 2. James Thorogood; 3. Lewis Davies (Jack Caunt) 4. Jack Moore; 5. Rich Browne; Tim Apperley (Luke Higgs); 7. Martyn Doolin; 8. Mark Smith; 9. Danny Shaughnessy; 10. Derek Allan; 11. Sean Richardson; 12. Nick Rance; 13. Marty Butler; 14. Liam Rowland; 15. Joe Leadley
Tries: Smith; Chambers.
Conversion: Leadley (2)