No joy in Hardy country
By Nick Rance
The Thatcham coach set off for Dorchester without five of last week’s first choice line up, and travelling with only one replacement is no doubt something that needs to be avoided in the future.
Both sides were keen to chalk up their first victories of the season, but in true Thomas Hardy style it all ended in tears for the visitors. In actual fact it was nip and tuck throughout, and Thatcham’s talented youngsters gave a good account, but could have fared better with a little more experience and a bit of bulk in the face of the solid Dorchester outfit.
Thatcham paid a cruel price for travelling with a lack of numbers, when Tim Apperley was clattered from the rear as he took the ball from the kick off. He played no further part in the first half and although he returned for the third quarter, was clearly struggling. Replacement, Sean Richardson, thus had to join the fray from about 10 seconds into the match, so the back line, which had included versatile skipper, Jamie Evans, had to rejig to allow Evans to return to the scrum at no. 8, with Dixon moving to lock and Richardson to full back. Later, in the second period, Thatcham lost Richardson with a head injury and when Apperley was forced to retire with 15 minutes left on the clock, Thatcham finished with only 14 men on the pitch.
In possession, Dorchester ran some good lines at the Thatcham defence and with all the visitors’ changes the line looked worryingly porous at times, save only for the one man defence of Derek Allan. But the Thatcham pack did well in spite of personnel changes and Ben Walton making his debut at lock (given Rich Browne’s absence on England duty in Bulgaria) by no means looked out of place putting in an excellent shift. So the Thatcham pack probably edged it overall, but without the dominance enjoyed last week against Devizes.
Dorchester started the scoring with a simple penalty conversion, but Thatcham had the better of the first ten minutes, despite the loss of Apperley. Skipper, Jamie Evans got the first try from a pushover at no 8. Thatcham went further ahead after twenty minutes when Jack Harwood worked space down the flank and outpaced the home defence with Derek Allan’s conversion putting the visitors 3 - 12 ahead.
Thatcham were sloppy at the restart and Dorchester were nearly back on terms as the visitors failed to secure the kick off, Dorchester tapped back neatly and put their winger away to touch down in the corner. The conversion was missed, but Dorchester pulled back with another unnecessary penalty given away by Thatcham right in front of the posts yet again.
The visitors were not enjoying their usual security in the line out, although Kanaar-Brown was jumping well. Dorchester had some big guys in there and without Apperley, it was tough, but Dorchester were penalised for pulling down in the line out.
Another scrum five for Thatcham and this time scrum half, Alex Crossman darted round to touch down on the blind side. Conversion missed, but Thatcham looked like they would go into the break with a 11 – 17 lead. Once again, however, they were outsmarted from the restart and succumbed to a soft try and conversion, so they trailed 18 – 17 at the whistle.
Thatcham started the second period strongly. A Dorchester knock on and Thatcham scrum on the 22 was smartly slipped to Derek Allan, from scrum half Crossman, and Allan duly sliced through the home defence to ground under the posts, this time new boy & Kinly Man of the Match Charlie Lutterloch secured the extras to give the lead back to the visitors. But within a few minutes Thatcham looked vulnerable again and a converted try for the home team edged them back into a one point lead.
For much of the remaining period Thatcham looked tired with some worrying body language, but still held out until another avoidable penalty for handling in the ruck, right in front of the posts. Dorchester’s 3 points completed the scoring, but with five minutes left Thatcham still worked their way deep into the Dorchester half. The home side were reduced to 14 men after a yellow for a high tackle. Thatcham needed a try to nick it, but when awarded a penalty opted for a line out from 5 metres, rather than a scrum. It looked like a wrong decision when Dorchester made the clearance and the final whistle blew.
Thatcham can console themselves with two well earned bonus points, but could also reflect in true Thomas Hardy style on the mistakes that led to defeat.