What a difference a week makes
By Bob Moore
After last week’s poor showing at Bradford on Avon, Thatcham faced arguably their toughest home fixture at Henwick on Saturday as the Sherborne steamroller pulled into town.
But what a difference a week can make as another reshuffled Thatcham side put on one of the best performances of the season to bring some smiles back to this corner of West Berkshire. No losing bonus point, perhaps, but certainly enough to bring back some pride and a bit of confidence for the last home fixture of this campaign next Saturday, when they host Corsham, where they won back in December.
Thatcham’s injury count has just continued to grow this season, missing Thorogood this week and losing Sam Smith after just ten minutes and Lewis Davies after twenty five. But Thatcham’s Graham Armstrong, making his debut at hooker, played a stormer, winning the Newbury Building Society man of the match. Ollie Black did well in the no 10 shirt, with a sound boot and good distribution and Charlie Lutterloch made a welcome return at full back.
Making a very positive start, Thatcham had most of the possession in the first ten minutes, running confidently with the ball in hand. The Thatcham scrum looked more than solid and this week the lineout benefited from the restoration of Mark Smith and Armstrong’s accuracy with the throw in. The home side got first points with a 35 metre penalty from Ollie Black, whose field kicking was already providing a real boost. With Thatcham making most of the running in the early stages, Sherborne were denied any serious attacking opportunity. The game was turning into an absorbing contest played at pace and with high intensity. Thatcham were penalised for holding on only 5 metres into their half but it was enough to allow Sherborne to convert well from distance to bring the scores level at 3 – 3 just as the game was entering the second quarter.
Twenty five minutes in and Sherborne mounted their first determined attack. A fine chip kick was planted over the heads of the Thatcham defence, but winger Brandon Davies turned sharply and appeared to have it covered until a wicked bounce defeated both him and the chaser for another Sherborne support player to run in unopposed under the posts for a seven pointer.
Thatcham recovered well, forcing repeated penalties from the opposition and Ollie Black slotted two more to bring the score to 9 – 10 with five minutes left of the half. But as the half drew to a close Sherborne won a penalty on the Thatcham 22 and worked the ball forward in the pack to bundle it over in the corner. The conversion took the score to 9 – 17 at the break.
Another familiar mistake marred the start of the second half as Thatcham gifted an interception try for a seven point Sherborne score under the woodwork within two minutes of the re-start. Sherborne were running aggressive lines in search of this sort of error and giving the pass without looking for your teammate is a risk too far. Sherborne’s power looked to be beginning to tell and having extended their lead to 24 – 9 the danger signs were there for Thatcham, especially after the home side was reduced to 14 when Ben Walton was binned for a high tackle. But Thatcham stayed strong and to their credit snuffed out the Sherborne attack in a fine display of collective resilience in which Graham Armstrong and Louis Kanaar-Brown, off the bench after 20 minutes, made outstanding contributions. It was the home side that was making the running and Sherborne were content to use the boot to clear their lines when necessary. On the half hour mark Brandon Davies appeared to have outpaced his pursuers to touch down in the corner, but was brought back for a foot in touch. Thatcham were winning repeated penalties and it was surprising the yellow card wasn’t flourished at Sherborne. Ash Swaisland on Thatcham’s left wing was proving a handful. At last with only five minutes left on the clock, Thatcham opted for the five metre lineout from a penalty. Tim Apperley took the ball on, then released down the line for Brandon Davies to get the score in the corner.
No conversion, but still time for a last attack form the home side. Another penalty but just at the limit of range, so Thatcham went for the lineout, defended by Sherborne to the final whistle. Apart from the interception try after two minutes, Thatcham had controlled the second half with a try of their own. It was such a different story from last week.
Rivals for the last relegation spot, Dorchester, meanwhile lost heavily at home to Yeovil but gained a try bonus point, so are now 9 points behind Thatcham with two games left. Next week Dorchester travel to Sherborne and Thatcham entertain Corsham at Henwick Lane.
1. Matt Langdon; 2. Graham Armstrong; 3. Lewis Davies (Ben Walton); 4. George Seymour (Louis Kanaar-Brown); 5. Rich Browne; 6. Tim Apperley; 7. Charlie Rayner; 8. Mark Smith; 9. Danny Shaughnessy; 10. Ollie Black; 11. Ash Swaisland; 12. Sam Smith (Marty Butler); 13. Derek Allan; 14. Brandon Davies; 15. Charlie Lutterloch.
Try: Brandon Davies
Penalties: Black (3)