Team of the month fails to finish
By Nick Rance
After three good wins in the run up to Christmas, Thatcham were presented with the Wadworth 6X team of the month award for December prior to the game, but failed to replicate that form in their local derby with Grove.
It was a case of poor finishing against a powerful running Grove side that capitalised on Thatcham errors and made sure of the points when it mattered.
Grove were good value for the win and looked like a side that should be higher up the league table, but Thatcham should be ruing the chances they failed to put away. As a consequence the home side had to wait till the last minute of the game to get points on the board.
The visitors applied the early pressure, but Thatcham’s defence held up well, despite missing Dixon and Apperley. Nathan Kanaar-brown came in to partner his brother Louis at flanker and George Seymour made a welcome return at lock alongside Rich Browne.
Grove had the better of the set pieces, so Thatcham were playing off the back foot and Hull converted a penalty for Grove to give the lead after 12 minutes. But Thatcham had a good spell that saw some promising attacks down the line and Seymour make good yards. Marty Butler tried a chip forward for Davies on the wing that nearly came off. Dan Tingle took a quick tap and made 20 metres before another penalty gave Thatcham a chance to even the score, but Lutterloch’s attempt went narrowly wide. Thatcham looked to be building a head of steam and standing up well in open play to Grove’s bigger pack. But somewhat against the run of play, Grove won possession and broke through for McCarthy to score and Hull’s conversion at the second attempt put the visitors 10 – 0 ahead.
The last fifteen minutes of the half proved a bitter pill for Thatcham as a succession of good chances went begging. Overlaps were spurned, passes attempted too late for the man in the clear and opportunities through the hands spilled or needlessly kicked away. Thatcham were playing well enough to be in control, but at key moments Grove were let off the hook. So the sides went into the half-time break with the score still at 10 – 0, when Thatcham should have been at least at parity.
Thatcham pressed the self-destruct button straight from the re-start. A poor clearance kick was gratefully taken by Grove fullback Matthews and he ran straight down the wing unchallenged to score in the corner with less than a minute on the clock. It wasn’t the start Thatcham wanted and they were caught off guard again with less than five minutes gone as Matthews again took a good line to slice through the Thatcham defence for a seven pointer to give the visitors a 24 point lead.
Grove’s blistering start to the second period didn’t last, but in spite of a home revival there was very little to show for their efforts. Thatcham pressure was securing penalties and Grove picked up a yellow, but the home line-out had become less secure so although Thatcham were playing more into the Grove 22 there was little reward. Thatcham’s handling had improved and keeping the ball on the move was the best option. Into the last quarter Nick Rance looked to have finished a good backs move, but the touch judge controversially ruled foot in touch to deny the score. To their credit Thatcham maintained the upper hand for the last period but had to wait till the closing moments for Brandon Davies to get the touch down wide to get some points consolation.