Steve Wake reports on Berkswell and Balsall’s emphatic Midlands West Division 2 (South) victory at home to Barker Butts in difficult conditions on Saturday 15th January 2011:
Berkswell & Balsall – 22 Barkers Butts – 7
A much improved performance from Berkswell saw them turn the formbook upside down with an emphatic victory over their local rivals. B’s were well worth the victory, adapting to the windy and muddy conditions far better than Butts, in a game where handling was a lottery. The home side played up the slope and against the wind in the first half and, despite those disadvantages, turned around with a 7-0 lead. They dominated the final stages of the game and were unlucky not to add the fourth ‘bonus point’ try near the end, as their forwards drove Barkers back at will.
The opening exchanges were predominantly in the middle third of the pitch; Berkswell were happy to drive the ball downfield in the forwards, with the visitors trying to get their handling game going. The wind and slippery conditions weren’t helping Butts though, as the accidental knock-on became the most common end to any moves. The scrums were going the way of the home side, which meant there was always pressure on the visitor’s back-row, and scrum-half, to get clean ball away.
Barkers were surprisingly not using the strong wind in their favour to push Berkswell back with kicks down to the corners, which was strange, as they were finding it difficult to create chances with their running game. After 16 minutes a loose ball thrown along the visitor’s back-line allowed B’s left-wing Cameron Hunt to intercept for the home side; he outpaced the covering full-back in a 40 meter sprint, to cross the line for the first try. Sam Bignall made light of the difficult conditions to land the conversion and give B’s an unexpected 7-0 lead.
The second quarter of the game continued in the same manner as the first; Berkswell were glad to just try and hold their lead, while Barkers tried to run the ball through the home defence without success. The game was regularly interrupted with stoppages, as mistakes were inevitable in the conditions. The halftime whistle went with no additional scores and Berkswell looked forward to 40 minutes of playing downhill and with the weather behind them. However, a fired-up Barkers side were not going to lie down and within four minutes of the restart had levelled the scores. A poor clearance from Berkswell’s Fullback was fielded by his opposite number and a mazy run up the right-hand touchline ended with a fine try, which was converted, to tie the scores 7-7.
The home pack now had significant dominance, and were pushing Butts back at every scrum, whoever had the put-in. A scrum within the visitors ‘22’ saw B’s control the ball and shunt the Barker’s pack over their own line. Veteran Scrum-half Mark Brereton diving on the ball to score. The conversion was wide, but it made little difference as the B’s started to assert themselves. Several scrums were stopped by the referee as the Barkers front-row were being driven upwards – often resulting in penalties against Berkswell.
Eventually the pressure told and Berkswell were awarded a penalty in front of the visitor’s posts, which Bignall kicked for 15-7. At this point Barkers substituted two of their front-row, but if anything this weakened their scrum further. Another push-over try was always likely, although the third Berkswell try in fact came from a Barkers scrum put-in, near their own line. They quickly went backwards and, trying to throw the ball across their in-goal area, dropped the ball. Berkswell’s Roman Coombes and Joe Styles both dropped on the loose ball together, but Styles was awarded the try, which Bignall converted. Try as they might, B’s couldn’t secure a position to grab a fourth try, which would have brought them a welcome bonus point.
Tries: Cameron Hunt (1); Mark Brereton (1); Joe Styles (1)
Penalty: Sam Bignall (1)
Conversions: Sam Bignall