Rugby: Berkswell comeback not enough to turn Cheltenham clash

Steve Wake reports on Berkswell’s Midlands West Division 2 (South) encounter with Cheltenham North on Saturday 12th February:

Berkswell & Balsall – 15 Cheltenham North – 17

Once again the game just wasn’t long enough for Berkswell, as they tried to overcome a nine point halftime deficit and, for the second week running, came-up just short. Once again the home side’s kicking in front of goal let them down; their failure to convert any of their three tries, in the end, the difference between victory and defeat. Cheltenham certainly knew they had been in a game by the final whistle, but their victory was nowhere near as clear-cut as they probably thought it would be, after they had raced into a 14-0 lead after 26 minutes.

Another slow start from Berkswell saw them on the back foot straight from the kick-off. The visitors used their big pack to secure quality ball and their half-backs were able to find gaps in the home defence to run the ball through. It was no surprise when they took the lead after just six minutes. Berkswell’s right wing hoisted a ball out of defence which failed to find touch, Cheltenham ran the ball back and after a brief passing interchange the visitor’s Fly Half danced through two despairing tackles to score a try, which was converted.

Berkswell’s line led a charmed life for the next few minutes as desperate last-ditch tackling kept the visitors at bay. Cheltenham elected to run their penalties instead of kicking them, but the B’s defence could only hold out until the 26th minute. Cheltenham’s second converted try came from a well controlled driving maul, which rumbled to within ten meters before feeding the three-quarters, who worked the ball over the try line. Berkswell seemed to improve after this and began to get on top in the forward battle. They pushed Cheltenham back in the next two set scrums and this seemed to enhance the B’s confidence, for the first time showing some chinks in the visitor’s game. A textbook lineout, take, set and drive saw Berkswell steamroller the Cheltenham forwards back over their own line, for tight-head prop Craig Mills to claim the vital touch – the conversion was wide.

Cheltenham attacked strongly for the remainder of the half, but the Berkswell defence once again held firm. Berkswell were 5-14 down at halfway, but came out with a purpose at the start of the second half. Excellent tactical kicking for position by Sam Bignall, and strong mauling in the loose, ensured the game was played in Cheltenham’s half for the first ten minutes after the break, but good defence from the visitors kept Berkswell at bay. A rare visit into B’s half by North produced a penalty for offside and, although a difficult kick, it went over – to extend the Cheltenham lead further.

A new level of intensity seemed to enter the game at this point and it seemed to stir Berkswell to greater efforts. Their pressure was now almost continuous and the inevitable second home try quickly followed; a quickly taken tap-penalty, then a burst by Flanker Joe Cart broke the Cheltenham defensive line, the ball was offloaded to loose-head prop Ollie Flint who sprinted to the line for Berkswell’s second front-row try. It was all Berkswell now and two drives by the pack got over the Cheltenham line, but were held up both times by the visitor’s defiant defence.

As the match reached the final ten minutes, B’s scored their third try. Centre Mark Connors getting down on the ball as yet another drive by the home side forced them over the North line. Again, no conversion, which meant B’s were still two points adrift, with just minutes left. Despite more home pressure, there were no further scores and it was a mightily relieved Cheltenham who gratefully cleared the ball into touch, after the referee signalled ‘last-play’.

Scoring Summary
Craig Mills (1)
Ollie Flint (1)
Mark Connors (1)