Steve Wake reports on Berkswell’s hard fought victory over Barkers Butts on Saturday 14th January 2012 in their West Midlands Division 2 South encounter. Berkswell’s remarkable season won official recognition as their first XV have flown up the table having begun the season with a 15 point handicap, punishment meted out for their involvement in a mass brawl during a game last season:
Barkers Butts – 7 Berkswell & Balsall – 8
As the score-line suggests, this was a tight game full of tension, from which Berkswell, BBC Coventry & Warwickshire’s latest rugby Team of the Month, emerged with the narrowest of victories. There wasn’t a great deal between the sides; Barkers were probably the more creative and had more possession, but Berkswell’s pack handled the Barkers front eight well, providing a strong barrier to Butts’ attack and attacking options from home territory. A red card for Berkswell Flanker Mark Connors with 12 minutes to go created extra pressure for the Bs, in the last few minutes of which Butts squandered three kickable penalties. Eventually the single point lead was enough for Berkswell to secure their second victory at their local rival’s ground this season – having already beaten them in the Warwickshire Cup.
There was a nervy opening to the game as both sides tried to get the measure of the other. There hadn’t been any clear-cut chances created before Barkers opened the scoring with a converted try after just nine minutes. A good break down the left-hand side saw the home three-quarters link to create space. A couple of attempted tackles were broken and the try was scored in the left hand corner. An excellent conversion from near the touchline extended the Butt’s lead to 7-0.
Berkswell tried to come back straight away with some crash-ball moves by their centres, but the Barker’s defence held firm. Berkswell were on top in the scrums and were driving into the home pack at rucks and mauls to secure good ball, but couldn’t make much of impression on the home defence when they spun the ball wide. Berkswell’s cause was further hampered when centre Roman Coombes had to leave the field injured after half an hour’s play. They did take advantage of a penalty however, given for an offence at a ruck – Sam Bignall steering the ball between the posts to reduce Barker’s lead to 7-3.
The score-line wasn’t enhanced, nor clear chances made, for the remainder of the first half. Both sides were making errors as the tension of the fixture – between probably the best two sides in the Division – seemed to detract from it being much of a spectacle.
Early in the second half Berkswell scored their try and it came as much out of the blue, as Barkers’ score had done at the beginning of the first half. Berkswell’s forwards had driven into the Barker’s half and secured good ball from a series of rucks, however they weren’t making much of a way forward so, to vary the play, scrum-half Mike Walls pushed a measured kick, behind the home defence. James Fahy sprinted through and managed to fly-hack the ball forward, beating the cover, eventually managing to touch-down wide on the left. The conversion was missed, but Berkswell now had a crucial single point advantage.
Barkers tried to find a quick response, but Berkswell’s defence was strong and effective. As the minutes ticked by the game became more fractious. A player from each side was yellow-carded for an off the ball squabble, but even with both sides a man light for ten minutes, there was little room for expansive rugby. It was an exciting game which switched from end to end, but certainly wasn’t one for the purist.
With twelve minutes remaining Berkswell’s Connors was sent-off for retaliation, after an incident at a ruck. Barkers sensed they could now win it and put the Berkswell defence under significant pressure. It needed a solid and committed performance from the visitors, but they held out and indeed on occasions broke out to threaten an increased lead. The referee played several minutes of injury time and three times awarded penalties to Barkers which, on other days they may have kicked, but all three were wide or short of the posts. Finally the referee signalled ‘no-side’ and Berkswell had triumphed by that single point.
Tries James Fahy (1)
Penalty Sam Bignall (1)