Minety lost their Dorset and Wilts Division 1 encounter with runaway league leaders Combe Down, going down by 43-7 at Minety Fields on Saturday.
The Bath based side came into the match with an unblemished record in the league this season, winning all 18 of their matches and averaging well over 50 points in each game so Minety coach Andy Grayson and captain Andrew Hibbard knew that they were in for a bruising encounter.
Still without club captain Tom Claxton and leading points scorer Garin Garland, Grayson brought in Matt Park at hooker and paired Mark Glew with James Nicksen at half back for the first time.
Minety got off to the worst possible start, conceding the opening try in the 4th minute and then a second just two minutes later. The first came when the ball squirmed out of a scrummage and was picked up by the Combe Down flanker who crossed easily near the posts, the second at the end of a fluent move involving forwards and backs resulting in the left winger running the ball in near the corner flag and then touching down near the posts.
14-0 down after just 6 minutes and Minety looked in real trouble. However, Grayson’s sides this season have displayed resilience under pressure this season and they fought back against their illustrious opponents, Glew and Nicksen working well together and the usually reliable lineouts and scrums giving some quality ball for the backs. From one set piece Hibbard almost broke through but was brought down metres from the line.
In the pack it became a real battle with front rowers Andy Darrall, Park and Colin French refusing to give an inch in exchanges, ably supported by second rowers Ben Scott and Ben Collins. Combe Down showed why they are unbeaten this season with some fine backs moves, switching play from one touchline to the other with confidence but the Minety cover broke up play time and time again.
Minety’s task was not helped when hard tackling flanker Jay Thompson was injured mid-way through the half, James Stuart coming on from the bench to replace him. The home side matched Combe Down until three minutes before the interval. After another series of impressive phases of play Minety’s defences were breached for the third try and a fourth was added in stoppage time as both teams pressed forward and gaps appeared defensively.
Minety started the second half brightly with centre Jack Howse at last finding some room to run at the defence and Hibbard always a threat in the loose but it was Combe Down who scored first to increase their lead to 31-0 in the 43rd minute, a flanker breaking through two tackles to cross for their 5th try. The conversion was successful and league leaders were 31-0 up. Minety introduced Tom Waldron to the side shortly after when Del Murray picked up an injury. The youngster became the 45th player to wear a Minety shirt in this season full of injuries and unavailabilities for the village side.
Combe Down’s 6th try came from a rolling maul as Minety were pushed back. Flanker Kieran Tillotson was injured in the lead up to the try and had to be replaced, Steve White making a rare appearance for the side replacing him.
36 points behind, Minety fought back with Howse and French stopped inches short of the line and then Scott held up over the line. Shortly after winger Dave Cooke was held up on the line but when the ball came back captain Hibbard broke a tackle to register a well-deserved try for Minety, which Nicksen converted to bring the scoreline to 7-36.
Andrew Hibbard (bottom right) touches down for Minety’s try
Deep into injury time, and with the home team down to 13 players with Howse off the pitch and injured, Combe Down registered their 7th try near to the posts to leave them with a flattering 43-7 win.
Afterwards Andy Grayson said, “We worked very hard today. They are a team who have scored over 100 points in some games and we made them work hard for every try. There were lots of positives to take from that match. We didn’t take a backward step and stuck together as a unit, even when the injuries began to take their toll. Choosing a man of the match was very difficult because everyone put in so much effort, but I’m awarding it to James Nicksen who stood up under extreme pressure and was at the heart of all that we did.”
Man of the Match James Nicksen, with Colin French and Anton.
With three matches of the season Minety remain in 7th place, two points behind Trowbridge but 11 above 8th placed Sutton Benger.
Could well be a caption contest! A bloodied Ben Scott at the end of the match.
In a fortnight Grayson’s team travel to 3rd placed Melksham before ending the season with two home games, against Pewsey Vale and Warminster.