The two week break for Minety comes exactly half way through their Dorset and Wiltshire Division 1 season and Andy Grayson’s side find themselves down in 7th place, 7 points behind Trowbridge in 6th place.
Certainly the first half of the 2018 – 19 season has been a challenging one for the village team. 7th place at Christmas is their lowest league position at the half way stage of a season for at least four seasons. In 2015 they were 2nd, in 2016 6th and last year they started the second half of the season in 5th place. So what has gone wrong?
Perhaps the first half of the season could be encapsulated in the first game, a tough away fixture at Warminster. Forced into a raft of changes late on, Minety took on one of the perennial favourites with a team featuring a number of debutants and a bench made up of veterans. Despite a battling performance, they eventually went down 41-28 after Warminster punished them with two late tries as the team began to tire.
The second match of the season saw Minety on the road again, having to switch fixtures while the newly installed secondary drainage system bedded in on the Minety pitches. Royal Wootton Bassett was the opposition for a side featuring 4 changes. Minety started at their normal fast pace and their intensity led to early tries from Matt Stone and Garin Garland as the village team led at half time 12 points to 8. If the first half had been impressive, the second half was remarkable. Andrew Hibbard’s break and pass to Sam Hughes put the young fly half in for a fine try and then centre Jack Howse danced through the Bassett defences for a bonus point winning try before Mark Glew registered Minety’s 5th try. Stone collected his second try of the game and Minety were worthy winners 47-13.
Progress through the first round of the Dorset and Wiltshire Senior Vase came via a walkover against Calne before Grayson’s team returned to league action with a 72-17 hammering of Supermarine with flanker Ben Sellick scoring four tries in a blistering performance. Other tries from Gareth Peirce, Chris Rule, Andrew Hibbard, Jack Howse, Ben Langridge, Duncan Simpson and Jack Ward ensured Minety came away with a full set of league points and a bonus point.
The run of wins continued with a 27-10 defeat of newly promoted Sutton Benger with Howse, Sellick and Langridge scoring again.
With the team unbeaten since the first match of the season, confidence was high. Minety were well placed in the table and the expectation was that a top four place at Christmas was possible. But then injuries and player unavailability began to impact upon a small squad of players from a small club that supports two teams. When the 1st XV travelled to Trowbridge on the 20th October, the 2nd XV had already been forced to concede their match at home to Warminster simply because they didn’t have 15 fit players.
Two tries from Garin Garland and a third from Andrew Hibbard should have seen Minety home, but chances were missed, and Trowbridge snatched the victory by 26-24. A win would have seen Tom Claxton’s team into 3rd place; the loss condemned them to 6th in a keenly contested top half of the table.
The loss was compounded a week later when 2nd placed Avonvale crushed an understrength Minety team by 57-8 at Minety Fields, the heaviest home defeat for some time. Without the necessary replacements and with a number of players playing in unaccustomed positions, Minety pressed hard but were unable to contain a free scoring Avonvale team.
A win at lowly Calne in November brought some relief to Grayson’s team. Tries from Glew, Hibbard, Jack Ward and Howse together with a first club try for flanker Kieran Tillotsen were sufficient to see off the opposition and secure league points and a 4 try bonus point.
While other teams enjoyed a mid term break, Minety were back on the Senior Vase duty, drawn at home to the powerful Warminster team. Four tries from Ben Collins, Garin Garland, Andrew Hibbard and Tom McAllister saw Minety through to the Vase Final with a crushing 32-7 win.
Back in league action Minety struggled to overcome Chippenham at home, eventually coming out 20-12 winners with Garland and Stone picking up tries but the losses earlier at Trowbridge and Avonvale had cut Minety apart from the leading group.
Once again, while other team enjoyed a break, Minety travelled to Salisbury Rugby Club to take on the form team from Dorset, the Dorset Dockers in the final of the prestigious Senior Vase Final. For once coach Andy Grayson and club captain Tom Claxton were able to choose from a squad of players. Although they eventually went down by 36-17 the village side put up a spirited fight against a very good Dorset team with Hibbard and Langridge both crossing for tries. The opposition commended the Minety team on putting up the best performance that the Dorset team had faced this season.
Sadly, as so often has happened in this topsy turvy season, injuries hit Minety hard and they travelled to top of the table Combe Down with only 14 players and ended up with only 11 after injuries during a 55-10 defeat that flattered the home team. Dave Cooke ran in Minety’s only try with Ash Windle adding the conversion and a further penalty.
The final home match of the year was against the in form Melksham team, third placed in the table and chasing the runaway leaders Combe Down and Avonvale. Melksham had only lost once since the start of the season and showed their class early on, moving a makeshift Minety team around, although unable to score. It was Minety, playing downhill in the first half who opened up a deserved 13 – 0 lead, Garland scoring a try and kicking the conversion and two further penalties. Unfortunately, Minety’s new centre Wil Crisp dislocated his shoulder and the home team started to struggle. Melksham dominated the second half and scored the winning points with almost the last play of the game to snatch victory by 15-13.
Minety’s final match ended with defeat at Pewsey Vale. In a match played in the most dreadful of conditions, Minety started with a bare 15 players and soon lost Glew and Howse to head injuries. When Jay Thompson was forced off Minety had just 12 players on the pitch and Pewsey took full advantage, winning the match by 17-7 when Garland was withdrawn injured and both teams were facing hypothermia.
So the table shows Minety as being 7th with 5 wins and 6 defeats in the league. What is doesn’t reflect is that with the cup matches included, Minety only had one free weekend between the start of September and the Christmas break. Injuries, work commitments and unavailabilities has seen Andy Grayson field 38 different players, enough for two whole teams and substitutes and Minety have failed to field the same team twice this season, let alone in successive matches.
Let us hope that the break allows the injured to recover and the exhausted to relax before the season starts up again on the 5th January with a home clash with Royal Wootton Bassett and Minety Fields.