The league match between 7th placed Minety and 3rd placed Melksham on Saturday was decided only by a late try and conversion as the visitors pulled themselves back from 13 – 0 down to take the points by 15 – 13 in a pulsating and hard fought encounter at Minety Fields.
Beaten only once since the opening day of the season, Melksham came to Minety on a fine run of form and Tom Claxton’s Minety were aware that they would have to be on top form to match them.
Kicking down the slope and with a fierce wind behind them, Minety pushed Melksham back but the opposition soon demonstrated why they hold 3rd place in the league with some assured handling and movement of the ball under pressure.
The home side took the lead in the 5th minute when Garin Garland stroked home a penalty.
Melksham struck back, rucking aggressively and turning the ball over. Confident in possession, they forced Minety back and only some strong tackling from 2nd row Ben Scott and full back Chris Rule kept them at bay.
Garland used the advantage of the wind to clear Minety’s lines down field but the home side were unable to string together sufficient phases of play to exert real pressure on the Melksham line.
Minety had a chance to double their lead in the 18th minute but a long range penalty drifted wide. Tempers flared shortly afterwards with the referee being forced to speak to the captains after a melee in midfield following a high tackle on Minety’s free running centre Jack Howse.
Garland kicked the resulting penalty and Minety were 6 – 0 to the good.
Melksham were denied the opening try soon after and only some excellent defensive tackling by new Minety centre Will Crisp and flanker Jay Thompson kept the visitors out. As Melksham continued to play neat and accurate rugby, Minety wingers Ben Langridge and the returning Steve White were both called upon to make telling tackles as the visitors sought to impose themselves on the match. Melksham’s defensive line speed meant that scrum half Garland and fly half Dave Cooke had little time to settle and set up the backs but it was Garland who reacted first when Minety won a scrummage against the head. Picking up the loose ball, he sped through a gap and crossed for Minety’s opening try in the 29th minute. With the conversion successful, Minety were 13-0 up.
One of the key moments of a tight match came in the 33rd minute when the promising Crisp, playing only his second match for Minety, dislocated his shoulder and was forced off. A minute later Minety were down to 14 men when No. 8 Gareth Peirce was yellow carded after an infringement at a ruck.
Veteran Dave Church, making his first appearance of the season, replaced Crisp as Minety held off wave after wave of Melksham attacks as half time approached.
The home side ended the half on top as they desperately sought a second try to maximise their advantage of the slope and wind but Howse was stopped short after a good backs move and the sides changed ends with Minety leading 13-0.
The biting wind was augmented by driving rain as the second half got underway.
Melksham transferred territorial advantage into points in the 47th minute with a penalty after the Minety defence were caught off side deep in their own 22.
Coach Andy Grayson brought on Sam Hughes at scrum half, Garland moving to fly half, in an attempt to stem Melksham’s progress.
Despite some heroic defending, Minety were powerless to prevent Melksham scoring their first try on the hour. A fine move involving numerous phases of play ended when the Melksham hooker touched down near the posts. The conversion caught in the wind but Melksham were just 5 points behind with 20 minutes left to play.
As both teams chased the next score, which would almost certainly decide the outcome of the match, play became frantic and loose. A brilliant last ditch tackle by Langridge prevented an almost certain Melksham try in the 76th minute and strong tackling from Rule, Church and Thompson held up Melksham down the centre.
Just when it looked as if the home side might hold on a clearance kicked stalled in the wind and a scrum against the Melksham head saw the ball loose near the Minety line. Melksham exploited Minety’s desperate attempts to re-organise, with Howse on the ground after a clash of heads. The ball moved out wide on the right and a good interchange of passes allowed the try to be scored bringing the scores level as the match entered added on time.
Melksham won the game with a fine conversion kick and took the league points by 15-13, the second time in 4 years that a match between the two has been won by Melksham with the last kick of a game. (24th October 2015 Minety 6 Melksham 9)
Coach Andy Grayson was philosophical in defeat. “The only reason we lost that game was because we didn’t score enough points in the first half when we had the advantage of both slope and wind. It was as good a defensive performance as we’ve given all season. I certainly can’t fault the lads on their efforts.”
Man of the Match, for his superb defensive work out wide, Steve White.