Ordinarily a 20-15 point defeat would not be viewed as a positive, but Minety coach Andy Grayson was both relieved, to have captured one league point, and surprised by the efforts of a very much patched up Minety team.
Seven of the 18 man squad had not played 1st team rugby this season and for three of them, it was their first taste of competitive rugby since last season. To emerge from a close fought encounter with such a narrow defeat spoke volumes for both the commitment and spirit of the Minety team.
In a match played, unusually, under sunny skies and on a near perfect pitch at Melksham, Minety kicked off and more than matched their more organised opponents in the opening encounters, especially in the scrum and lineout play.
Minety took the lead in the 10th minute from a Garin Garland penalty after Melksham were caught off-side 20 metres from their line.
Garland extended the lead 3 minutes later with another well taken penalty.
Minety pressurised the Melksham defence with some fine forward work and in the 18th minute a rolling maul made 20 metres only to be halted right on the Melksham line while Garland was held up on the line just moments later.
Garland kicked his third penalty after centre Jack Howse had broken through and been brought to ground inches from the line.
The village side held out until the 34th minute when a fluent move along the line saw Melksham’s winger cross for the game’s first try wide out on the right.
Garland’s injury time penalty in front of the posts saw Minety enter the half time break 12-5 up.
Melksham started the 2nd half strongly and their efforts were rewarded with a try in the 42nd minute. A cross field move and a deft cut back by their hooker opened up the visitors’ defence for the second try.
When flanker, Gareth Peirce, himself making his first appearance of the season, was injured, Club President Andy Ward, one of three veterans making up the Minety bench with a combined age of 164, was forced into action.
The Minety bench: Ken Wright, Phil Ward and Andy Ward
With Garland, prop Mark Glew and hard charging Andrew Hibbard making inroads down the middle, Minety re-grouped and more than matched the home side.
Fly half John Blair’s fine solo run was halted metres from the line and follow ups from full back Ben Kingston and winger Dave Cooke were thwarted by a hastily re-arranged Melksham defence.
In the 60th minute the Minety forwards pushed Melksham back and Garland’s solo effort was held up short as the village side strove for their first try.
Perhaps the turning point in the match came when Minety’s influential captain Tom Claxton was forced off with a nasty looking ankle injury and then Melksham were awarded a try after it appeared that the ball was knocked on over the line.
Melksham’s 4th try came in the 73rd minute and one might have expected the visibly tiring Minety side to cave in but instead they pushed Melksham back and when Garland slotted his 5th penalty of the match the result was still in the balance.
Minety threw caution to the wind in the last minutes of the game, Garland and the impressive flanker Ben Sellick taking play from beneath their posts into midfield to set up another wave of Minety attacks.
But it was not to be and the match ended with Melksham taking the points by 20-15 although Minety’s losing bonus point keeps them in with a slim chance of a top four position come the end of the season.
Coach Andy Grayson said after the match: “They ought to be proud of what they did over the course of 80 minutes; I know I am. We had so many players new to the squad with others playing out of position but they gave their all and you can’t ask more than that.
The game plan worked well in the first half but we tired in the 2nd and allowed them to come back into the match. Even so, with a couple of breaks going our way, we could have won it.
“We now have three matches to go and need wins in all of them. Hopefully, some of our injury hit squad will be back for those matches as we chase 4th place in the league.”
nb The combined age of the Minety bench was 164. 164 years ago, in 1854, Victoria was still on the throne, the 4th Earl of Aberdeen was Prime Minister, Britain declared war on Russia and so the Crimean War started, Florence Nightlingale prepared to leave for the Crimea, Franklin Pierce was the US president and the California Gold Rush was into its final year. The American civil war was still 7 years away!