Minety 19 - Melksham 17
For the second week running a less than full strength Minety team have come back in the second half to see off high flying opponents. Last week Minety came back from 21 – 11 down after 50 minutes to defeat 2nd placed Royal Wootton Bassett 30 – 21 and this Saturday the team turned around a 17- 0 deficit to inflict defeat upon the team who leap frogged Bassett into second place in the league, Melksham.
As it seems with every passing week, Minety were forced through injuries and unavailabilities to put out a much changed side from the one which garnered the points at Bassett last week. James Stuart, Matt Park and Rob Hinwood returned to the pack and Bram Coleman was pressed into action on the wing.
Kicking down the slope and with a blustery wind just about favouring them, Melksham started strongly and forced Minety to defend from deep in their own 22. Minety’s first foray into the Melksham half came after a clearance kick from fly half Sam Hughes relieved some pressure and from a subsequent set of moves full back Del Murray drove through the Melksham line and raced 40 metres up field.
An early ankle injury to Matt Park ruled the hooker out for the rest of the game and coach James Irving was forced to make a number of changes in the pack with only Ethan Whitehurst, a back, available on the bench. Matt Chisholm moved up from 2nd row to hooker and James Stuart took over throw in duties for the duration.
Melksham used the breeze well and a long kick down field stayed in play and was collected by a Melksham player. Despite some tenacious tackling, the ball was moved across the field for the right winger to touch down near the corner flag after 9 minutes and Melksham were ahead. An excellent conversion kick from 25metres out by the touchline by their fly half extended the lead to 7 points.
Minety were pinned back from the kick off and another down field kick saw them defending a scrum 22 metres out. Melksham’s pack put the home side under pressure and when the ball emerged the number 8 picked up and charged the line, off loading at the last minute to their flanker who touched down for their second try out on the left. The long range conversion drifted wide but Melksham now had a comfortable 12 – 0 lead with just 15 minutes on the clock.
Melksham thought they had their third try in the 20th minute. With their pack dominant at set pieces and Minety struggling to find any coherence in their play, the Melksham backs moved the ball impressively and it was only the combined efforts of inside centre Duncan Simpson and replacement Whitehurst that kept the ball up when Melksham crossed for what looked like a certain try.
However, the respite was only temporary. From the ensuing scrum the ball was picked up by the Number 8, flicked to the scrum half and then passed to the winger who crossed for his second try, wide out on the right, in the 23rd minute.
17 – 0 down and struggling against the wind, the slope and a very confident Melksham team, showing just why they are right up at the top of the table, Andrew Hibbard’s Minety side had to dig deep in the closing minutes of the half, and they did.
Tremendous tackling in mid field from flanker Kieran Tillotson, scrum half Garin Garland and outside centre Chris Rule kept Melksham in their own half.
A fine penalty kick to touch very much into the wind from fly half Sam Hughes pushed Minety up close to the Melksham 22 and from the ensuing throw in the ball went cross field with Murray joining the line and making good ground. With props Coilin French and Hugo Beanland punching holes in the middle of the visitors’ defence, Hibbard’s drive to the line was stopped and then a trademark jinking run from Hughes left defenders clutching at thin air. Hughes, Hibbard, Garland and Coleman all went close as Minety desperately tried to break their first half duck. Another powerful run from Murray and an offload to Chisholm set up another wave of Minety attacks as they began to dominate proceedings but they had to rely upon Rule’s timely intervention to stop a breakaway 4th try to Melksham shortly before half time.
Whatever was said in the huddle at half time certainly had an impact on the village team. After an initial attack from Melksham, the increasingly impressive Murray broke free and, with the help of Rob Hinwwod and Rule, made ground to half way. Melksham were penalised at the breakdown and Hughes’ long penalty kick was fumbled by the full back and Minety were now into Melksham’s 22 and pressing for their first try.
Simpson was tackled short of the line but Melksham transgressed again at the break down and their No. 19 was yellow carded by the referee. From the restart the ball went along the line and Rule was only stopped by a head high tackle, the Melksham prop being given a yellow card.
Two players down, Melksham were unable to withstand a tap penalty from Garland and a charge to the line from Murray. Garland’s conversion was successful and Minety were 17 – 7 down with 33 minutes to go.
The 13 men of Melksham fought hard but with numbers, impetus, the slope and the wind at their backs, Minety began to control possession and territory. Garland’s tap penalty and run to the line from 30 metres out was stopped marginally short and then Murray was held up with inches to go. More pressure on the visitors’ line saw them penalised and another yellow card issued.
The pressure told in the 57th minute. Melksham were penalised twice within inches of their line. Garland moved the ball left and a combination of Hughes and Simpson set Whitehurst in for Minety’s 2nd try. Garland’s conversion sailed wide but Minety were now very much back in the game, 12 – 17 down with 23 minutes left on the clock.
With two of the yellow cards completed Melksham were back to 14 players in the 68th minute when Stuart was lifted in a tackle and appeared to land awkwardly on his face. The referee called the Melksham captain across and showed a straight red card to the prop forward involved in the tackle.
Minety now pushed hard for the try that would win them the game. Hibbard was again instrumental in making ground in midfield and Beanland, Hughes and Hinwood combined to push Minety to within yards of the Melksham line. A pass was Rule was judged forward with the line beckoning.
With just minutes left, Minety were again camped in Melksham’s 22 and as the visitors tried to break free a smothering tackle from Rule and a turn over achieved by a combination of Simpson and Tillotson saw Rule stopped metres from the line. Garland, sensing that the defence was stretched, took the ball on and jinked his way through to touch down beneath the posts and bring the scores level at 17 – 17. His conversion from in front of the posts was successful and Minety led for the first time 19 – 17.
Excellent defensive line speed kept Melksham in their own half for the rest of the game and when the visitors transgressed at a ruck Hughes planted the ball in touch to end the match.
The four points for Minety now lifts them above Calne and Trowbridge and up into 8th place in the 12 team league. Crucially, it means that Minety are now 5 points above 11th placed Marlborough and 22 above 12th placed Bradford, with two teams to be relegated at the end of the season.
Our impartial man of The Match adjudicator, Matt Chisholm, awarded the accolade to …. Matt Chisholm although it would be hard to pick out one individual from a superb team performance.
Squad: Colin French, Matt Park, Hugo Beanland, James Stuart, Matt Chisholm, Rob Hinwood, Kieran Tillotson, Andrew Hibbard ©, Garin Garland, Sam Hughes, Bram Coleman, Duncan Simpson, Chris Rule, Etai Scott and Del Murray. Replacement: Ethan Whitehurst.