Bridgwater managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this pulsating game in Bristol writes Tony Pomeroy. Bridgwater were severely handicapped throughout the game as referee, Andy Miller of the Bristol Society, seemed to take a grave dislike to their play. The home side won the penalty count 13-3 and the free kicks at 2-0 as a series of seemingly strange decisions went against the visitors. All players and spectators want of a referee is consistency and equability and for this game that was certainly not forthcoming.
Having expressed concern at the refereeing, it must be said that Bridgwater should still have won – and won comfortably. They scored five tries, one more than the home side, and perhaps should have had four more. Twice in the first half Bridgwater players were held up over the Avonmouth line and in the second half, twice more the ball was lost within a couple of metres of the Avonmouth line.
Bridgwater brought in Scott Woolford at loose head prop with James Bryant on the bench and Oscar Tregenna in place of the holidaying Nick Francis on the wing. George Sluman and Jonathan Hill joined the bench.
Avonmouth exerted some pressure from the kick off but after four minutes, James Brakes broke out of defence to relieve the pressure. Bridgwater built their first attack of the day and James Martin combined well with Ollie Dunn who was stopped just short. However, the ball popped up to Jervis Manupenu who scored half way out but the conversion attempt was well wide.
A few minutes later, a driving maul from the kick off gave Manupenu room to kick. His up-and-under was fumbled by the defence and the ball reached Oscar Tregenna – who had a clear run to the line. Unfortunately, the ball bobbled out of his hands and the chance was lost.
Bridgwater then stole an Avonmouth line out to give them field position on the home 22. A good move from the lineout saw Bryan Webb crash over but he was unable to ground the ball. Bridgwater were penalised at the resulting scrum.
There followed a raft of penalties for the home side and eventually fly half Joe Wearne had a go at goal from 25m but pushed it wide. He was more successful with yet another penalty a couple of minutes later.
After 24 minutes, Bridgwater received a very kickable penalty but opted instead for a five metre lineout. The inevitable driving maul resulted in yet another try for Matt Hastie. Heal was again off target with the kick.
On the half hour, yet another home penalty was kicked to the corner. Avonmouth set up a driving maul and with the referee playing advantage moved the ball to the centre where wing Josh Krupa was unstoppable, scoring under the posts giving Wearne an easy conversion. Taylor Buller was yellow carded for his part in trying to stop the driving maul.
On the stroke of half time, Bridgwater, despite being short-handed, regained the lead. A great break by Rob Allen who ran powerfully throughout the game, set up Scott Woolford but although getting over the line, could not ground the ball. From the resulting scrum, Roger Drabble fed Allen on the blind side and he crashed over in the corner for Bridgwater’s third unconverted try and a half time score of 10-15.
Jon Hill replaced the injured Brakes and James Bryant came on for Woolford.
Wearne narrowed the gap with a 22m penalty early in the second half before George Sluman replaced Webb.
From the kick off, James Martin caught the ball and scythed through the home defence. He handed on to Hastie who was stopped short and the referee awarded Avonmouth a penalty.
Bridgwater regained possession and Manupenu put in an exquisite cross kick gathered on the full by Tregenna. He made ground and handed on to Hastie who looked for an inside scoring pass but the ball was lost.
Bridgwater then stole a lineout on the right. The ball was moved left to Allen who, with the aid of a very solid and legal hand off crashed through the home defence for a try under the posts. Heal’s conversion took the score to 13-22 and he then added a rare Bridgwater penalty to increase the lead.
To their credit, Avonmouth did not lie down and Krupa narrowed the gap with an unconverted try following a good home move.
With a quarter of the game to go, Avonmouth brought the scores level with a try that looked to many in the crowd to be the result of a number of ‘unpunished infringements’. Greg Long gat the touchdown and Wearne converted.
Avonmouth could sense victory but Bridgwater held out. Approaching injury time, Allen again smashed his way through the home defence in a 45m run that brought his third try, again unconverted.
From the kick off, Kemmish tapped the ball back to Bussell who was immediately penalised for offside. This amazing decision was the prelude for another couple of penalties as the home side attacked relentlessly.
From a 5m scrum on their own line, Drabble stole the ball and fed Sluman who took the ball near to halfway only for yet another penalty to Avonmouth.
They continued to hammer at the Bridgwater line but were stifled by a solid defence. In the seventh minute of injury time an Avonmouth player was legally tackled short of the line. He then proceeded to wriggle along the ground to the line and grounded the ball. The whistle blew and Bridgwater thought they had been awarded a penalty. No, to the amazement of all but the most biased home supporter, the referee awarded a try which Wearne converted for Avonmouth to steal a very unlikely win. The final whistle blew as soon as the conversion had been landed.
Bridgwater were gutted at this defeat. However, they have only themselves to blame as if they had scored all the points they should have, they would have won comfortably despite the efforts of others. Perhaps Bideford will suffer the backlash when they visit Bridgwater next week.
From Bridgwater’s point of view, there are still many positives to take from the game. The two points gained have lifted them into twelfth place in the league – if they had won they would have gone up to eighth. The commitment of the players cannot be faulted but there were too many totally unforced errors. The pack played well but the referee did not recognise the unusual binding often employed by the home side. The backs ran well and with purpose. Twelve tries in the last two matches augers well for the future and the side are obviously playing expansive and exciting rugby. The results they deserve will surely come.
Tries: Allen (3), Manupenu, Hastie
James Martin, Oscar Tregenna, Rob Allen, Stu Heal, James Brakes (rep John Hill 39), Jervis Manupenu, Roger Drabble, Scott Woolford (rep James Bryant h/t), Matt Hastie, Joe Bussell, Tayler Buller, Dan Kemmish, Bryan Webb (rep George Sluman 45), Ollie Dunn (Capt), Nick Spellissy
Referee: Andy Miller (Bristol Society)