Even the Thornbury supporters agreed after the game that Bridgwater were the better side and deserved their victory. However, as the score suggests, it was very tight.
The downside of the victory was seeing Nick Francis taken to hospital by ambulance following a heavy tackle in which he was dumped to the floor. His hand was badly damaged, with a prognosis of broken bones, and he is likely to be missing until next season.
As the Thornbury club pitch was unplayable, the game was transferred to the Castle School pitch which, whilst dry had a very uneven playing surface. One famous ex-pupil at the school was former Bristol and England hooker, John Pullin, who, it was asserted, could not get into the 1st XV at the school.
no images were found
Bridgwater had first use of the slope and the breeze and put the home side under a lot of pressure. Bridgwater almost scored in the seventh minute but the effort was ruled out by a knock-on just short of the line.
Bridgwater deservedly took the lead after eleven minutes. The pack, who scrummaged very well all afternoon, drove a 5m scrum over the Thornbury line for No 8 Nick Spellissy to touch down. Stuart Heal’s conversion hit the post.
Both sides were a little profligate in allowing the opposition to steal the ball at the tackle and as a result play flowed from end to end. After twenty minutes, Bridgwater increased their lead to 0-12 when, after good handling, the ball reached Joel Clark who managed to avoid the attempted tackles to score under the posts. Heal converted easily.
Bridgwater full back, Francis was yellow carded after twenty five minutes for an offence at the tackle close to his own line. Thornbury pressed but Bridgwater’s defence held out. Finally, a clearing kick was caught by home winger Ed Sheldon who set off on a diagonal run. He kicked towards the Bridgwater line and in the race to clear the danger, Bridgwater knocked the ball over their own line. Rich Bennett fell on it to register a try. The touchline conversion from Tim Stephens was superb.
The end of the half was beset by injuries with Francis, now restored to the play, down twice. The second, a hand injury, signalled the end for the talented full back. There was just time for Thornbury to butcher a 4 to 1 overlap with poor handling before the half time whistle and a score of 7-12.
Ash Honeywell replaced Francis and Chawatame Lovejoy came on at prop for his league debut. Rob Thompson joined the fray a few minutes later.
What the home coach, Gareth Llewellyn, former Wales second row, said to his team at half time galvanised them into action as they hammered down the slope at Bridgwater but the visiting defence held firm.
Bridgwater then lost Arg Saliarelis to the bin as he failed to roll away from a tackle. Stephens missed an eminently kickable penalty following the yellow card.
Thornbury continued to dominate proceedings and took the lead with a try from replacement prop, Jon Day, following a forward drive. Stephens’ conversion from the touchline was again accurate and gave his side a 14-12 lead with fifteen minutes to go.
Bridgwater came right back into the game and hammered hard at the home defence but could not break through.
Into injury time, Bridgwater were awarded a penalty in a similar position to the one Thornbury had missed earlier. As Heal started his run-up to kick, the silence was deafening! He missed – narrowly – and Thornbury thought they had escaped.
With seven minutes of injury time played, Thornbury were awarded a scrum in the middle of the field and the Bridgwater supporters were resigned to a narrow defeat. The pack, however, had not read the script. Thornbury struck the ball in the scrummage but were then sent hurtling back by the most tremendous Bridgwater shove. The ball popped out of the Bridgwater side of the scrum and a do-or-die three-quarter move was halted illegally as the young London Society referee, Michael Woods, signalled a penalty to Bridgwater some 15m from touch and 40m from the posts.
Up stepped Honeywell for his first kick of the game. Again the crowd fell totally silent. It was not the cleanest kick he will ever make but it was straight and just long enough. The touch judge flags were raised and the referee blew for full time. The Bridgwater players celebrated wildly, particularly the pack whose hard work had won the ball in the first place.
Coach, Kevin Innalls, was understandably pleased at the win but tempered it by saying there were still too many mistakes, particularly in losing the ball in the tackle. Bridgwater also conceded too many penalties making life difficult for themselves.
Some of the handling and support play was out of the top drawer but at other times it left something to be desired. However, the confidence engendered by this victory will do wonders for the team as they approach two home matches. Next week, they host Sidmouth, and will be keen to avenge their defeat earlier in the season, before taking on the might of Old Redcliffians who have completed a league double over North Petherton and also beaten Taunton in the Somerset Cup.
Tries: Bennett, Day
Cons: Stephens (2)
Bridgwater & Albion
Tries: Spellissy, Clark
Bridgwater Team: Nick Francis, Joel Clark. Rob Allen, Will Kerry, Arg Saliarelis, Stu Heal, Dominik Griffin, James Bryant, Matt Hastie, Christian Preece, Dan Kemmish (Capt), Doug Page-Symonds, Tom King, Mitch Windsor, Nick Spellissy.
Replacements all used: Chawatama Lovejoy, Rob Thompson, Ash Honeywell
Referee: Michael Woods (London Society)
Match report by Tony Pomeroy, Photographs by Ben Pomeroy