Banbury Bulls in Oxfordshire Cup Final

Banbury Bulls 24 - 19 Henley II

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2014 06:26pm
Bodicote, Cherwell
By Simon Grieve
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The Bulls left nothing on the field in what was certainly the best game of rugby seen at Bodicote Park for some time.

To their credit, both sides came to play running rugby but it was probably the hosts determined and effective defence that decided the outcome.

Henley 2nds came very, very close and the pain was visibly etched on some young faces at the final whistle.

The Bulls came into this game unbeaten since Christmas but knew they faced stiff opposition, and which had the experience of playing their rugby several leagues higher. Attacking the Banbury end the Bulls started the brighter and were unlucky not to unleash Heywood down the right but the pass from Jed Boyle was just out of reach.

Banbury Skipper Ed Phillips (pictured) caught Henley not 10m from one of his trade-mark tap penalties and put the shot on goal within Alex Fogavini’s range. The tense nature of the evening was set as Fogavini hit the upright!

Banbury continued their early pressure and it was centre Jimmy Manley who opened the scoring on the 11th minute by falling on a Fogavini grubber from a 5m scrum. Banbury’s star number 10 had an easy conversion from in front of the posts, 7-0 to the hosts.

Just 6 minutes later, and after a failed Henley attempt to drive a maul from 10m, it was the Bulls attacking again down the right flank and with numbers. This time winger Josh Deegan burst the Henley defence to score in the corner. The conversion was missed but from way out, 12-0 to Banbury.

Mid-way through the half Henley upped the tempo and secured a number of penalties on the Banbury 5m line as the hosts scrambled a defence.

The pressure proved too great and a superb looped pass of some 20m from Henley’s scrum-half Mark Bruce saw winger James Purcell-Lacy go over in the new Clubhouse (!) corner. Another long range kick was missed, this time by Guy Swadling, but Henley were back in the game at 12-5.

Through injury Banbury were forced to change hooker Ernie Ell for Bloxham School teacher Brett Richmond and Henley started to look dangerous in the broken play.

Penalised for not releasing at the ruck, the Bulls were forced back to their 5m line to face a Henley lineout. Not for the first time the visitors deployed their favourite weapon, a catch and drive by the front 8. In fact it was the Henley number 8 Ben Ashmore who dotted down, the try duly converted by captain Swadling from distance. 12-12 and the tone was being set for the rest of the evening.

The players may have enjoyed a breather on the 35 minute mark but the watching fans, of both sides, were increasingly frustrated by the numerous perceived infringements at the break downs. Banbury were the first to benefit as Fogavini scored two penalty goals in quick succession, both from a 30m range, to hand back the lead to the hosts.

Then it was Henley’s turn to benefit as the Bulls again repeatedly offended on their 5m line. Several attempts to tap and go failed so Swadling kicked for a lineout in the right hand corner. The resulting catch and drive also failed but Henley earned another penalty as Banbury entered from the side. This time the tap was popped to prop Sam Steventon and he could not be stopped as he bulldozed over Banbury’s line under the posts. Swadling’s straightforward conversion saw Henley ease into a 1 point lead as the half-time whistle sounded. Banbury 18 – 19 Henley 2nds.

With the mist starting to settle under the floodlights the second half got underway. The Bulls again started the sharper and proceeded to apply 15 minutes of sustained pressure. Every time Henley looked to break out it was the boot of Fogavini or the guile of Ed Phillips who penned them back.

When the ball was knocked out of Phillips hands in the 55th minute the culprit was lucky to escape with just a penalty against him.

With Fogavini receiving treatment the duty fell to the Skipper and he didn’t disappoint – the kick sailing over from a good 35m range. The Bulls had regained the lead at 21-19 and the home crowd was starting to rise to the occasion.

Fogavini was forced to retire but the capable Carl Daniels was ready to replace him, full back Joe Mills stepping up to the number 10 slot and Daniels becoming the last line of Bulls defence.

Seamus O’Dwyer also came off to be replaced by veteran forward Simon Brand in the pack. Henley replacement Charlie Nixon didn’t even have time to get his shirt dirty as he was yellow carded for not releasing in the tackle.

Then a Henley flanker was judged to be not bound on at the scrum and Phillips found himself with another 35m shot for goal. Once may have been lucky but twice from the same distance was pure class and the Skipper earned his subsequent man-of-the match award as another 3 points were racked up.

There then followed the longest 15 minutes of Banbury rugby that many will have endured. Henley ran at the Bulls from all directions, and to their credit, with nothing on their minds but to score a try. Several tap and go penalties within the Banbury 22m were rebuffed, the Bulls eventually earning a scrum and a chance to clear their lines.

Time for one more Henley attack as the rapid full-back Adam Lubbock charged down the left hand flank.

It may have been fate but the man waiting for him was Carl 'Kombat, sorry Combat' Daniels and he put in a try-stopping tackle into touch that was pure text-book.

One last penalty to the Bulls, one last kick by Phillips to the corner, one last lineout, one mentally exhausted home crowd. As the Skipper hoofed the last play off the field Bodicote Park erupted and the Bulls were into a County Cup Final.

Referee: Mr Simon Blake (Oxfordshire Society)


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