Southend Earn First League Points
Five tries scored as they come agonisingly close in an eventful encounter in the Midlands
In an end to end game that remained balanced on a knife edge throughout, the lead changed hands several times and neither side could pull away too much before the other caught them up.
The Saxons kicked the game off, and struck quickly in this first half with a try from Harry Barton. Towcester had collected the kick off and were setting their own play, when the Saxons swarmed them, forcing a knock on and earning the put in at the scrum. The Saxons forwards were strong in this set piece, enabling the ball to come out the back via Chris Shields. The quick ball was used to good effect as Southend charged into the Towcester twenty-two, and allowed Barton to dot the ball down over the line. There was no conversion on this first attempt from Tom Ramsey, but within the opening five minutes, Southend had the lead.
Looking to build on this early score, Southend continued to build pressure on the home side. In fact, the opening quarter of the game was all about the Saxons’ possession and territorial dominance. With both the scrum and the lineout working well, the Southend pack were able to give the backs a strong platform to attack from, and consistently keep Towcester on the back foot and scrambling to defend.
There were several points in this time where the Saxons really threatened the line, but the closest the came to extending their points tally came at the sixteen minute mark, when the home side went down to fourteen men, after repeated infringements at the breakdown. Opting to go for the kick and then spend the next ten minutes a man up, Ramsey was called up to the tee. Much to the relief of the home crowd the angle proved a little too tight and the ball went wide of the far post.
Still, Southend had a man advantage for the remainder of the sin bin, and they made sure to go straight on the attack to try and capitalise.
During one of these phases, Towcester were able to turn it over, and seizing the opportunity to go for the short-handed score, they surged into the Southend half. Scrambling to bring a halt to the attack, Southend threw themselves into the defence, and it was during this defence that the Saxons then found themselves falling afoul of the referee, as Todd Bailey was sent to the bin for cynical play.
With the teams at fourteen men apiece, Southend and Towcester continued to battle it out, and play became more concentrated in the central part of the field, as neither side really resorted to the high ball at this point of the game – the swirling winds may have had something to do with that – but both sides when they had possession were trying to create the passing plays and spot the gaps in the opposing line.
Towcestrians were able to edge into the lead during this sin binning period, as their scrum half wove his way through the Saxons’ line, and grounded the ball between the posts, meaning the conversion was a simple matter to knock over.
Neither side would add any further points to the board in this first half, despite Towcestrians having a man advantage for a further ten minutes, when Southend saw another yellow card for cynical play just shy of thirty minutes into the game. This time it was scrum half Ross O’Brien spending time on the side-lines. Despite Towcestrians’ best attempts to take advantage, Chris Vaughan was able to expertly rip the ball away from them, and Ramsey put his boot to it in order to push the home side back, and allow the Saxons a moment to ease the pressure, regroup and assemble a strong defence to see out the half.
HALF TIME: TOWCESTRIANS 7 – 5 SOUTHEND SAXONS
From the get go, the second half showed every inclination that it would be just as fast and just a fraught as the first half.
Towcestrians took the first blood – so quickly that most people watching had not even realised the second half had begun – collecting their kick off and slicing through a Saxons’ line that had been caught napping to score in the far corner. With the conversion added, the home side were up by nine points.
This was not for long though; with Marcus Bloomberg collecting the restart, the Saxons spent the next five minutes slowly and inexorably building their attack. In a brilliant showing of patience, determination and game management, they alternated between short sharp passages of passing to cross the field, and slower phases of continued rucking to keep the home side guessing and unable to really shut down the attack. The finish came when several members of the pack bundled over the line for the try. As the bodies stood up, it was Franco Maggiolo whom could claim the score. Ramsey slotted the extras and the Saxons had closed the gap to two points.
Just to make things more exciting, Towcestrians responded almost immediately after this with a try of their own. In similar style to the Maggiolo try, the home side’s forwards drove for the line from the restart, allowing the backs to hang back and seize the opportune moment to fly through for the score. On this occasion there was no conversion, so Southend were only a converted try away from a tied game.
This was just the opening ten minutes of the second half, and with such fast paced and physical play, there was a toll on some bodies on the field. Time was stopped for a moment, as one of the Towcestrians players received treatment, which also gave both sides a moment to catch their breath, before restarting play.
The clock started again on a Saxons attacking scrum, and with the scrum once again operating well, Southend were able to really wield this set piece play to good effect. Waiting the moment well, O’Brien followed behind Shields as the pack went on the march. When the referee called out to use it, O’Brien immediately scooped it up and was off. Again, play went through several phases as Southend kept their patience. There were several moments where the Saxons looked to go for the line, and Vaughan was inches away on one such occasion, but the home side held firm and repelled all attempts.
Not allowing this to set them back, the Saxons continued to set and go again before O’Brien spotted a gap in the Towcestrians’ line, and there was nothing the Towcester players could do to stop him from dashing through for the score. With the conversion added by Ramsey, they game was tied at nineteen all.
Both sides pressed hard to break the stalemate, and with Southend were also conscious that one more try for them would secure a bonus point, the game became something of a bruiser, and there was an extended stoppage in play when one of the Towcestrians forwards emerged from a breakdown in some considerable pain.
It did appear, at first, that the long stoppage had impacted more upon the home side than it had on the Saxons as when play got back underway they were easily able to press deep into the Towcester half. Once again, Vaughan – playing at fly half in this game – looked dangerous, but the home side had obviously done their homework and marked him well.
Taking the ball into contact, the Saxons forwards went to work, slowly but surely eating up the inches between them and the tryline. The bonus point try eventually came for the Saxons, and was Maggiolo’s second of the match, as he demonstrated a marvellous ability to leap; soaring over the Towcester players attempting to shut him down, and crashing back to earth over the line for the try. Ramsey quickly converted from out wide and the Saxons were back in front.
With fifteen minutes remaining in the game the wheels could have come off for the Saxons as they found themselves down one winger, as Bert Radzevicius saw a yellow card. And then, not five minutes later, Ian Morrison was also sent to the bin.
It is testament to the Saxons, that despite being down to thirteen men for a moment, more points were not conceded during this time. Towcestrians were able to equalise, and then pull into the lead with two converted tries, and they were certainly pushing for far more than this, but met a wall of Saxons defence working over and above to keep them from scoring any further.
Southend were able to have the final say in this game, scoring the final try as the game closed out. The Saxons were camped on the far side of the field, metres from the tryline. Towcestrians had committed numbers to the breakdown to stop any further tries from the Saxons forwards. Spotting the overlap on the near side, Ramsey called for the ball before quickly flinging it out to Bert, who injected the pace and sprinted over for the try. The conversion attempt was taken quickly as with twenty seconds left and Southend set to receive the kick off, the Saxons wanted to have another go. The kick sailed wide of the far post, but Southend were ready for one final push.
Despite the best efforts, the maintained patience and another series of phases, Southend were unable to add any more points to the board.
FULL TIME: TOWCESTRIANS 33 – 31 SOUTHEND SAXONS
Despite the loss, Southend have recorded their first points of the season with the try bonus point, and will take the improving performance of the set piece into the next game; a home encounter against Sutton & Epsom at Warners Bridge on November 4th.