Marlborough 26 – 24 Newbury
Newbury Blues travelled to the Common as firm favourites. Unbeaten all season, the Blues provided formidable opposition for Elisi’s men. Marlborough who narrowly beat league strugglers Witney last week knew the importance of this tie in their push for a promotion spot. The reverse fixture at Monks Lane was shaded by Newbury, but Marlborough would be seeking redemption. On paper this was set to be a classic and the spectators were not disappointed.
There was a buzz on The Common. The second XV’s rival clash against Royal Wootton Bassett adding to the excitement and energy around the ground. The game got underway with Marlborough attacking downhill towards town. Marlborough set off with great intensity and won a penalty inside the first sixty seconds. An accurate kick to touch, followed by a strong lineout and push led to Marlborough taking the lead inside two minutes.Anthony Maka continuing his brilliant try-scoring form with the touchdown. Jake Williams who has been a reliable kicker in recent times converted successfully. A fantastic start. 7-0.
Marlborough dominated the breakdown in the period after the try and were finally rewarded with a penalty. Jake Williams stepped up to extend Marlborough’s lead to ten points with another calm kick on thirteen minutes.
The game remained very competitive with both sides putting in some hard hits. However, Marlborough kept up sustained pressure and won yet another penalty at the breakdown. The Blues player penalised for holding on twenty minutes. Jake Williams extended the lead once more. 13-0.
After going thirteen points behind, Newbury began to show why they are unbeaten. Having been camped in their own half for some time, they had a good spell of pressure and looked destined to score. After a huge scrum ten metres from the Marlborough try-line, their resilience paid off. A lovely right pass to their winger who scored, to the delight of the travelling fans. The try was converted, Newbury were back in the game on twenty eight minutes: 13-7.
Newbury looked to gain momentum from the try and continued pushing forward. However, two minutes before half-time, Mitieli Vulikijapani’s blistering speed caught Newbury off-guard. After a quick break, Mitieli caught the ball on the half-way line and stretched his legs, cruising past the desperate Newbury defenders to score exceptionally. Jake’s kicking was on form and he added another conversion: 20-7.
However, the 13 point lead was not intact for long, Newbury won a penalty for holding on and kicked for three points successfully. A lapse from Marlborough just before the break. 20-10 the half-time score. Marlborough, even after a brilliant first-half display knew the Blues were still very much in the game.
The second-half continued at the same rapid pace. After five minutes, a kick in the ruck from a Newbury boot led to another Marlborough penalty. From thirty metres, Jake Williams’ penalty was successful once more. The 13-point-lead reinstated: 23-10. However, it did not last. on fifty minutes, Marlborough gave away a penalty to the Blues for holding on which they duly kicked over: 23-13.
The game became patchy and slow over the next ten minutes. A number of injuries leading to stoppages broke the flow of the game. Newbury piled on the pressure again, and had Marlborough camped in their own half for a period of time. On sixty minutes they got some reward, another penalty kick reduced the gap to seven: 23-16.
Then, three minutes later, they got within two points, Newbury’s number 10, who had been a bright spark all game chipped dangerously into space and from the resulting ruck they spread the ball wide left to their number 13who crossed the white chalk to score. The conversion was missed to prevent them equalling the score-line. 23-21.
With ten minutes left to play, Marlborough were hanging on. They held the ball for a good spell of possession to run the clock down, but Newbury were hungry and continued to press. Newbury were in to score if it was not for Anthony Maka’s huge tackle which knocked the ball out of the Blues player’s hands. The fans were increasingly nervous with Blues looking ever more dangerous. Then with two minutes to play, Blues won a penalty. Another failure to roll away gave Newbury the chance to take the lead for the first-time and almost certainly win the game. The number twelve put the kick over, and the Blues fans erupted into a rendition of the classic ‘Blues, Blues, Blues’… 23-24.
Marlborough’s resolve did not falter, however, with just enough time to kick off, they won the ball back and pushed forward. A huge push in a ruck from the forwards, who had played valiantly for the whole game, fittingly won Marlborough a penalty thirty five metres from the posts. Now into extra time, it was the deciding moment. The Common fell silent, and Jake Williams stepped up to take the penalty. He hadn’t missed one all day, he calmly and steadily put the ball through the posts to earn Marlborough a coveted win and to end Newbury’s 19-game winning run. The scenes of jubilation at the end of the game were fantastic. Marlborough deserved the win with a superb display of skill, grit and togetherness from the first to the last whistle.
Next weekend is a well deserved rugby free weekend, but on Saturday 2ndMarch, Marlborough travels to second-placed Old Centralians in yet another crucial game in the final stages of the season. They will have to show the same hard work and determination to come out on top in that one.