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. The fans 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 60 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 Williamsstepped up to extend Marlborough’s lead to 10 with another calm kick on 13 minutes.
The game remained very competitive with both sides hitting hard. However, Marlborough kept up sustained pressure and won yet another penalty at the breakdown. The Blues player penalised for holding on on 20 minutes. Jake Williams extended the lead once more. 13-0.
After going 13 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 look destined to score. After a huge scrum 10 metres from the Marlborough try-line, their resilience paid off. A lovely pass right put in their winger who scored, to the delight of the travelling fans. The conversion was a beauty. Newbury were back in the game on 28 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 cold. 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. Right from the kick-off, 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 30 metres, Jake Williams’ penalty was successful once more. The 13-point-lead reinstated. 23-10.
Again, however, it did not last. On 50 minutes, Marlborough gave a penalty to Blues for holding on which they duly kicked over. 23-13.
The game became patchy and slow over the next 10 minutes. A number of injuries leading to stoppages broke the flow of the game, which suited Marlborough who intended to hold on. Newbury piled on pressure and had Marlborough camped in their own half for a long time. On 60 minutes they got some reward. Another penalty kick reduced the gap to 7. 23-16.
Then, three minutes later, they got within two points. Their young number 10, who had been a bright spark all game chipped dangerously into space and from the resulting ruck they spread the ball efficiently wide left to number 13 who crossed the white chalk to score. The conversion was missed to prevent them equalling the score-line. 23-21.
With 10 minutes 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 2 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 12 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 fronts, who had played valiantly for the whole game, fittingly won Marlborough a penalty 35 metres from the posts. Now in overtime, 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 first to last whistle.
Next week, Marlborough travel 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. Come on boys!