Old Centralians 41
Old Centralians got the bonus-point win they needed in their battle against relegation from National Three South West in an 11-try, 77-point extravaganza but second-half complacency nearly saw them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they were outscored 24-3.
Playing up their slope Cents got off to a good start when flanker Dan Knapman was driven over following sustained pressure on Chippenham’s line.
Fly-half Ollie Locke converted but two minutes later the visitors were on terms when loose marking at a ruck allowed prop Aaron Clark to dart over from five metres out, fly-half Lewis Surry adding the extras.
Cents had been dominating play but the Chippenham backs showed their mettle with some slick inter-passing creating a gap for Fraser Clifford to touch down for a 12-7 lead.
A Locke penalty goal reduced this to 12-10 as Cents recovered from these scores very much against the run of play and turned on the style.
A break by Locke sent wing Joe Preece in for the first of his hat-trick of tries as Cents’ backs cut Chippenham’s defence to ribbons with lancing runs changing the point of attack. Their half-backs engineered a flowing move capped by number eight Rich Pinkney, converted by Locke, before Joe Preece got a brace of tries in five minutes.
One came from a deft kick ahead, gathered for a touchdown, and the other benefited from a diagonal run by centre Liam Hemming, splitting the defence for Preece to race through.
All were converted by Locke to give an interval lead of 38-12. Home supporters then settled back, anticipating the try fest Cents would produce playing down the slope in the second half.
With a commanding lead and having dominated the first half it can be difficult for a team to avoid complacency or the temptation to play even more expansive rugby.
There was certainly some relaxation and bottom-of-the-table Chippenham took full advantage to gain the initiative. They drove up the slope working patiently through the phases in Cents’ 22 until the cover thinned and flanker Chris Day forced over. Lewis Surry converted.
A yellow card for Cents prop Scott Fritchley for a deliberate knock-on didn’t help the home side’s cause.
A sustained battering of the visitors’ line brought a penalty goal for Harry Taylor but the tactic was questionable when the backs were screaming for the ball. Chippenham drove back upfield and a second yellow followed for the same offence, this time by Cents’ Rich Pinkney – a measure of the desperate defence.
It was all Chippenham now as Cents’ game faltered. Scrums were lost against the head and Chippenham lock Matt Bye was driven over. Their talented backs took over now on the back of their forwards’ display, switching the angle of attack to create a gap for Clifford’s second try.
Cents seemed unable to keep the ball in their opponents’ half and kicks were run straight back at them with interest. In the dying moments Chippenham’s elusive scrum-half Alford Samuel squeezed over near the posts to give Surry an easy kick and take the score to 41-36.
The final whistle went immediately after the kick, to the relief of the home supporters. A half-time certainty had turned into an uncomfortably close finish and Cents will need to regain their focus for their final two games in four days over Easter in the fight against relegation.
OLD CENTRALIANS: L. May; J. Preece;L. Hemming; M. Mathers; R. Jones; O. Locke; C. Gwilliam; S. Fritchley; N. Stroud; J. Elliott; R. Pinkney; D. Cook-West; P. Willetts; D. Knapman; R. Pinkney. Reps: M. Vye; J. Huxtable; B. Slatter.
CHIPPENHAM: W. Waddington; H. Campbell; F. Clifford; R. Surry; S. Barber; L. Surry; A. Samuel; A. Clark;L. Snape; L. Corbett; D. Rea; M. Bye; C. Day; N. Aston; R. Lyons. Reps: A.Cox; H.Taylor; J. Meadows.
REFEREE: Sara Cox (RFU)
STAR MEN: Cents – centre Liam Hemming, his eye for a gap and acceleration through it was decisive. Chippenham – livewire scrum-half Alford Samuel.