Strong Second Half Secures Bonus Point Win
After a tough and competitive first period which saw the visitors with an 11-14 advantage at oranges Ampthill’s four second half tries resulted in a convincing win.
Amps travelled for their first ever league fixture at Dry Leas on a frosty but dry & sunny winters morning with no wind to find the pitch heavy underfoot but otherwise in fine condition.
A’s starting XV saw no changes from that that beat Cinderford the week before, however, the bench saw Ben Wilkinson promoted from the 1881s due to Billy Walker’s England U20 committments and the return of openside flanker Sydney Blackmore.
From the kickoff the visitors dominated possession and territory resulting in a 6th minute try for centre Maxwell Wilkins who broke the line and crashed through the cover tackle when a training ground move created space on the right, full back James Pritchard converting.
If any visiting spectators thought this was the prelude to a similar opening quarter to the previous week they were soon disabused as Henley fought back with a vengeance. The next quarter of an hour belonged to the hosts as they camped in Ampthill’s half with their off-loading game and close support forward play together with a number of forced and unforced errors seeing Amps on the back foot.
On 14 minutes, after multiple phases in the red zone, openside Robert Bell broke blind, went through the cover and touched down an unconverted try near the right hand corner flag.
The 21st minute saw A’s penalised near half way at a ruck, home fly half Basil Strang bisected the posts with the resulting 45m penalty to put Henley in the lead, providing a discipline lesson to the visitors as it would have cleared the cross bar from 60m!
Henley continued to give as good as they got with the breakdown proving particularly beneficial as A’s gave up a number of turnovers when in promising positions.
In the 31st minute, after patient build up play from the visitors saw the ball moved deep into the the hosts 22, they were penalised for a deliberate knock on. The resulting 5m lineout was won cleanly with the home side, for once, engaging with the maul which was driven over for openside Matthew Burke so touch down, Pritchard adding the extras.
Henley weren’t about to role over, securing the ball from the kick off they were soon back in and around Amps 22 although the hosts defence was holding firm until another penalty, this time for not using the arms, saw Strang close the gap to 3 points in the 35th minute.
A very competitive first half closed 11-14 with both sides having entertained the crowd and having everything to play for.
The second half, while still competitive on the field, was more one sided on the scoreboard as A’s took control by reducing the error count and cutting out the turnovers.
On 47 minutes 18 year old loosehead prop Ralph Adams-Hale crowned a fine display both in the tight and the loose by taking a short pass inside Henley’s 22, breaking three tackles and touching down under the posts, Pritchard adding the conversion.
The hosts, unbowed, responded with another period of pressure and, helped by a couple of missed tackles in the build up, eventually freed wing Jake Randall wide on the left. His grubber was perfectly weighted and he won the foot race to touch down by the corner flag in the 51st minute. The conversion attempt from Strang shaved the outside of the post.
With the game delicately poised the next score would be crucial and it came on 67 minutes after the home side were reduced to 14 players by a yellow card as Ampthill pressed inside the home 22. Replacement openside Sydney Blackmore touched down for an unconverted try from the resulting lineout, catch & drive.
On 72 minutes, Pritchard, playing the last game of his loan spell from Bedford, fielded a speculative kick outside his 22, showing the class of a multi cap international, he looked up and saw no cover, chipped over the defensive line, regathered, drew the last defender and offloaded to supporting scrumhalf Gavin Williams who raced under the posts before the creator added the extras. Thanks James, you’ve not only helped us out with our fullback injury crisis but you’ve also set an example and provided inspiration both on and off the field.
With the game finished as a contest given Henley were still a man down and now needed to score three times, the hosts were still playing rugby but Blackmore completed a fine second half performance with his second try in the 78th minute, after he broke blind from a breakdown and went through the cover leaving the score 16-38 at no side.
In the end a convincing performance from the visitors who had to raise their game to subdue a very combative and skillful hosts whose league position does not reflect their ability. Our thanks for the warm welcome and hospitality, looking forward to our next visit.
Head Coach Paul Turner commented “A fine second half team performance with young Ralph Adams-Hale producing his best performance in an Ampthill shirt. Now we focus on next week when we travel to Darlington for what will again be a key game in the Northern Echo arena. My thanks to James Pritchard for his professionalism and his enthusiasm during his loan spell.”
Photos by Tim Bartlett
Tries:- Bell (14), Randall (51)
Penalties:- Strang (21, 35)
Tries:- Wilkins (12), Burke (31), Adams-Hale (47), Blackmore (67, 78), Williams (72)
Conversions:- Pritchard (7, 32, 48, 73)
Half Time:- 11-14
Referee:- Shane Lewis
Star Man:- Ralph Adams-Hale