Dillingham Park was buzzing with anticipation at the return to Championship Rugby in front of the Mob faithful for the first time this year. And the Ampthill side certainly lived up to the hype with a tight victory over Coventry Rugby.
After the disappointing season opener at Lady Bay, the As were in need of an immediate start against a strong Coventry line-up. Thankfully, they got just that through the meteoric boot of Russell Bennett. Three penalties from far out gave Ampthill a healthy 12-0 lead, 20 minutes into the half. Other than the Bennett boot, however, not much was between the two sides. Both teams enjoying their own version of rugby tennis throughout the game as the ball was kicked between the two fly-halves for the majority of the 40; both sides attempting to feel each other out. Coventry’s ill-discipline however was their Achilles heel and put the hosts up 15-0. Just before a late-scare from Coventry as they were held over the line on the stroke of halftime, after their best-attacking phase so far. However, they remained pointless at the whistle.
Coventry returned onto the field for the second half early and full of fresh faces, including a few players with recent Premiership experience. Despite this, Coventry seemed to have not been able to solve their discipline issue at the break as Bennett was again tasked to do what he does best and convert another 3 pointer extending the As lead to 18. Coventry soon responded however with their first points of the match after 56 minutes of play. Young Sale Sharks loanee Ewan Ashman found himself on the end of a strong driving maul putting himself over the whitewash and with Tony Fenner adding the extras the 18 point gap soon became 11.
And it wasn’t long before Ashman was over again, this time off the back of open play. Replacement fly-half Tom Curtis couldn’t provide the crucial conversion however which left the score at 18-12 with 10 minutes to play, time for Ampthill to dig deep.
And they did just that. Relentless pressure from Joe-Luca Smith at the back left Rhys Thomas hitting the showers early after a reckless hit on the Ampthill 15 in the air. Yellow card received and 3-points added from young Fin Smith on his 2nd appearance off the bench for Ampthill moved the As two scores clear. Something which proved vital heading into the final 5 minutes. The away side started to opened play up and Tiki Nayalo found himself on the score sheet as a last gasp Coventry comeback started to come to fruition. This time, Tom Curtis added the extras and it was a 2 point game with moments to spare.
A strong defensive set was paramount for Ampthill from the restart. Special mention to Reece Dunn who made the try-saving tackle in the corner denying Ashman a certain hattrick causing him to knock the ball on in the process, a true match-winner. A strong set of tackles from Bercis and co. left Coventry without any options forcing them wide and to make a crucial handling error leading to Andrew Jackson to blow his whistle for the first Ampthill win of their Championship campaign.
MOTM – Joe-Luca Smith
Report: Will Roberts (Ampthill Academy)
Head Coach Paul Turner hopes the team can build on their victory and head to London Scottish next week full of confidence.
“Coventry have never beaten us here in the league but they’re strong and I thought they’d be a tough nut to crack,” he admitted. “We’ve done it, got our first win and our confidence will be up after that. I felt at 15-0 we had our foot on their throat and could have gone to the corner. We didn’t do that and they came back at us. They’re a good side, train every day and we’re part-time boys. We were out on our feet at the end.
“It could have gone either way but we’ll probably need the win more than Coventry so I’m really proud of them.
“I thought we had a couple of opportunities when we were in their 22 but we didn’t take them and thought that might come back to haunt us. It didn’t in the end but I thought that was because our defence was outstanding at times.
“We feel as though we’ve left something on the table and allowed them to get back at us. I’m buoyed by our performance. I said to the players to be better than their opposite number and I thought most of ours were today.”