South West 1 Playoff
Saturday 23rd April 2011
After 26 hard-fought games, scoring exactly 100 tries, notching some 672 points, and missing out on automatic promotion by a mere point, Maidenhead had to travel to Bristol on Saturday for a final 27th game, which nature forced them to undertake in blistering heat. Life is never fair, and the Berkshire boys arrived to eye the oddly sloping pitch with some concern, and then run out to face the Old Reds' back-line in full pomp. The Old Reds' backs were simply terrific. Running difficult to defend lines and avoiding tackles with ease and style, they were the best Maidenhead had faced all season, and ran in five well-executed tries before half-time.
Whilst going behind in the first-half has become a habit with Maidenhead of late, there was to be no Lazarine miracle this time, Old Reds finished things off early in the second-half, and then the Maidenhead character came to the fore, they got back into the game and pressurised the Old Reds' line for the last half-hour, gaining the reward of one meagre try for all their efforts. For the Old Reds' defence was as expert as their attack, and Elliott Brown, who had a fine run to the right corner for his try, only just beat the cover by the skin of his teeth. It will be some consolation for Maidenhead to bear in mind that they will not have to face the Old Redcliffians' backs twice next season.
As for the packs, there was little to chose between them, the Old Reds' pack simply set their line on their way as often as they could, confident in the knowledge that they had scored 322 points in their last 8 games, and won every one of them. By contrast the Maids' line was not functioning as well as it did against Swanage and an early injury to Simon Cripps, trying to force his way through the centre of the field, restricted Maids' options even more. The home pitch seemed to slope in several directions but in the first half Maidenhead were basically playing up the incline, with the ground falling away to their left. It was a pitch that required regular usage and experience to play properly. Redcliffians were obviously well aware of this, and whenever they needed to make space, their kicks found touch far enough down on their right, to ensure that they exerted pressure, but did not lose ground by booting the ball over the short dead-ball line, only to be called back for a scrum. It was all clever, well-drilled, expert and neatly led by their exciting centre, Luke Nabaro and fly-half Mike Schropser.
Maidenhead knew that they were in for a tough time ahead before the game began, for they were without several forwards, that have served the side well throughout the season, Tom Martin, Karl Kempton, Alex Kent and Wahari Waitohi for starters. In addition Mark Mueller and Gareth Tatham-Brugh were nursing old injuries and scrum-half Elliott Brown bravely elected to play, despite badly injuring a hand in training on Thursday evening. Inevitably he damaged it again during the game and with Cripps and Phil Norman coming off during the game, the amount of white tape on display as Maidenhead clapped Old Reds off the field was a joy to behold for the Elastoplast sales manager. Full marks then for courage and character in the face of expertise and adversity.
Redcliffians were ahead after 7 minutes with an unconverted try, but 3 minutes later, when Tony Marawa stole the ball at a ruck, Ed Keohane struck back with a penalty awarded when Marawa was tackled. Two minutes later though Nabaro was over between the posts to take the score to 12-3. Maids hung on for a quarter of an hour or so, and then in a devastating ten minute period just before half time, the Redcliffians' wingers claimed three tries to put their side out of reach. Anthony Lane replaced Marawa for a while whilst a blood injury was attended to and the half-time drinks came at last.
Redcliffians had not finished though and ran rampant during the next ten minutes scoring a further three tries, one was a bit fortunate and touched down after a long hack ahead. Maidenhead began to need substitutes. Phil Norman was off first to be replaced by Matthew Wells, with Gareth Tatham-Brugh taking over from Simon Ball in the front row, David Johnson took over from a badly limping Cripps and then suddenly Maidenhead scored a fine try. It began somewhat oddly, Richie Craig took a drop-out which went laterally along the 22, fielded awkwardly by the Old Reds' pack, Mark Mueller emerged from the subsequent maul to set off down the slope, he fed Clayton Panga, who broke the line, passed to Wells, who set Brown free in turn to scamper 40 yards down the touch-line to cross in the right corner.
Redcliffians kicked to their right from the re-start and the ball went into the dead-ball area for Sam Stefan to touch down, but alas the Old Reds' player following up the kick somehow chose to initiate a fight, which several players joined . This led to Stefan and his attacker getting yellow cards. The consequent adrenalin rush seemed to do more for Maidenhead than Old Reds, and for the next twenty minutes the game was played in the Reds' 22, with every one of the Maidenhead pack striving for the line from short distances. Under pressure Old Reds gave away penalty after penalty, and each time Maids opted for a scrum, as they gradually took charge. Jamie Townsend was held up, Alex Hankinson went close, Josh Curtis sped from the back of the scrums, and Richie Craig was everywhere urging his team on, but to no avail. With ten minutes to go Wouter de Jager was replaced by Anthony Lane, and with Stefan back on, the backs were given a go, with James Macdonald setting Brown off on a run across the field, but no opening could be found, and when the ball ran free after another determined run from Johnson was brought to ground, the Old Reds' pack held their scrum together for just enough time for the final whistle to sound.
It was a credit to both sides that the game was played at all in such heat, and in such a fine spirit, and with such exciting running rugby on show. As the afternoon got hotter and hotter and the thunder clouds rose beyond the hills surrounding the ground, the spectators marvelled at the stamina of the players. In the end Maidenhead were well beaten, but not disgraced, and can relax now to let the knocks heal and the disappointment of defeat evaporate. They will live to happily battle another day, and can justly celebrate the completion of a fine and successful season. As we all bask in the warmth of the Spring sunshine, we now know that we can look forward to the tensions of more local derbies next season, and the delights of visits to Marlow and Wycombe in the depths of the coming winter. Ah bliss!
The 2011-2012 season will bring Maidenhead to its 90th Year, there will be a number of special events and celebrations ,and another chance of gaining promotion at a highly appropriate time. So as the season ends, and the Minis set off for Brean Sands, and the Juniors set off on their various tours and tournaments, let each and every one of us rejoice in being a vital part of a great Rugby Club.