Saturday 21st April 2012
|Report courtesy of the Maidenhead Advertiser|
|More pictures in the Gallery|
A focussed, committed and entertaining performance enabled Maidenhead to overcome nerves and capable opponent to secure the victory they needed to lift the South West 1 East title on Saturday. In front of the biggest crowd of the season at Braywick, Maids put aside their usual sluggish start to hit the ground running, putting them in control of the match from start to finish.
Needing to win and score four tries to be certain of being champions, Maids snatched three touchdowns with under 20 minutes on the clock to settle the butterflies. The fourth try came early in the second half to gift wrap what proved to be a memorable victory. The match was always likely to provide plenty of points with both teams preferring to play a running game and Maids needing a win to scoop the title while Abbey wanted a victory to save themselves from relegation.
It was the visitors who bagged the lead with a penalty from Jack Parsons, but after this, despite missing powerhouse and talisman second row Mark Mueller, Maids hit their straps. Scott Harris, drafted in at full-back after James MacDonald was injured in training on Thursday, touched down with 11 minutes on the clock after good lineout ball was won.
Hodgson missed the conversion, but two minutes later had a hand in putting Maids 12-3 up.
The fly-half counter-attacked from inside Maids' 22, and after the ball had gone through several hands and the length of the pitch, Mike Virgo sent skipper Simon Cripps flying down the wing to score in the corner. Hodgson scored the conversion.
On 19 minutes flanker Will Cadden bagged the first of his two tries after hooker Richie Craig had ingeniously broke away from a ruck.
Abbey did not have the look of a team doomed to relegation, and hit back on 25 minutes with an unconverted try from Charles Gingell. The visitors played more than their role in an open, exciting match, but when Cadden scored again two minutes into the second half to put Maids 24-8 ahead, it was difficult to imagine the Caversham-based side coming back.
And so it proved as a Hodgson penalty, having hit the upright with an earlier effort, extended their advantage by three points.
With both teams impressively throwing the ball around, it was Abbey who ended a good spell of pressure by touching down. However, in this game of tit-for-tat, Maids struck back immediately, when Cripps proved unstoppable on the flank, scoring a characteristic, no-nonsense try. Hodgson converted for 34-13.
In the final 15 minutes, Maids temporarily went down to 14 men following a yellow card for James Smith, and some tiring legs and minds were eventually exposed by Abbey who notched two good tries in the last few minutes. It did Abbey the justice they deserved on the day, but brought the score closer than should have been.
Like so many matches this season, Maids were the better team on the day and yet little more than a try separated the sides come the final whistle. It underscored the similarity of many teams in this well-matched league, and that the difference between winning and losing is often decided by taking your chances when they present themselves.
Maids certainly did that on Saturday, and were worthy winners on a memorable day in front of a partisan, packed house at Braywick. On the pitch afterwards players and supporters celebrating the not inconsiderable achievement of winning a title, just a year after missing out in the play-offs. In contrast, skulking in the shadows, Abbey were relegated for want of an extra point.
The agonisingly slim gap between success and failure in a match, or even a season, being there for all to witness.
Maidenhead: Harris, Cripps, Virgo, Wells, Simpson, Hodgson, Brown, Townsend, Craig, Britton, Martin, Smith, Kempton, Cadden, Long. Subs: Curtis (for Virgo, 43), Thompson (for Kempton, 51), Clarke (for Craig, 72).