DIVISION TWO SOUTH
Bury St Edmunds 8
Taunton Titans 22
After ending their four game-losing streak at Worthing last time out, those that flocked to The Haberden on Saturday would have done so with a degree of optimism.
Granted, Bury were the underdogs against fourth-placed Taunton, but freed from the shackles of that negative pre-Christmas sequence of results, the hope was that Gavin Hogg’s side would be both buoyant and confident, and produce a performance to reflect those characteristics.
In addition, while Bury had lost the three previous meetings between the sides, each of those was by a close margin — just four points on two occasions.
But instead, bar a 10-minute period before half-time when the hosts exerted some genuine pressure, it was a lacklustre display, with Taunton deservedly making the long trip back to Somerset with a victory in tow.
And director of rugby Hogg — usually not one to publicly chastise his players — has warned The Wolfpack more displays of this standard will quickly see their seven-point gap to the relegation zone slashed.
“We did not play well at all. We have told the guys some home truths because that was not acceptable,” he said.
“Too many lived off last week. It was like we turned up with the mentality that the job was done.
“We did not produce any patterns of play and too often we played the other side of the ruck.
“Against Taunton, they are a side that will happily defend for 20 or 25 phases.
“The second half we did not do enough to look after the ball and coughed up possession far too often.”
He continued: “If we want to stay in this league, we have to step up our level of performance.
“We have to be more consistent from week to week. Pure and simple, that was not good enough.
“It is not often I criticise us as a playing group, but we really need to improve.
“The quality of player we are dealing with here at Bury, you expect them to be professional in the way they prepare.”
The tone was set with eight minutes on the clock when, after a period of pressure from Bury that had taken them into the Taunton 22, they were punished for holding at the ruck.
Before the home team could react, Taunton back-rower Ratu Vakalutukai tapped the ball and released Dan Frost, who broke free and within seconds, skipper Nick Mason was dotting down under the posts, leaving Gary Kingdom a routine conversion.
After the early setback, Bury were further hampered by a string of infringements, resulting in the concession of a host of penalties.
And one of those — in the 22nd minute — ended with Taunton’s second try.
After kicking to the corner, The Titans drove the maul forward and got their reward with Jon Gatford going over.
Kingdom was off target with the conversion, but it was still 15-0 to Taunton and all of a sudden memories of last week’s Worthing triumph had evaporated.
However, the closing stages of the first half suggested better was to come after the restart — the highlight being Sam Sterling’s 30th-minute try following good work from Liam McBride.
Scott Lyle will have been disappointed with his conversion attempt, but nonetheless the reduced deficit brightened the mood heading into the break.
To Bury’s credit, they took that momentum into the early second-half exchanges and cut the gap further through Lyle’s penalty, leaving them a converted try away from parity.
Lyle and Kingdom then missed a penalty apiece, but for the 20 minutes that followed much of the contest was played within the middle third of the pitch.
In the moments that Bury threatened to end the stalemate they were stifled by a well-drilled Taunton defence, as was the case in the 77th minute when the outcome was made safe.
Desperately searching for a route through just outside the Taunton 22, Bury cheaply lost possession and Tom Lawday pounced.
The number eight hot-footed it down the left wing, only being halted in his track five metres from the line.
But Taunton had plenty of men in support and after the ball was recycled over to the opposite flank, winger Tom Popham went over and Kingdom dissected the posts with his right boot.
There was still enough time remaining for one final Bury foray into Taunton territory as they bid for the losing bonus point, but it was not to be, leaving the Suffolk side to dust themselves down ahead of tomorrow’s trip to London Irish Wild Geese (2.30pm).
Bury: Trinder, Collins, Coutts, Hall, Whetton, Gillespie, Micklethwaite, Stapleton, Dolan, McBride, Meyers, Rock, Sterling, Snelling, Lyle.
Replacements: Selby, Bingham, Bixby, Edison, Affleck.