NATIONAL LEAGUE TWO SOUTH: Bury St Edmunds 30 Clifton 10
Three first-half tries proved enough to get Bury St Edmunds’ 2016/17 season off to a comfortable winning start against Clifton this afternoon.
Gavin Hogg’s side, who finished seventh in their first season at this level last time around, had to show both attacking and defending facets of their game across two contrasting halves.
The first 40 minutes saw them recover from going an early penalty kick down to run up a commanding 27-3 lead going into the break after new additions Michael Mellett and Darren Gillespie went over the try line in-between Sam Bixby’s score.
But the Wolfpack were made to dig their heels in after the break to thwart a Clifton comeback as The West Country visitors pinned them back in their own half for large periods, with only one try to show for their superior territory.
Four of Bury’s new signings; former Ospreys flanker Emyr Williams, Scottish sevens international Gillespie (no8) and Irish recruits Ross Bailey-Kearney (centre) and Mellett (wing), were named in the starting line-up for their competitive debuts. But fellow new addition Liam McBride, was not able to take his place at fly half after failing a late fitness test, with Scott Lyle coming in to take on kicking duties.
A minute’s silence was impeccably observed before kick-off in memory of former much loved Bury president, chairman and long-time supporter Dick Scruby, who lost his battle with cancer in June.
Bury went behind in the second minute when they conceded a central penalty from which Clifton’s Brad Barnes comfortably kicked over.
Three minutes later Lyle had the chance to level with his own kick, but he mis-kicked from a good position.
Bury went ahead with an eighth minute try which saw the ball quickly played out of the base of the scrum and shifted out wide right through Pierre Peres to Mellett, who burst over the line with Lyle kicking over a tricky conversion.
The hosts kept their lead intact after giving away possession with a wayward pass in the centre of the pitch, managing to turn over possession five metres out.
A successful penalty from Lyle from the right wing at the other end extended their advantage to 10-3.
The hosts were by now beginning to take control of the contest in all areas, but it was from a counter-attack which laid the platform for their next score.
Peres looked like he would go all the way after carrying an interception from his own half, but after he was held up Bury put several phases together before Gillespie fed Bixby who spun his way through a hole in the visitors’ defence. The Lyle conversion made it 17-3 with 19 minutes on the clock.
Peres was soon forced to limp off, but Bury continued to push home their superiority, forcing Clifton into another infringement from which Lyle kicked a central penalty over.
On the stroke of half-time the Wolfpack scored their third try of the game with Gillespie showing his strong turn of pace to win the race to Stapleton’s kick after he had dispossessed Brian Watters, with Lyle adding the conversion for 27-3.
With the wind now behind them, Lyle added a further three points with his boot five minutes after the restart.
But the expected further flurry of points did not follow as the visitors forced them back.
Bury’s line was standing up to the challenge well, but Clifton eventually broke through in the 61st minute when Barnes found a central gap before the fly-half kicked the extras for 30-10.
The home side were reduced to 14 players in the next phase of play when a rare attack was halted when Matt Edison was shown a yellow card for a high tackle that clearly peeved the player and the home fans.
Clifton were unable to exploit the advantage though with Bury’s defence standing their ground.
As the match entered its closing passage Bury kicked for the corner and looked to grab a late bonus point try, but before they could take the lineout the referee brought proceedings to a close.
The second half had been far from memorable, but in truth, Bury had done more than enough in the first period to deserve to be comfortable winners. The second half also showed they are capable of handling heavy pressure, which may be needed when they travel to highly-fancied Bishops Stortford in a week’s time.
Bury starting XV: 1 Beales, 2 Collins (c), 3 Bingham, 4 Bixby, 5 Edison, 6 Williams, 7 Stapleton, 8 Gillespie, 9 Peres, 10 Affleck, 11 Lyle, 12 Sterling, 13 Bailey-Kearney, 14 Mellett, 15 Lord. Replacements: Palmer, C Griffiths, Enoka, Meyers, Simpson.
Man of The Match: Darren Gillespie.
* For video reaction with director of rugby Gavin Hogg, log back onto this website from 1pm Monday.