Bury St Edmunds claim mature and confident league win away to former Championship side Esher
Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club ground out an excellent win on the road in South West London to make it three in a row in the National League 2 South, writes Simon Lord.
The former Championship club have an impressive record at home having lost only once all season, to underline how impressive the win was.
There is a growing confidence and maturity about the Wolfpack that enabled them to weather a determined effort from the hosts, it was not so many weeks ago that Bury would have let this game slip.
Bury were aided and abetted by an Esher lineout that disintegrated in the final quarter but they were good value for the win.
Playing with the strong wind at their backs, Bury opened the scoring after just two minutes. Esher had started an attack just inside the Bury half, but were pushed back and back to the 25m line as Bury tackled the hosts into submission. In desperation, an optimistic pass was thrown out, which Greg White easily picked off and sauntered in by the posts.
It did not take long for Bury to double their lead as, again, the pressure exerted by the Wolfpack forced Esher into conceding a penalty. Hawkins kicked Bury to 10metres.
Rob Gardner, making a rare start at hooker, found his jumper and then was at the back of the maul as it was driven over the line for a well worked score. Hawkins excellent kick in the swirling wind pushed Bury out to a 14-point lead.
For the majority of the half, Bury were in control. Esher did show glimpses of how dangerous they could be on the counter, but the Bury pack were the dominant force.
On 30 minutes, Bury almost extended their lead. Having turned the ball over, Hawkins raced onto his own chip through to link up with Tom Brown. Brown was involved again when combining with Harvey to cut the Esher defence open. Unfortunately the final pass to Kieran Miekle was adjudged forward as the line beckoned.
The escape raised Esher from their slumbers and, for the closing minutes of the half, they turned the tables on Bury. Now it was the home forwards in command and an aggressive catch and drive made valuable yards and a penalty.
The ball was kicked to the corner and a well organised maul allowed Hamilton to squeeze the ball down. Roberts superb conversion into the wind made the half-time score 14-7 to the visitors.
But Esher had the strong wind at their backs for the second period and were expected to press home this advantage.
Nick Wakley’s response was to introduce Leng, Wilson and Cooper into the fray to try and counter.
Roberts would have been expected to close the gap when Bury were penalised in midfield, the first of many in a scrappy second half, but he shanked his kick wide.
The let off did not last long as, once again, Bury were penalised at the break down. The penalty was taken quickly and prop forward Matt Lowes spun off the side of a ruck to score out wide. This time, Roberts was successful with his kick to bring the scores level.
There was a calmness to skipper Tom Milosevic and how he led the side and that clearly rubbed off on his team mates. There was no panic and no heads dropping, as the team rolled up their sleeves and went again. Bursey and Yas Browne worked tirelessly in the loose whilst the midfield defence of White and Leng was rock solid.
Leng’s influence cannot be underestimated; his breaks with ball in hand were at another level to anyone else on the park and he played a large part in Bury retaking the lead.
A bout of aerial ping pong ended with Will Affleck taking a fine catch before firing a long pass in field to Leng. The substitute surged through a gap and avoided two would be tacklers before fixing the final defender and passing to Hawkins. The fly-half still had work to do, but he had enough pace to out-sprint the cover defence to score by the posts. He converted his own try to put Bury back in front.
There was still almost 30 minutes to play, but neither side seemed to be able to convert periods of pressure into points. Bury looked to be the more dominant side but all too often handed the initiative back to Esher via penalties. Some of the decisions seemed baffling to comprehend, but again rather than feel sorry for themselves or get distracted, they plugged away keeping Esher at arm’s length.
All 20 players played their part in this victory, typified by Vaughan Bentley. The young hooker was only brought into the squad at 10am that morning, but showed no signs of nerves on his National League debut. Often he was in the right place at the right time to tidy things up and then drive the ball forward.
Esher did have their chances to level, most notably when they stole the ball from a Bury driving maul in their own 22 to race 60m down field. Fine cover defence by Miekle and Affleck prevented the score. However, when it mattered most their lineout failed. On more than two occasions the pressure exerted forced the hosts to over throw their lineouts and allow Bury to escape.
Having survived yet another penalty in their own 22, Bury sensibly ran the clock down. Seb Dusi organised his forwards into pods to drive the ball forward until no time when he could then pass to Hawkins to kick from the field.
An away win at one of the hardest venues in the league shows real promise for the future.
The win lifts Bury into seventh place in the table still with a game in hand over some of their rivals.
* Report and reaction in this week's Bury Free Press print edition
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