Bury St Edmunds push league leaders Tonbridge Juddians hard but lose unbeaten home record
It was a case of close, but no cigar for mid-table Bury St Edmunds against National League 2 South leaders Tonbridge Juddians this afternoon.
The Wolfpack had hounded their lofty opponents towards submission in a dominant first half with a 10-0 scoreline not really reflecting their superiority.
But after a drop goal added to Bury's score, the visitors seized their chance when it arrived and the tide soon turned as a second try saw them lead 14-13.
A penalty extended their lead to 17-13, and despite a late promising rally from Bury from a kick to the corner, time ran out on their unbeaten home run.
It was a second successive week in which they had threatened to beat a top two side before ending up with a losing bonus point, following their 21-18 defeat at Henley Hawks.
Despite the wet weather, the game had never been in doubt, with groundsman Andy Herlihy's work receiving praise over the tannoy.
Another big crowd dared to dream of becoming only the third side this season to deny Tonbridge Juddians a victory, and the belief quickly grew as Bury made a strong start, camping themselves in their opponents' half.
Two kicks to the corner and one at the posts failed to yield any rewards against a very resilient and well drilled defence who were doubling up on tackles just to keep the home side at bay.
But Bury kept probing, until a gap eventually opened up which centre Ben Leng had the foresight to exploit with a run in under the posts. It left an easy conversion for Kodie Drury-Hawkins.
The high energy start was warming the home crowd and it was not until a penalty in the 25th minute that the league leaders got into Bury's half, which was a short excursion.
Nick Wakley's side were soon being roared on as they use a driving maul to push their opponents back into their half from their near their own 22 metre area.
Both captains had to be spoken to twice in a few minutes as things boiled over between several players, though the referee choose to keep his cards in his pocket.
The game went through a period of being played out in the middle third of the pitch before, 38 minutes in, a penalty to Bury left Durry-Hawkins with a similar position.
This time, he made no mistake, with the dying wind surely having helped to leave Bury with a very deserved 10-0 lead at half-time.
The hosts came out strongly once again, forcing Tonbridge back and extended their lead with an excellent drop goal from Drury-Hawkins within five minutes.
But they disappointingly put themselves under unnecessary pressure with an ill-advised chipped kick from Drury-Hawkins into a sea of players on half way which sent Tonbridge on their way to a try.
After the initial burst through by Duncan Tout they worked a few phases before flanker Josh Groocock spun around a tackle before holding off another long enough to dive to touch the ball into the post padding. Fly half Will Robinson added the extras.
From then on Tonbridge began to turn the screw with their powerful forwards laying the groundwork for a try in the left-hand corner for winger Hugo Watson in the 57th minute. A great kick against the wind from Robinson put them into a 14-13 lead.
Bury came straight back though with Alfie Garside bursting down the left only for the move to be held up and turned over.
With 11 minutes to go, TJs were taking no chances with going for another try from a penalty not far from Bury's 22, with Robinson slotting over for 17-13.
Bury were not done though and managed to find a kick to the clubhouse corner.
With the home crowd roaring them on they got within inches of the try line only to be held up before the referee went back for a penalty in their favour, then another. But they could not make the late pressure count with the match official blowing up as they threw in a lineout from the right-hand side.
There were groans of despair from the crowd with the clubhouse clock having still not reached 80, while the Bury players fell to their knees and TJs' broke out into loud celebrations, summing up how close The Wolfpack had come to a big scalp in their last home game of 2019.
The losing bonus point looked to have been enough to keep Bury in eighth, though Worthing's socreline was still to be submitted.
* See Friday's Free Press for reaction from the coaching team and a preview to Saturday's year-ending trip to Westcliff.
More by this authorRussell Claydon