Late drama sees Bury St Edmunds come from behind to begin 2020 with a victory against high-flying Clifton
A thrilling finish at the Greene King IPA Haberden this afternoon saw Bury St Edmunds come from behind to claim victory against previously fourth-placed Clifton 24-22 to the delight of a big home crowd this afternoon.
Kodie Drury-Hawkins held his nerve with a penalty two minutes from time to put the hosts into the lead for the first time in the match and get their 2020 off to a winning start.
After a series of close encounters with the top three sides in the first half of the season had seen them only pick up losing bonus points it felt like Bury's luck finally turned when the referee blew the final whistle, leaving gutted Clifton players falling to their knees.
Nick Wakley's side had begun the day in ninth place in the table having signed off before Christmas with a losing bonus point defeat at home to league leaders Tonbridge Juddians. The 17-13 loss had seen the Wolfpack surrender their unbeaten run at home, which had encompassed six matches.
With influential centre Ben Leng out injured, Tanner Lightfoot took on the no12 shirt while local lad Chris Lord returning from injury alongside him.
Clifton, who had won their Bristol derby with Dings Crusaders 31-21 just before the festive break, included two former Bury players in their line-up with Matt Hall in the second row at no4 and Finlay Sharp at full-back.
Both sides were guilty of making some mistakes early on with Bury's Kieran Meikele almost pulling off a good interception.
It was Clifton who got into their grove first though and after the hosts had turned over once dangerous foray led by a surging run from former Bury prop Matt Hall, his next led to the first try of the afternoon in the 10th minute for Bentley Halpin. Number 10 Bradley Barnes held his nerve from wide on the left for the conversion points.
The Wolfpack continued to be pushed back and five minutes later the referee brought play back for a kickable penalty with Barnes making no mistake from near the 22 right of centre to extend the visitors' advantage.
Bury, who had started in contrast to their flying start at home to league leaders Tonbridge Juddians before Christmas, needed a response.
And the forwards gave it to them with some good strength in the breakdown inside Clifton's 22. It led to no7 Chris Rovery losing his discipline and receiving a yellow card.
Working with the man advantage, the hosts scored following the resultant scrum in the 20th minute with centre Lightfoot carrying well to dive over the line. Kodie Drury-Hawkins added the extras with a confident conversion.
But within five minutes Clifton stretched their lead back out to 10 points, for 17-7, with their second converted try of the afternoon.
Former Bury full-back Sharp broke at pace down the left-hand side and his pass inside was not cleanly caught but bounced up kindly into the patch centre Halpin to put down for the second time. Barnes again landed the conversion.
It was becoming a see-saw contest as within three minutes Bury wiped off those seven points with a try which saw great quick-thinking by prop Dan Walsh, who produced a clever shimmy before finding a line to break through and carry in from 25 metres out. Drury-Hawkins added the conversion from just left of centre.
The rate of scoring then slowed as Bury had to dig in to soak up some pressure from the visitors from Bristol, managing to keep the deficit to three points as they went into the interval at 17-14 down.
Whatever Wakley said to his players in the dressing room seem to have had the desired effect as they went through the phases looking for an opening inside Clifton's 22.
They thought they had taken the lead with a score from Lord following an interception after the visitors had turned over five metres out, but the referee pulled back play for a knock-on against Bury.
There was another kick in the teeth to halt their momentum soon after when the first of two yellow cards were shown within a few minutes to leave them down to 13 players.
Winger Meikle, who put in a dangerous high tackle in front of the stand, followed Yasin Browne into the sin bin.
Clifton soon took advantage of their numerical advantage with their forwards forcing a pushover try for replacement Luke Stafford, though this time Barnes' did not quite get his angles right with the conversion attempt.
To their credit Bury managed to get play back up the other end long enough for Browne to return to the action.
The home crowd's frustration grew as the referee took an age to get one scrum in play 10 metres off the Clifton line, following several chats with the captains about discipline issues.
But the hosts were to eventually be rewarded as the match official awarded a penalty try after a rolling maul was illegally halted in view of the line to reduced the score to 22-21 with 20 minutes to play.
The stop-start nature of the half continued but when play was able to flow it was Bury showing good heart and desire to chase the winning score in the Clifton half only to be thwarted by some resilient defending.
But helped by a yellow card to reduce their opponents to 14 for the final five minutes, there was a big roar from the crowd when they worked their way to within range of the posts and the referee awarded a penalty.
With the Haberden crowd falling silent, Drury-Hawkins held his nerve to nail the kick and see Bury take the lead for the first time in the match, 24-22 with a minute to play.
Wakley's side successfully kept the ball out of danger in the middle of the pitch before getting it off the pitch to celebrate taking the scalp of fourth-placed Clifton in a thrilling climax.
Results elsewhere were also kind to Bury and saw them climb two places in the table to seventh, just above next weekend's opponents Esher on points difference.
Bury: 15 Affleck, 14 Leeson, 13 Meikle, 12 Lightfoot, 11 Lord, 10 Drury-Hawkins, 9 Dusi, 8 Wilson, 7 Milosevic, 6 Bursey, 5 Browne, 4 Leo, 3 Cooper, 2 Walsh, 1 Hill. Replacements: 16 Brown, 18 Robinson, 17 Gardner 19 White, 20 Harvey.
Coaches Man of The Match: Jack Harvey.
- For reaction to the Clifton victory and a preview to the trip to Esher, see Friday's Free Press print edition.
More by this authorRussell Claydon