Snelling sends Bury to the top
The Haberden faithful did as asked and roared Bury St Edmunds back to the top of the league — with a little help from skipper Chris Snelling.
Two tries from Bury’s Captain Marvel were the difference in an enthralling encounter with London Irish Wild Geese, who Bury leapfrogged to the summit of National Three London and South East — the fifth tier of English rugby.
Gavin Hogg’s charges now know their destiny is in their own hands going into the final eight matches of the season, starting at Civil Service Rugby 1863 tomorrow (2.30pm).
A Suffolk snow shower greeted both sets of players on to the pitch, evoking memories of two years ago when Bury were promoted from London One North on a pitch covered by a blizzard.
Although the conditions did not deteriorate into another snowstorm, the addition of freezing rain made the ball more slippery and gave the visitors’ heavy and powerful forwards the advantage against Bury’s preferred open and free-flowing style of rugby.
It looked as though the match would play that script out as action got under way and Irish’s pack threatened to push Bury off their own scrum before winning a penalty that full-back Gavin Dunne landed with ease to put them 3-0 ahead.
Bury slowly but surely began to overcome that slow start and execute their gameplan to tire the heavier visitors by moving them around the field, but with handling difficult fly-half Jesse Rush’s boot proved vital in stretching the play.
Industrious hooker Beau Gibson earned Bury a penalty that Michael Sage was just off target with and Matt Edison spilled the ball in the tackle after gaining a brief glimpse of the line to break forward.
In a match filled with tension, the nerves appeared to affect Bury a little more in the first half as two penalties aimed towards touch failed to find their target, but the complexion of the top-of-the-table encounter changed in a two-minute spell around the half-hour-mark.
Sage confidently sent a long-range penalty from the Irish 10-metre line sailing through the posts, but even better was to follow.
Shaq Meyers avoided two would-be tacklers on the halfway line and sent a punt spiralling towards the right corner where Snelling won a foot race to dive on the ball and gleefully slither over the line.
Sage added the extras with a difficult conversion from the touchline, but Bury’s defence needed to be at their best to keep the away team at bay on the stroke of half-time.
Jack Harvey nipped away from the back of the scrum, but three times the substitute Irish scrum-half and his side were denied just inches from the scoring zone.
Tensions boiled over as Edison tangled with an Irish player off the ball before the former Bury captain was sent clattering to the floor by another.
However, a warning to both teams to behave from referee Nick Cousins was deemed enough.
When play resumed for the final few seconds of the half, the visitors did finally have something to show for their pressure when Dunne slotted an easy penalty through the posts to cut Bury’s advantage to four points.
With the crowd struggling to feel their fingers and toes, the only talking point at the start of the second half was the appearance of a supporter on the far side in a wolf onesie and the change of colour of Bury’s shirts from green to yellow.
The table-toppers had several goes at driving over from a lineout, but Bury held firm, and when Irish decided to mix things up and go for a crossfield kick, James Solomon was on hand to make a last-ditch intervention and send Fraser Carlisle into touch.
Another rolling maul was held up, but Dunne’s boot kept the Bury supporters on edge as he reduced the arrears to a single point with 15 minutes to go.
That tension ebbed away just five minutes later though when Snelling — who put Irish under pressure on their own line by chasing a lost cause — was quickest to react to a loose ball in the opposition’s scoring zone.
A misplaced pass hit another Irish player’s back and dropped into range for the hosts’ skipper to complete his try brace.
Sage’s conversion took them eight clear.
Solomon slipped at the crucial moment on the muddy pitch after racing the entire length of the field, but Sage’s boot sealed the Suffolk side’s place at the top of the table as he landed another penalty with five minutes to go.
Irish desperately searched for a losing bonus point, but Bury held firm and a huge roar erupted from players and fans when the ball was drilled into the stand to mark the end of an enthralling encounter.
Bury: Adams, Gibson, Kivalu, Onsondo, Waters, Meyers, Black, Edison, Sexton, Rush, Solomon, White, Mann, Snelling, Sage. Replacements: Beales, Enoka, Bixby.
Man of the match: Chris Snelling.