Bury St Edmunds 23
Replacement Tim Mann was relieved to overcome a bout of flu and help Bury St Edmunds to a nervy but crucial triumph over Guernsey on Saturday.
With London Irish Wild Geese — who started the weekend second in the table — surprisingly losing to relegation-threatened Tring, Bury’s victory took them seven points clear at the summit of National Three London and South East.
However, the hosts were well short of their best for an hour of a scrappy encounter, before their form and fitness eventually shone through to secure a sixth consecutive league victory.
“I had flu on Thursday and Friday, so I wasn’t 100 per cent,” said Mann, who was meant to start but instead came off the bench to make a crucial contribution with two counter-attacking sprints to help set up tries. “It was nice to get running again, got to come on and good to get the win.
“It was a bit hairy at half-time, but we got the result in the end.
“We struggled a bit and haven’t hit the heights of when we played Irish, but we have to remember that game has gone and we need to move on and move forward.
“We’ve got a tough game coming up at Tonbridge, but the boys are good enough to raise their game when they need to.”
Despite clear, bright and dry conditions, Bury struggled for an hour in their victory over Guernsey at The Haberden on Saturday.
Their game was littered with wayward passes, misplaced kicks and poor decision-making as Guernsey kept them pinned back in their own half for long spells.
Tom Bird gave Bury an undeserved lead with a long-range penalty in the 20th minute, but even that failed to spur on the hosts, who were eventually punished four minutes before half-time.
The islanders had knocked at the door on several occasions when Bury’s last-ditch defensive efforts were finally breached when Glen Waters danced under the posts and converted his own try.
Bury’s first glimpse of the try line did not come until two minutes after that, only to be punished for holding on to the ball in the tackle and then knocking on.
Half-time failed to yield a change and only a dreadful decision from Guernsey’s winger to pass the ball out of play at the crucial moment having made it to the line prevented the visitors increasing their lead.
However, Bury’s fitness — which has got them out of jail time and again this season — finally told on the hour-mark.
Roared on by The Haberden faithful, Bury barrelled their way to the line, splintering the Guernsey defence in the process, before Sam Bixby got the ball down.
Bird’s conversion clipped the outside of the left post, but Bury only had to wait another five minutes to extend their lead as replacement Mann and former captain Matt Edison ran the ball three-quarters the length of the pitch before a crossfield kick was dived on by skipper Chris Snelling.
Bird’s attempted conversion again found the left post, but it was his pass that set up the third try in eight minutes.
Another huge break by Mann resulted in Guernsey conceding a penalty, which Bury kicked to the corner before catching the lineout and driving forwards.
Scrum-half Matt Jones decided to use his backs and found Bird, whose long pass was almost intercepted by a Guernsey player, but instead landed in the grateful clutch of Michael Sage, who strolled under the posts.
Bird’s conversion looked to have sealed it, only for Edison to be sent to the sinbin and Guernsey get a converted try back with six minutes left on the clock.
However, a sensible decision for Bird to go for goal with a penalty shortly after paid dividends as he found the target to open a nine-point advantage that Bury held to the final whistle.
Mann, who has spent several years at Bury across different spells, reflected on the change at the club since he started by adding: “We’re at another level — it’s so much more professional.
“Training sessions are more intense and we have to work a bit harder than we used to, but it’s great.
“On a Saturday that intensity goes up and the physicality has got bigger — it’s a great squad to be involved in.”
Bury: Beales, Bixby, Kivalu, Goldspink, Waters, Enoka, Meyers, Edison, Jones, Rush, Solomon, White, Bird, Snelling, Sage. Replacements: Gibson, Bretag-Norris, Mann.