Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club performance pleases new head coach in third outing, despite narrow home defeat to Canterbury
Nick Wakley may still be hunting for his first home win as Bury St Edmunds head coach, but a losing bonus point and ‘heroic’ defensive performance proved just the tonic to swallow a bitter league defeat.
The National League 2 South side fell to a narrow 20-14 loss to second-in-the-league Canterbury at the Haberden on Saturday in the Welshman’s third game in charge.
Despite the loss, the coach was bouncing with enthusiasm over the defensive work rate and commitment on show – as he said he was ‘chuffed to bits’ with the performance and the potential of what could come in their next outing, away to basement side London Irish Wild Geese on Saturday (3pm).
“We will likely see a few faces back from injury,” he said. “Which will freshen us up after such a heroic defensive shift.
“There were large passages against Canterbury where we just put our bodies on the line, and there are, understandably, some sore bodies in the changing room as a result.
“So it’s not going to be a gruelling week for them because of the efforts they’ve put in of late, but we will be looking to do more with the ball as we will have plenty of opportunities to attack.
“Training and preparation will definitely have more of an attacking focus before our trip. Everyone put in a proper effort – especially with Ben (Leng) coming down with food poisoning just before kick-off.
“He did brilliantly to make it through the first 40, but he couldn’t carry on, so we had to rejig the bench – he showed his mettle in playing at all though.
“The changes that we made, I am just chuffed to bits with the way the team responded.
“And I know it sounds strange to say that after a 20-14 loss, but this is something I can build on and something I’m now looking forward to. Our boys put in a heroic defensive performance and, for me, if they want to build something at this club, it can be built on a defence like that.
“We’ve barely even scratched the surface of our attack capabilities, and we have some very attacking minded players.”
There were signs of that on a wet and blustery Saturday at The Haberden, as the Wolfpack faced up to a strong Canterbury side that included four former Bury players in their ranks.
Both sides began by trading penalties in a cagey half mostly played in midfield – although the Wolfpack had the better chances in the early exchanges.
The crowd were on their feet after 20 minutes as it looked as though Jaid Wiltshire was clear down the right wing, but the touch judge ruled he had put a foot in touch.
But Bury still slowly racked up a 9-3 lead from the boot of fullback Franco Catuogno, before Canterbury’s powerful attack struck on the stroke of half-time.
The visitors ramped up the tempo in the final minutes of the half , and Bury found themselves besieged in their 22 and did well to hold off the attacks for as long as they did.
Cameron Ritchie made a fantastic break to run 40m and clear the danger, but was brought down 5m out – with Canterbury’s defence slowing the ball down and regrouping.
Aiden Moss then eventually found a gap in Bury’s spirited defence, with a great conversion from the left touchline putting Canterbury in the lead at half-time.
The Pilgrims struck again, five minutes into the second period, with Bury’s Ollie Watson watching on from the sin bin – having been carded for mistiming his jump for the restart and clattering into the opposition’s flanker.
The conversion was again good to leave Bury trailing 17-9. But the home team were able to get the next score, capitalising on former Wolfpack flanker Sean Stapleton’s yellow card – immediately striking down the left wing as Pat Robinson powered over.
The conversion, from the far reaches of the left touchline, fell short to leave Bury just three points behind, 20 minutes left and a man up.
But Canterbury closed ranks, showing their mental strength as they did not try to force a score.
A penalty, in front of the posts, gave their impressive kicker an easy three pointer to put the game six points out of reach.
Bury kept pushing but ran out of time.
Wakley said: “We may have lost, but the feeling is definitely one of pride. It was fantastic, the work rate and tackle count will be through the roof, they did me so proud in defence.
“That team (Canterbury) is second in the league, and we made them look very, very average in attack.
“But they were just a little more clinical in the strike area than we were. They kept coming at us and the boys kept knocking them down and it was great to see.
“I can’t coach that sort of attitude. That’s something they have to want to do.”
Bury: Robinson, Francombe, Hill, Graham, Scholes, Brown, Watson, Browne, Limlei, Ritchie, Sharp, Leng, Kohler, Wiltshire, Catuogno. Replacements: Grey, Torpey, Coutts, Stanley, Hasenlechner