Wolfpack lay down a marker by giving leaders a real scare
Backs and defence coach Danny Johnston believes Bury St Edmunds’ 17-13 defeat to league leaders Tonbridge Juddians captured how close they are to becoming a top team in National League 2 South.
The visitors had gone into the penultimate game before the festive break having lost only twice in their opening 14 games.
But they were unable to hold play inside Bury’s 22 metre area in the entire first half as The Wolfpack displayed the same high intensity which had seen them run TJ’s title rivals Henley Hawks mightily close.
There were parallels with that heart-breaking 21-18 away defeat at The Haberden on Saturday as they went from a 13-0 lead five minutes into the second half to chasing a winning try that ultimately did not arrive at 17-13 down.
“This week typifies where we feel we have come to as a group,” said Johnston, who is in his first season on the club’s coaching team.
“We were in the game for 80 minutes and had opportunities to win it there at the end and it just didn’t quite stick in those final phases which is always hard to take.
“But we are proud of the performance we put in today.”
And the former Bishop’s Stortford coach believes they will soon be able to correct those facets of their game which he believes are currently stopping them from realising their full potential.
“They got their tails up for 15 minutes and they got their scores there but we are a group who were able to come back at the end of the game and still give ourselves a shot at winning the game which was definitely pleasing,” he said.
“The crowd can see the group have moved forward and are not falling away when it matters. Next time those games will stick for us.
“At the turn of the season we will be turning those games into wins and not close losses.
“It is a promising position to be in in terms of the performances we are putting in.”
Bury were certainly in a great position at the interval, having burst out of the blocks to lead 10-0, which did not nearly reflect their territory.
Their pressure eventually told in the 17th minute when centre Ben Leng had the foresight to exploit a gap in the defence with a run in under the posts, leaving an easy conversion for Kodie Drury-Hawkins.
The latter’s second penalty from almost identical positions went over just before the break to extend their lead.
When the fly-half’s well worked drop goal put them 13-0 up, Tonbridge were on the ropes.
But they were able to bounce back after an ill-advised chipped kick from Drury-Hawkins into a sea of players on half way sent Tonbridge on their way to a converted try, finished by flanker Josh Groocock.
From then on the league leaders 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 and TJs were taking no chances when they earned a penalty with 11 minutes to go, the fly-half slotting over the penalty.
Bury had the crowd roaring in anticipation as the got within inches of the try-line in the dying moments but the final whistle signalled their unbeaten home run in 2019/20 coming to an end, dropping them a place to ninth in the table.
“Obviously a crucial moment there was the charge-down kick,” reflected Johnston.
“You look at that in the game and the way it was balanced and that gave them the opportunity to get back into the game. And a quality side like Tonbridge will use that and ride off the back of it.
“But today certainly shows us a measure of where we are in the league and I don’t think any team will look forward to playing us.”
Bury: 15 Affleck, 14 Machin, 13 White, 12 Leng, 11 Garside, 10 Drury-Hawkins, 9 Harvey, 1 Robinson, 2 Walsh, 3 Cooper, 4 Leo, 5 Browne, 6 Bursey, 7 Milosevic, 8 Wilson. Replacements: Brown, Gidionov, Hill, Meikle, Dusi.
Coaches’ Man of The Match: Tomas Milosevic.
* Bury’s final assignment of the calendar year sees them travel down to the west country to face a Westcliff side who are perched just above the bottom three (2pm).
“We cannot underestimate Westcliff, we’d be foolish to do so,” said Johnston.
“They have picked up some good wins at their ground this season and it is a new clubhouse for them which is generating a lot of energy in their club.”
More by this authorRussell Claydon