MATCH REPORT: Wisbech survive scare to go within four games of Twickenham final
Junior Vase Fourth Round: Wisbech 25 Billericay 17
WISBECH Rugby Club put themselves within four games of a Twickenham final today - but they had to survive a scare at Harecroft Road.
The Greene King Eastern Counties Division One high-flyers looked to be romping into the quarter-finals as tries from Phil Martell, Andy Claydon and Shane Vickers helped them into a 25-0 lead with 20 minutes to go.
But Billericay suddenly found their feet in the closing stages, running in three scores of their own to set up a nervy finish.
There was no sign of nerves from the hosts at the start of the day as, once again, they raced out of the blocks in front of their own fans.
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The crowd had to wait just four minutes to see Wisbech cross the try-line, as the centres combined to put them in front.
Jon Turner made the break before delaying his pass perfectly to send team-mate Phil Martell crashing over. Full back Mark Laws slotted the conversion to put Wisbech 7-0 ahead.
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This lead became 10-0 moments later, as Wisbech were rewarded for more pressure with a penalty and Laws succeeded with his second kick of the day.
The visitors were clearly rattled and were failing to string any phases of play together, with handling errors and wayward passes creeping into their game.
But Laws twice failed to take further advantage of the Essex side’s indiscipline, hooking two penalties wide of the uprights.
Wisbech were forced into a change when forward Richard Pearson suffered a leg injury and Greg Brownlow took his place.
But the substitution didn’t halt Wisbech’s progress as Billericay struggled to get out of their own half, let alone threaten the hosts’ try-line.
It was becoming a miserable day for the visitors and when their number eight was sin-binned for stamping in the ruck, it looked as though Wisbech might run in a cricket score.
But a combination of poor decision-making and handling errors meant the home side forfeited several chances to extend their lead.
Laws notched his second penalty, and third kick, of the day to give Wisbech a 13-0 lead at the interval - but it was not the sort of lead that, at one stage, they would have been hoping for.
The break seemed to give the hosts renewed vigour. The clever distribution of fly-half Will Pettit and the strength of towering centre Turner were causing problems for Billericay - and it wasn’t long before Wisbech had a second try to celebrate.
A prolonged spell of pressure on the visitors’ try-line ended when scrum-half Claydon picked the ball up from a ruck, sold his would-be tackler a dummy and dived over. Laws added the extras and Wisbech had one foot in the quarter finals at 20-0.
With 25 minutes remaining, Joe Barfoot replaced Mark Laws - and the speedy full back made an instant impact.
His surging run and precise pass released captain Vickers, who sprinted in for a try in the corner. Claydon, who had taken over the kicking duties, missed a tricky conversion but the game seemed as good as over.
Wisbech, however, were in for a shock. Billericay, who had looked in abysmal form for an hour, suddenly sparked into life.
Feeble tackling allowed their fly-half to waltz in for a try to open their account before a second score in the corner made it 25-10.
Tempers began to flare as the Essex side found their foothold in the game and, on more than one occasion, the referee had to deal with off-the-ball scuffles.
Billericay’s physical approach seemed to have finally taken its toll on Wisbech, who were starting to wilt.
With five minutes to go, Phil Martell, who had been enjoying an imperious display at centre, threw a horrendous wayward pass to put his side under more pressure.
The ball was easily intercepted by the visitors’ flanker and he cantered in to score a converted try under the posts.
A game that had seemed to be a routine and comfortable outing for the hosts teetered on the edge of becoming a nightmare.
As the minutes ticked away, Wisbech rediscovered their composure to repel Billericay’s onslaught.
The biggest cheer of the day came in the final minute as tough tackling from the hosts secured a pressure-relieving penalty. As the final whistle sounded, Harecroft Road breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Wisbech’s players were left to celebrate another Vase win, but reflect on the sort of performance that will need to improve substantially if the club hope to fulfil their dream of reaching a final at the home of English rugby.
Junior Vase Fourth Round - Full Results
Bec Old Boys 19 Cranleigh 13
London Exiles 24 Chipstead 12
Midhurst 18 Old Wimbledonian 24
Pulborough 5 Croydon 19
Southwold 3 Cantabrigian 33
Uxbridge 12 Met Police 7
Wisbech 25 Billericay 17
Worth O.B. 6 Harrow 35