Banbury 29 - 33 Marlborough
Marlborough made the journey to Banbury to play against a strong Banbury outfit who had been on an eight-game winning run. Their Club and stadium are hugely impressive and certainly shows where Marlborough’s aspirations are aimed.
Head Coach, Elisi Vunipola, was looking to build on last week’s strong win over Wimborne on the Common to keep the side on the tails of the league leaders. Banbury started the game well, but it was Marlborough who scored first after thirteen minutes. A quick penalty was taken with good work from the forwards, was able to build a number of phases and eventually Epeli Kotobalavu managed to dive over from close range. Jake Williams' conversion went wide to leave it 5-0.
Banbury responded well and on nineteen minutes, Ed Phillips kicked a penalty, given for offside, to reduce the lead to Banbury 3 - Marlborough 5. Semisi Rasivo saw yellow for a knock on and Banbury capitalised on the man advantage to take the lead with Ian Isham going over at the base of a ruck. Phillips converted for a Banbury lead of 10-5.
Banbury extended their lead before half time, when Isham again went over following a good maul from a lineout. This time the conversion was missed but Banbury lead 15-5.
Marlborough replied by working the ball into the Banbury 22 and scored a try after a good driving maul from a lineout, again Epeli Kotobalavu, gathering at the base before driving over for his second try. The conversion was missed, and the half time score was 15-10.
Early in the second half Jake Williams kicked a penalty that was given for offside to narrow the deficit to 15-13 and once again the game was very tight. Both teams’ defenders were working incredibly hard as the two sides looked to build a lead. However. it was Banbury who were to score next when a knock on lead to a kick through and Tom Burman scored under the posts. Phillips' conversion gave the home side a 22-13 lead.
Vunipola made a tactical change when an injury to Ben Fulton forced him off and so Amori Nailago was moved to centre and Macdonald Lewis came on at outside half. Lewis began to tactically kick and pin back Banbury deep in their own half. The pressure told and Phillips was shown a yellow card for a ruck infringement. Marlborough's scrum half, Williams, showed great game awareness to continually to move the ball to the spaces. Unfortunately for full back Garth Bari, who had made a number of good breaks, he had to limp off and despite his injury Fulton returned. Soon after, he gathered a cross field kick provided by Lewis Macdonald and touched down. The wide out conversion missed but the lead was cut to 22-18.
Banbury showed fantastic defence, but now Marlborough sensed the comeback was on and they kept up the pressure. Nailago showed his individual finishing skills to score on the seventy-minute mark and Williams' conversion made it 25-22.
Once the game restarted Marlborough quickly got on the offensive again and Kotobalavu completed his hat-trick with another drive over the line. Williams' conversion made it 32-22 and Marlborough finally had a good lead as the game reached the final phases.
Banbury weren't done though, and huge credit goes to them in realising that a strong finish would still give them 2 bonus points. They worked hard and Ed Berridge got over from a scrum, Phillips added the extras for a 32-29 final score.
Many thanks go to Banbury RFC, all their staff and players for being such hospitable and welcoming hosts for what was one of the most exciting games of the season so far. The large crowd making it a great occasion. Head Coach Elisi Vunipola, commented on what was probably one of the best wins that he had seen from his side since he had taken over. Next week the team look forward to visit of Beaconsfield to the Common.