Malvern 25 Old Northamptonians 24
In a tense game at Spring Lane the players and supporters of both sides saw the highs and lows of rugby over an action packed 80 minutes. There was a great deal of controversy over some of the decisions made by a young and inexperienced referee, who was being tested at what is probably too high a level for him at present. Whilst everyone recognises that referees need to gain experience, fast-tracking is often not the right answer, as it is unfair on the official and the players.
The opening minutes gave a hint of how the game was to pan out when Robin Fransson ran in a fourth minute try after the ball was moved across the backs for Adam Billig to make the break which put the Swede in for the score. From the restart ONs were awarded a penalty, which was taken quickly from at least 5 metres in front of the mark. Instead of calling a halt the referee allowed play to continue and Ross Kevan touched down, Alex Rose’s conversion giving the visitors the lead. After 15 minutes when Malvern were mainly in the ascendant, ONs were given a free kick which was worked up the sideline by their tricky winger Napier, who slipped the ball inside for flanker Matt Mills to score, Rose again converting. Malvern, having lost number eight Chris Griffiths with an ankle injury, responded with some good driving play downfield, the backs then breaking. Fransson, having being put clear for a certain score, was denied by the referee’s whistle as he controversially adjudged the final pass to be forward. With their tails up ONs dominated the next 20 minutes, extending their lead with a 23rd minute converted try by Dan Napier. Skipper Adam Billig then left the field with a shoulder injury and Tom Longley came off the bench. ONs continued to pressurise the Malvern defence, but from a scrum on their own 5 metre line the Malvern pack won the ball. Rory Gratwohl, having replaced Griffiths, broke away on the short side and the ball was worked to Nick miller, whose speed left the visiting defence for dead as he ran in a 36th minute try from 60 metres, Fransson converting. Just as Malvern were again in the ascendant, the referee again amazed the crowd when ONs didn’t release the ball, but he gave the penalty their way, Rose collecting the points to leave Malvern trailing 12-24 at the break.
The second half told a different story as Malvern took control from early on. Matt Humphreys went on at hooker and Jamie Tsang moved to loosehead prop and the Malvern scrum stabilised. The forwards went on a drive, the ball sped out across the back line and Fransson ran in his second try to bring Malvern back to within seven points. Now dominating the game totally, the Malvern pack were in magnificent form, Tsang and Gratwohl outstanding, as they took the game to a tough but tiring ONs front eight. A 63rd minute penalty drifted wide, but Malvern continued to attack and got their just reward in with 10 minutes left. Driving to the ON’s line they forced a 5 metre scrum, the drive was controlled and straight and Tom Longley touched down to narrow the gap to two points. With the conversion missed and the clock running down the Spring Lane faithful were getting nervous. Three minutes remained when Malvern were awarded a penalty almost 40 metres out. Half the crowd wanted a kick to touch and a catch and drive move, but the players opted for a kick at goal. The tension was palpable, the relief great as Fransson put the ball squarely between the uprights to snatch a single-point lead. From the restart, the Malvern pack gained possession and “stuck it up the jumper” as the clock wound down to the relief of the home crowd.
Whilst the victory could have been viewed as a get out of jail situation, the question mark over the wisdom of fast tracking young referees to such a high level remains. At nineteen years old, a referee hasn’t had any time playing the game at senior level, so will struggle with the pace and speed at which the game is played, especially the close quarters stuff at the breakdown. Some of the first half decisions certainly affected the score to Malvern’s detriment, and had they not snatched victory at the end, the home players would have been justifiably aggrieved. Equally, post-match conversations with the visiting officials were of similar opinion.
Malvern travel to the Potteries for a tough away fixture at Longton next Saturday, kick-off 3.00pm under floodlights, before two home games against Scunthorpe and South Leicester.
Member since: 10th July 2012
Suzanne Korb was born in Hawaii, raised in the American state of Utah and has been living and writing fiction and non in Malvern for over 11 years.