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Sherborne show their class to beat Prior Park at the Rec

There are not many places in the country that like their rugby more than the West Country, fewer still that like it more than Bath do, so it was no surprise to see the club open the gates to the Rec for free to allow this magnificent game of schoolboy rugby between Prior Park and Sherborne to take place.

After initial fears that the snow and hard grounds in the West Country might force this much anticipated game to be called off, the Bath groundsmen mercifully and brilliantly managed to work the magic on the pitch meaning that the game could go ahead.

Arriving at the stadium it became more and more obvious what an occasion this was, not only were these two clubs playing at the Rec, but Gary Gold, Mike Ford, and Bath no 8 and former Scotland star, Simon Taylor, were all making their way over to see the game.

It was clear early on that Prior Park would have the bulk of the support due to being based closer to the ground, what seemed like the bulk of the school was in attendance.

Sherborne though were in no mood to be intimidated by their surroundings and began the game at a serious tempo, hitting rucks hard and with numbers before looking to move the ball wide as early as possible.

It was a game plan devised you felt in order to keep everyone as involved as possible on a night where temperatures were so cold that after few minutes away from the action and players began to visibly shiver.

The fast start worked though as after just three minutes Sherborne’s fly half Ed Coulson stormed though from the halfway line after an exquisite show and go.

Bursting into the Prior Park 22 he moved the ball out to the left hand side were the sublime pace of Sherborne’s left wing, Galloway, was demonstrated for the first time as he breezed over in the far corner. Coulson missed the conversion from a tight angle, but the danger signs for Prior Park were all too obvious.

The ‘home’ side demonstrated all of their considerable powers of resolve though, immediately fighting back from the kick off, forcing Sherborne into a mistake to earn a scrum on the 22.

The scrum held solid, giving them the platform to try out one of the most dazzling backs moves of the season. With runners, dummy runners, blockers, the lot, Prior Park utterly bemused the Sherborne backs.

Park’s 13 strolled through a gap created by the confusion before offloading to his centre partner and captain, Peter Laverick, to score. Laverick added the extras and suddenly after six minutes Prior Park had a 7-5 lead despite barely having had the ball.

Coulson then failed to get the restart 10, giving Prior Park a chance to build more pressure, with the crowd baying for blood and the coaches realising this was the chance for Park to perhaps irreversibly swing the momentum their way.

Sherborne are made of stern stuff though and having been pinned into their own 22 from a driving Prior Park kick, they chose to go to the tail of the lineout to set up the driving maul before sending their peerless inside centre, Buck, up the middle.

This gave Coulson the platform to kick deep into opposition territory, driving the ball wide to the left of the Prior Park 22. From the kick return Sherborne spread the ball instantly to the opposite side of the pitch with Buck again fixing defenders before blasting past them.

Fixing the last Prior Park defender, he released Buck once again down the left hand side to race away to the line. Once again though the conversion was tight and dropped just short.

Two specific aspects of Sherborne play, the aggression of their pack at the breakdown and the running lines and handling skills of their centre pairing, had dominated the game and the hard hitting nature of the game was taking its toll.

Prior Park’s openside had to have the game stopped while a deep gash to his head was patched up, while Coulson and Harris both received treatment too.

The skills of the Sherborne centres were soon on show again though as Quaile burst through the Prior Park midfield from deep in his own half. Showing great stamina and pace he surged into the opposition 22 before fixing the full back and giving Coulson the easiest of tries after superb support work kept him with the break.

Again through the conversion was missed, meaning that despite leading 3 try’s to one, Sherborne only led 15-7.

Sherborne were soon dealt a tough blow though as first their openside, Deverell, and then Buck went off injured. With Buck having been bossing the game from the midfield and Deverell working wonders at the breakdown, it was a game changing period as the two of the went off.

Prior Park’s captain, Laverick, was beginning to show his class, and with the absence of Buck opposite him, his influence on the game was ever growing. A pinpoint kick to the corner following a penalty demonstrating his growing confidence.

From the resulting lineout Prior Park once again showed that from the set piece their backs were tough to handle and a series of sweeping moves saw them bundle the ball into the corner to make the scores 15-12.

Laverick missed the conversion, but Park’s noses were up, and they were the side with the momentum, going in just 3 points behind despite being dominated all half.

The second half began with some noticeable changes to the Sherborne style of play. With the temperature dropping and the dew picking up, there was an obvious change to a much more forward orientated game plan.

The power of their pack had been dominant all match, and they were trying to build on that. It worked too to an extent, with Guildford in particular making some big tackles and even bigger carries, while Edwards also began to take on a lot more ball.

The aggression and hard work of Martin though was perhaps most noticeable of all as Sherborne piled on the pressure for the bulk of the opening 20 minutes of the second half.

Search as they did though for that extra score it simply would not come, they were camped on the Prior Park line in the 65th minute but an outstanding turnover saw the hopes dashed as Park cleared their lines.

It had the feeling of a momentum changing moment as Prior Park seized the initiative; a great break from their full back saw the fans rising to their feet as he dashed towards the Sherborne 22.

With the outstanding Laverick on his shoulder he offloaded for what looked like a certain try, and would have been but for one of the most brilliant cover tackles you will ever hear of. With Laverick certain to score and inside the 22, Harris, the Sherborne 6, came flying out of nowhere to bring him down.

Not only that but he successfully slowed the ball down allowing the defence to realign. The scramble brought about a Prior Park penalty at the next ruck but it felt like a net gain for Sherborne more than anything else.

With just two minutes left of the clock then, it gave Laverick a chance to level the scores, albeit from a tough angle. Tantalisingly it fell just inches short, meaning that form the resulting play Prior Park had to score to avoid defeat.

Sherborne though had other ideas, breaking from their own 22 they burst down the middle with Martin who shifted it to the pace man Galloway. Surging now into the 22, he had the good sense to keep the ball infield, keeping his support nearby.

The pressure was too much for the Park defence who eventually conceded a penalty and with it three points to the boot of Humphrey, to give Sherborne an 18-12 win.

It was a great evening of rugby, won by the best side on the night, but nobody was left under any illusions as to how much heart this Prior Park side has, or as to how strong this Sherborne side is. Hats off in particular to the forwards breakdown work, and the superb centre partnership.

If ever there were an advert for school rugby, opening up the world famous Rec to a game like this was the perfect one.

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