In a performance that closely emulated Lazarus' biblical return from the dead, Gosford showed incredible determination to level the score in one of the most captivating draws you'll see this season, writes Tim Price.
Away at Banbury, in front of a close-to-capacity crowd sitting in the large professional stand, Banbury kicked off the game with high hopes of putting a convincing win over the visitors in black. Sadly, for Gosford, at least in the early stages of the contest, this seemed like it might be an accurate prognosis.
Roughly seven minutes into the first half, after an almighty collision in the centre of the pitch, Banbury were able to resource a Gosford ruck more effectively than the All Blacks. They turned the ball over and, through quick hands, scored to the left of the uprights in a try against the run of play. A simple conversion made the score 7-0 for the home side.
A few minutes later, after Gosford conceded a penalty in the red zone, Banbury decided to run the ball, clattering over the line to score once again. The conversion brought the score to 14-0 in less than 15 minutes.
Before Gosford barely got their breath back, Banbury were in again, scoring from a scrum inside the Gosford 22, whipping the ball accurately out to their 15 and eventually their winger to score in the corner. Conversion missed – 19-0 to Banbury.
But if Gosford thought the punishment would end there, they were to be disappointed, as Banbury crossed the whitewash again around the 23-minute mark, as Gosford defenders failed to sweep round fast enough to the open side of a ruck, leaving Banbury with acres of space and many unguarded players to score with quick ball. A conversion right in front of the posts expanded Banbury's lead to 26-0.
Things at this point were, to put it mildly, looking rather bleak for the Gosford players, whose morale and energy looked to be waning under the relentless onslaught of Blue and White.
Thankfully for the All Blacks, they happen to have one of the most experienced, composed, handsome, and motivating head coaches in the game – a certain Mr Barns, whose encouragement to "stay connected" seemed to filter through to his cohort of currently maudlin players at this critical juncture. With these words and some of Barns' previous, perhaps more profane maxims still ringing in their ears, Gosford seemed inspired to turn things around.
Consequently, a few minutes later, Gosford 9 – Tim Price (having eventually worked out the dimensions of the pitch through trial and error) kicked for touch, giving Gosford a mighty and probably game-defining 2m gain, facilitating a Gosford a lineout on the Banbury 22.
With supremacy in the forwards and with a meaty driving maul (a tool that Gosford used across the game to dominate proceedings), Gosford were able to muscle their way over the Banbury try-line in a spectacular roiling mess of black shirts, with the titanic Dan Bullimore having scored, arising from the human wreckage like a phoenix. Gosford fly-half George Pamenter nailed the challenging conversion to euphoric cries of "oh George" from his teammates - 26-7 to Banbury.
Galvanised by this score and new-found confidence in their fierce weapon, the driving maul, Gosford, were to score next in another robust maul, ending in one of Gosford's key leaders, Liam Donnelly, scoring just before half-time. Conversion missed – 26-12 to Banbury.
Sensing a momentum shift, Gosford started the second half just as they finished the first- with excellent scrums and much-improved defending from both backs and forwards. It was this change of attitude, sensational belief (and Banbury's earlier yellow card) that built a platform that would see Gosford score first in the second half.
The try came from another dominant scrum in the Banbury 22. Here, George Pamenter managed to pick the ball up from his bootlaces and, with exceptional timing, put Sam Malton (who was running as though he'd forgotten to put the cows away) through a gap in the Banbury centres for an incisive and entertaining try. Conversion missed – 26-17 to Banbury.
Just as Gosford thought the tides had surely started to turn, however, Banbury were to reply with a score of their own, following a mid-field scrum which precipitated an impressive long-range try that saw Banbury's winger get over in the corner. Banbury converted, putting the score at 33-17 to Banbury.
Banbury would also soon back this up with a kick for goal scored after a period in which both teams tried to find some sort of ascendancy in a contest that was beginning to gently boil over in patches. The score now sitting at 36-17.
Determined not to allow the home side to have the final say, Gosford were soon back into the opposition's 22, utilising once again the lucrative rolling maul coordinated by Tom Heydon and Dan Bullimore and powered by Luke Burbidge, Nathan Parsons, Sam Durley, Rhys Andrews and Patrick Mackenzie. From this battering ram, Gosford scored another bulldozing try, put over the line by Tom Heydon. A peach of a strike from the red-hatted George "Possum" Pamenter put the score at 36-24.
Following some great defence and a sensational turnover from Gosford, the All Blacks were once again in the Banbury 22 in possession of a promising-looking lineout. From this platform, Gosford were able to string together multiple phases with excellent carries from Jake Townsend, Dan Bullimore and Alex Jackowski, sucking in defenders to create space.
In an almost carbon copy of the previous Sam Malton try, George Pamenter was once again able to give the Gosford 13 a sweetly timed ball, who carved through the defence to score close to the posts. The conversion was missed- putting the score at a tantalising 36-29.
With very little time left in the match but with some embers of hope still burning for Gosford, Banbury kicked off one final time. Kicking deep, the ball was received by Gosford 9 Tim Price, who, after wiggling his diminutive frame around a couple of defenders, gave Gosford flanker Rhys Andrews the ball.
What followed from this moment is one of the most incredible efforts down the pitch you'll see any player make this year on any stage - international, premiership, local or otherwise. Cleaving through defenders like the mighty Achilles at the battle of Troy, Rhys swerved, fended, and cut through the Banbury line, striding 75 m or more to score just to the right of the posts.
This sensational try had an extra layer of poignancy for Rhys, who, previously in his rugby career, was told he was, in fact, superfluous to Banbury's needs. So, not only did this try redress the balance on the scoreboard but did so in a personal capacity for the exceptional loose forward.
Finally, with the score sitting at 36-34, the conversion was crucial as it would tie the game. As such, special commendations need to be given to fly half George Pamenter for adding the two with a great deal of pressure on his shoulders. Final score: 36-36.
Mentions must also be given to James Groves, Elliot Newell and Joe Beesley for their valuable running play, which provided the other attacking prong in Gosford's armoury besides the destructive rolling maul. And also, to Tom Heydon, who, like Rhys, tried to make himself valuable to Banbury but who we are happy to see "Back in Black."
Next week, we host Chesham Stags. Gosford eked out a close win back in September down in Buckinghamshire, and the Stags are in rich form. It promises to be a great game. Before the match, the club will mark the memory of former club secretary Dave Smith, who sadly lost his life last week after a long illness.
Tap Social Man of the Match – Dan Bullimore
D Bullimore: 1T
G Pamenter: 3C
L Donnelly: 1T
Sam Malton: 2T
T Heydon: 1T
R Andrews: 1T