07:43PM, Saturday 14 September 2019
Maidenhead RFC vs CS RugbyBraywick Park, Braywick Road, Maidenhead
Maidenhead RFC 45, Exeter University RFC 43
Maidenhead RFC battled back in the closing stages to beat Exeter University with the very last kick of the game after one of the most thrilling games of rugby witnessed at Braywick Park in recent seasons.
It was Ed Keohane who nervelessly kept his cool to convert his own 80th minute try to give Maids a 45-43 victory and maintain their unbeaten start to the campaign.
In Myke Parrott's 200th first team game the two sides produced a fitting display of attacking rugby to honour the occasion in warm mid-September sunshine.
It didn't take the home side long to find their feet, with Keohane slipping through a lovely little grubber kick for Scott Prince to pick up and touch down in the corner after only two minutes.
But Exeter quickly showed why they thumped Launceston 54-12 last weekend, putting Maids' defence under the pump just a few minutes later, working the ball through the phases - tackle after tackle - before big prop forward Matt Johnson spotted the smallest of gaps to drive his way over.
Maids' new head coach David Mobbs-Smith admitted his side's defences had been tested in their 27-17 opening day win at Drybrook and it was quite clear this would again be the case against a classy, young, Exeter side.
A break-away try from Tom Addision confirmed their attacking intent, as well as their incisiveness with the ball in hand. Charlie Davies swooped in to intercept Will Runciman's wayward pass and managed to get a pass off to Addision after a wonderful covering tackle from full-back Olly Foxley.
Maids' response was immediate and set the tone for what was becoming a ding-dong clash of swinging momentum. Todd Muil was the man to break through a couple of challenges, twisting and turning to touch down close to the posts with Keohane adding the extras.
The game was only 20 minutes old but already it was clear that both teams would be picking up a bonus point, although it was far from clear whether it would be a winning one or a losing one.
A Harry Bazalgette penalty edged the visitors back in front before Foxley outwitted a couple of defenders with a clever kick before feeding the ball through Muil to Blewitt on the wing, who put his head down to charge over in the corner (19-17).
Dave Cole saw yellow for an offside tackle, which also handed Exeter a penalty from which they retook the lead, and Bazalgette got another chance to add three more points on the stroke of the interval, just as Blewitt intercepted and looked to be on his bike to a breakaway try.
There were groans from the crowd as Keohane started the second half by sending a very kickable penalty well wide of the posts and their exasperation only grew in the 48th minute when Exeter expertly moved the ball left - showing terrific handling skills - to give Harry Tarling the chance to ride another tackle and touch down for a converted score (19-30).
But Maids showed they were far from a spent force in the game when Joe Parkin broke from deep and fed the ball wide for Will Cowan-Dickie to score on his first team debut after 56 minutes (26-30). Another penalty enabled Exeter to extend their lead once again before one of the moments of the match saw Parrott collect Muil's pass to go over under the posts for a converted score to make it 33-33, following patient build-up play from the hosts.
The game looked to be edging Exeter's way when they won a crucial scrum against the head and fed the ball wide for Charlie Davies to roll off a couple of Maidenhead challenges to get on the scoresheet. Toby Williams converted to make it 33-40. Williams must have then thought he'd finished off Maids' challenge once and for all when he sent the ball sailing between the posts from a penalty inside his own half.
But, as they've showed plenty of times in the last few seasons, this side never know when they're beaten. And two of their more experienced players stepped up to the plate when the side needed it most. Cole, who'd had a quiet game by his standards came to the party with five minutes to play, crashing over the whitewash with Exeter bodies hanging off him. Keohane couldn't convert meaning Maids needed at least another try to get themselves level.
This they managed with the clock ticking past the 80 minute mark. Working the ball wide they created a gap for Keohane to scramble his way over to tie the game. Then, as a hushed silence fell upon Braywick Park, he put a mixed kicking display behind him - holding his nerve when it mattered most - to bag an extraordinary victory.
Parrott walked off to a huge ovation from the grandstand, clutching his kids on what was clearly an emotional afternoon for the skipper.
Afterwards he said: "I'm just so pleased for the boys. They've put the graft in with the new strength and conditioning coach Murray who's absolutely drilled us. We're reaping the benefits now. The front five are still running into the 80th minute.
"I think we were 11 points down with about 10 minutes to go against probably the fittest side in the league and to comeback and win like that - it means a lot more than romping over a mid-table or lower table side. I'm just so pleased for the boys and you saw how much it means to them at the end. They deserve all the plaudits.
"We'll lose some games this season. We're not going to win everyone. No side can do that. But I promise you that it won't be from a lack of heart from anyone. We might get beaten by a side with more skill. But no one is going to do us on heart, ever.
"We never, ever concede defeat. I'm so proud of them and their efforts.
"It's hard to put into words what it means (to play 200 first team games). Sometimes these occasions can get to you a bit and in the match-day programme there were quotes from all my boys which means a lot to me. A quote from my little girl as well which really pulled on the old heart strings as well. It means more than anything. Apart from my family and my kids this clubs means more to me than anything. The boys do that for me. I'm 33 now and I commute a long way and I do it for them because they're such a fantastic set of boys."
Head coach Mobbs-Smith, added: "I turned to Zoran, one of my coaches, and I said 'this is going to be one of them 40-something, 40-something games. I'm not sure who's going to win this but it's going to be exciting'. And that's exactly how it turned out. There were times when it looked like we were dominant and there were times when it looked like they were dominant.
"But you have to say it was favouring them. But we've worked unbelievably hard on our fitness and in the end it was the older team who scored the last two tries to win the game. That shows you how hard the boys have worked on their fitness this season.
"They (Exeter) really looked to play us at our full capacity and we were able to stand up to it."
Well done to the lads @ExeterUniRFC I only caught 10 minutes of the game against @maidsrfc - speed, power, control, skill, set piece, insane goalkicker. You will take some teams to the cleaners!! Took an injury time defeat with enormous grace - a credit to your University— Will Greenwood (@WillGreenwood) September 14, 2019
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