Cinderford 36, Wharfedale 23
There was just a glimmer of hope five minutes from time, when Lloyd Davies slotted a 30-yard penalty to reduce to gap between the sides to a mere six points, that Wharfedale, pressing home a man advantage up front, might just sneak an outrageously unlikely win in this SSE National League One clash.
But the Greens’ failure to hold a scrum near the home line and a defensive disaster at the other end of the field allowed Cinderford to clinch victory and extend their unbeaten home run.
And a hard-fought victory it was over a workmanlike Greens, with the home side’s pace and fluency through the half-backs being the difference between two combative and roughly-matched teams.
So just as against Blaydon – a team of similar calibre – Wharfedale were unable to turn moments of advantage into winning points.
But overall Cinderford were the more composed and steadier side and their two second-half tries were testimony to their sharpness and anticipation, as much as Wharfedale laxness under pressure.
Wharfedale’s bright opening, led by a lengthy counter-attack break by Tom Davidson, was rewarded with a neat try by hooker Steve Graham, fed through a gap off the side of a ruck just within the 22.
Home fly half Mark Davies and Davidson exchanged penalties in a loose but even first quarter as both sides looked to move the ball.
But Cinderford turned the match decisively in their favour with three well-executed tries, two of them converted by Davies, before the break.
First hooker Tom Bozzard completed a well-organised line-out drive near the line.
Then speedy passing created yawning space on the left, allowing full back Mark Wilcox to put winger Lloyd Stapleton away in the corner.
Wharfedale briefly camped back in attacking territory, and Dan Solomi scuttled off from the base of a ruck on a trademark run to the line, only for a fantastic retrieving tackle from scrum half Alex Frame at the line to deny him a try.
Wharfedale’s failure to recycle a score from such a position proved a major turning point in the match as Cinderford ended the half with a fine try by winger Sam Cavern, whose unopposed entry into the line extended their lead to 22-8 at the break – a significant advantage given the even nature of much of the play.
Wharfedale again challenged strongly after the resumption, forcing a penalty which sailed wide. But they secured a foothold back in the match with forward pressure in the loose, a rare moment of attacking fluency and a fine tight finish by winger Simon Horsfall.
Wharfedale were unable to sustain the challenge in a messy third quarter but it took a charged-down clearance by Davies as Luke Gray desperately attempted to clear his line to give the outside half a try and easy conversion and his side a 29-13 lead.
The Greens at last began to impose themselves and profited from sustained pressure up front, resulting in both a yellow card to replacement home hooker Nico Woodward and a penalty try as they mauled their way to the line. Replacement full back Davies added the conversion.
Davies added a penalty as Cinderford began to lose shape and composure for the first time. But with a bonus point in the offing at 29-23 and the real, if outside, chance of sneaking victory, Wharfedale were denied both in the final minutes when Cinderford sealed matters with an interception try picked off by centre Jack Adams as Davies attempted to launch a promising attack from within their 22.
This was no slack gifted pass, just a moment of precise skill from an accomplished player apparently adept at such moments of pilfering.
So Wharfedale failed for the first time to gather points away from home and sink to tenth in a volatile table, while Cinderford confirmed their steady form by rising into the top five.
Wharfedale may well feel there was more to be got from the game than they managed but injuries can just take the edge from a side’s play.
Adam Mason and Dominic Barrow both had as effective games as their more established colleagues, and the pack largely handled a powerful opposition eight well without managing to get the upper hand.
Clearly returning players like Mark Tampin and Solomi will have benefited from time on the pitch.
In the backs, Cinderford were slicker in thought and deed, with Wharfedale finding it hard to match the speed of movement through the hands at half-back.
Some forceful individual runs were not enough to challenge a tight-knit opposition defence, but not many sides will emerge victorious this season from the Forest of Dean.
Wharfedale have the opportunity to return to winning ways on Sat-urday against struggling bottom club Cambridge, who visit The Avenue as part of a double-header weekend, with Leeds entertaining Moseley on Sunday, giving home fans the opportunity of comparing Cham-pionship rugby and renewing acquaintance with past illustrious captains of the Green jersey.
Cinderford: M Wilcox; S Caven, J Adams, R Winchle, L Stapleton; M Davies, A Frame; J Brooks, T Bozzard, T Heald; B West, D Critchley; L Allen, W Foden, G Evans.
Wharfedale: T Davidson ( L Davies 63), J Donkin, M Clarke, A Hodgson, A Horsfall; L Gray (W Bell 66), J Gough; A Mason, S Graham (I Larkin 48), M Tampin; R Brown, R Rhodes; D Barrow, S Solomi, A Allen.
Referee: R Kelly (RFU)