GALLERY: Bury St Edmunds 23 Guernsey 14
Three second-half tries were enough for Bury to win a match where for long periods, they were second best to a fired-up Guernsey side.
These were two sides at different ends of the table and so both had valid reasons for needing the points. The early play reflected this with the teams looking anxious as they sought the first score to settle the nerves.
Guernsey took the initiative early on. The Islanders’ hefty front five were causing problems in the set piece and although Bury looked dangerous out wide, they struggled to get the ball to their wings.
It was 20 minutes before the first points were put on the board. Shaq Meyers’ direct run finally made Bury some good ground and when they looked to spread the ball wide, Guernsey wing Luke Gardiner deliberately knocked the ball down. The act earned him 10 minutes in the sin-bin and Bury three points from a Tom Bird penalty.
However, for the remainder of the half, it was Guernsey that showed the more enterprise and had they taken a couple of half-chances, might have taken the lead.
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In contrast, too often Bury’s attacks were lateral or out of frustration and aimless kicks were sent down field. Guernsey returned the ball with interest and five minutes before the break got the try their play deserved through fly-half Walters. A simple conversion made it 7-3 to Guernsey at half-time.
Bury began the second half looking more purposeful, going round the corner a couple of times before then looking to spread the play wide.
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This almost created dividends for Enoka, who escaped down the right, but the Guernsey cover was good and the danger passed. Bury then slipped back into old habits, with poor kicking and lateral running returning.
Guernsey were winning all the 50/50 incidents and, but for some superb last-gasp defending Tom Ceilam, ought to have extended the visitors’ lead.
Guernsey missed another chance to score when a penalty was kicked to seven metres from the Bury line, but again the home defence held just before the hour mark.
Coach Gav Hogg rang the changes. Norris made a welcome return to the second row following his month off with injury, Meyers moved into the scrum half slot and Tim Mann resumed normal service alongside White in the midfield.
The changes had an immediate effect. Bird and Meyers linked well to get Bury out of danger and then a series of penalties took Bury to within 10 metres of the line in front of their favoured Grandstand corner.
A well-worked catch and drive saw the Bury forwards rumble over the line, Sam Bixby given the score. Bury had their noses in front at 8-7.
Again Guernsey had the chance to restore the lead but when they had earned a line-out close to the Bury try line, the throw was not straight and Bury were awarded a scrum.
Matt Edison picked up and fed Mann who powered away from the try line and up towards half way.
The ball was played back inside to Edison who then took the ball on and to the edge of the visitors’ 22.
Bird received the ball from the ruck and, aware he had a penalty advantage, launched a long cross field kick to Chris Snelling who dived over in the right corner.
Bird’s conversion came back off the post but 13-7 was beginning to look healthier.
Bury had finally got to grips with the Guenrsey defence and from the kick off they worked the ball wide again.
A quickly-taken penalty allowed the Bury forwards the chance to drive towards the line and when the ball came back, Bird’s long looping pass picked out Sage, unmarked, and he strolled in under the posts.
Some lacklustre tackling and fine counter attacking created the space for Ceilam to rumble over with five minutes remaining. Walters’ conversion made it 20-14 and victory still a distinct possibility for Guernsey.
Bury managed to secure the re-start though and when an Islander strayed off side, skipper Snelling instructed Bird to kick for goal and make the game safe rather than go for an elusive bonus point try.
Bird duly obliged.