If it had not been for an interception, a penalty try and three missed penalty kicks, Wheatley Hills would have beaten Percy Park on Saturday.
As it was, Park won 22-17, so the local wisdom goes, and it was a little like history repeating itself, but this time Park were the winners – just.
Park made a couple of changes in the back division with Lome Fa’atau and John Scott both carrying injuries from the previous week’s exploits.
Guido Danil made his first senior start at full-back and Paul Spowart came in at fly-half. Austin Phillips was also rewarded with a start in the boiler-room following good performances from the bench in the previous two games.
As in the game at Brunel Road last year, Ali Blair opening the scoring with a 70-yard dash, snaffling an intercepted pass after a sustained period of attack by the home side. Danil kicked the conversion on 15 minutes for a 7-0 lead.
The visitors went further ahead as Andy Dunn charged down the left flank after a lineout. Although he was stopped by the cover defence, the ball was quickly recycled and Argentinean Danil hit the line at pace to score his first Park try. Unfortunately against a stiff breeze, the conversion fell short.
Wheatley opened their scoring with a penalty from the boot of fly-half Owen Gilvray, and he should have scored again moments later when Park were penalised for collapsing a scrum, but the attempt was pushed across the face of goal.
Despite the home side’s drubbing the previous week away to West Hartlepool, they battled their way back into the game as former England Under-20 Sam Kerry bulldozed his way across the line for a try, converted by Gilvray.
In fact the burly front rower was a large thorn in the Park side for most of the game, being difficult to stop with his low centre of gravity.
Park could have improved their lead with the last play of the half but the penalty awarded after Hills had infringed with hands in the ruck was wide from 40 metres out.
In the second period Park played up the slope but had the wind advantage and were soon on the offensive.
An early foray down the right flank saw Leo Caulfield taken out with a high tackle just before the line. The referee could have awarded a penalty try but chose to give Wheatley a stern talking to and awarded a penalty on the five-metre line.
Park kicked to touch and secured the resulting lineout. The maul moved towards the home side’s try line but was pulled down by Kerry, and the referee this time made no hesitation in awarding the penalty try. Wheatley’s woes looked to be compounded when he then took out the yellow card and Kerry was sent to the sin bin.
Percy Park should have made the numerical advantage pay off, but Wheatley Hills continued to take the game to the visitors and there was no addition to the score during Kerry’s 10 minutes enforced breather.
When Park were awarded a kickable penalty on the hour mark, Paul Spowart duly obliged for a 22-10 lead.
Wheatley never looked out of the game although their only potent threat seemed to come through the forwards. In truth their lineout was a little one dimensional but the scrum was solid, and in the loose, the forwards, particularly Kerry, Penno and skipper Buckenham made good yards. Sadly for them, although their back line had pace wide out, they never posed a threat.
For Park, Dunn led from the front and Michael Langlands carried the ball well, tidying up a lot of ball at the base of the scrum.
When Austin Phillips was yellow carded on 72 minutes, Hills were given a shot in the arm and number eight Buckenham went over for a try on 75 minutes, duly converted by Gilvray.
Wheatley Hills threw everything at Park for the remainder of the game and were camped in the Park 22, but resolute defence held firm and Park gained another valuable four-points with the win, moving them up one place in the league.