Bury St Edmunds grind out victory against visiting Barnstaple amid testing conditions
It was far from pretty, given the atrocious weather conditions, but a try in each half saw Bury St Edmunds bounce back from last weekend's defeat with a 16-9 victory against Barnstaple at the GK IPA Haberden this afternoon.
In his pre-match lunch speech the Wolfpack's head coach Jacob Ford had said he wanted to see a display of fight and character from his ninth-placed side, which he duly got as they managed a spirited effort from their lowly north Devon visitors.
After trading early penalties it was a smart kick mid-way through the first half which sent Ciaran Leeson away for Bury's opening try and an 8-6 interval lead.
Player-coach Ben Cooper then had the power to push his way over from a pick and drive seven minutes from time to edge the hosts into a seven-point lead.
It was then a backs-to-the-wall finale which earned a third straight home win for the Suffolk side to ensure they bounced back from the last-gasp defeat at Dings Crusaders.
Ford welcomed back winger Freddie Roddick from his time away with Great Britain 7s while new signing from Jake Campey, from the head coach's former team Westcliff, was handed a home debut at centre. There was also a place on the bench for former captain Will Affleck following a long injury spell.
The difficult conditions, with the wind driving diagonally across the pitch, was immediately evident as Barnstaple's kick-off flew off the pitch before an early Bury penalty kick from Charlie Reed ended up pulling wide of the posts.
Reed kicked the home side into the lead in the 10th minute after Barnstaple had come under a heavy phase of pressure from a lineout.
Luke Berry made it 3-3 within three minutes though a central penalty on the visitors' first real incursion into the Bury half.
Patient Barnstaple possession play, having driven up the pitch, was rewarded with another penalty in a similar position for not releasing, which Berry duly put over.
After wasting a good attacking phase where they had built the phases to get in front of the posts, Bury responded with a well-worked opening try in the 21st minute.
A great kick down the left-hand channel from scrum-half Chris Bolton was chased down by Ciaran Leeson to score. The tough-looking conversion kick by Reed came back off the left-hand post to leave it at 8-6.
Bury put their hosts under some intense pressure right at the end of the half after Cam Greenhall kicked well to the corner. But the second try they craved did not materialise with the interval-signalling whistle coming after a knock-on.
Barnstaple wasted a penalty kick that would have seen them take the lead within five minute of the restart.
But after Bury were punished for offside a few minutes later, Berry made no mistake with his next centrally-positioned kick.
The visitors lost forward Ben Hilton to the sin bin for inlegally halting a promising Bury passage inside their 22 after Bury had overturned a scrum before working the phases. And Reed made sure they went back into the lead with his penalty kick taking the score to 11-9.
Despite their numerical advantage, it was the north Devon side who were applying the pressure.
Mid-way through the half Barnstaple got themselves in a great position to get their first try but a poor choice of a high put in from the lineout in the corner, caught by the wind, went against them.
Good carries from replacement Yasin Browne, Samir Kharbouch and Matt Bursey got the Wolfpack into a promising position of their own before they were penalised for not releasing.
Heading into the last 10 minutes the game continued to be on a knife-edge but sustained Bury pressure eventually told in the 73rd minute with the game's second try.
The forwards came close from a pick-and-drive following a lineout before the ball was brought back for a penalty. Bury's Greenhall tapped it before Cooper drove over from close-range.
Barnstaple had the ball in the Bury 22 with three minutes to play but ill-discipline utltimately cost them as no8 Dan Lee was sin-binned after the referee stopped play to consult his line judge.
The visitors continued to search for something more than a losing bonus point and had the ball within range of the try they needed when they conceded another penalty, leading to their chances running out.
It was far from a vintage Bury display but it certainly spoke volumes about the character in Ford's side that they showed they can win ugly.
Now the test will to be to repeat it away from home. Having lost their opening two away games they travel to Leicester Lions next Saturday (3pm).
Bury St Edmunds: 15 Reed 14 Roddick 13 Campey 13 Penfold 11 Leeson 10 Greenhall 9 Bolton 1 Hill 2 McCartney 3 Cooper 4 Green 5 Grigg-Pettitt 6 Bursey (c) 7 Meyers 8 Watson. Replacements: Kingdon, Jeffrey, Browne, Affleck, Kharbouch.
Coaches and sponsors Man of the Match: No8 Ollie Watson.