Tom Varndell makes try-scoring start at Bury St Edmunds in thrilling come-from-behind victory against Bishop's Stortford as fans make long-awaited return to GK IPA Haberden
A stirring second-half display against Bishop's Stortford this afternoon saw Bury St Edmunds deliver a perfect ending for their supporters on their long-awaited match day return to the Greene King IPA Haberden.
Trailing 21-12 after the second of four 15-minute periods on a glorious sunny day not conducive to high-energy rugby, they worked and exploited the gaps in the higher-league side's defensive line to finish 34-26 victors.
The adapted contact match, the end of a tri-series with the Hertfordshire-based National League 1 outfit who are celebrating their centenary year, saw Bury sign off on a high from an otherwise Covid-19 decimated campaign.
It was also a chance for a crowd numbering several hundred to get their first glimpse of a new-look Wolfpack side led by new head coach Jacob Ford.
The brother of England fly-half George, previously in charge of Westcliff, was casting his eye over signings from both last summer and the last few months for the final time ahead of a summer break.
One of those was former Leicester Tigers and Wasps England wing Tom Varndell, who caught the eye coming on a second-half substitute and scoring within 13 minutes with a trademark run.
Having lost the first two matches, one behind-closed-doors in Suffolk and the other in front of fans in Hertfordshire last weekend, by less than a score, it saw Bury go down with plenty of pride in a 2-1 series defeat.
There was a real buzz around the Haberden ahead of kick-off as old friends were reunited around the pitch for a 15-a-side first-team match for the first time in 15 months as a result of the pandemic.
And the club made sure it was a real colourful entrance for the players in more sense than one with one of the junior sides waving flags in a guard of honour while mult-coloured confetti shot into the clear blue sky.
Both sides played their part in a high octane open start in the heat. Christopher Smith bursting through down the right wing for the visitors' opening converted score after intercepting a loose pass in his own half.
The Wolfpack replied with an eye-catching try in the 12th minute. Player-coach Ben Cooper had the crowd gasping with a fantastic bit of handling to move Cameron Greehall's pass inside on first time for Fred Betteridge who laid off for fellow new signing Chris Bolton to finish. The swift hands move was converted by fellow newbie Charlie Reed.
The first quarter ended with Stortford flanker finding a line in from the right-hand channel to restore their seven-point lead, once the scrum-half's conversion was added.
Bury felt harshly dealt with as they conceded a penalty as they were looking to push the ball over soon after the restart.
But good work from Shaq Meyers saw him recover from a thundering tackle to finish from Reed's lay off in the right-hand corner to reduce the deficit to two at 14-12.
James Ayrton then went over in the left-hand corner from close-range for a 21-12 lead for Stortford at the break.
The visitors were looking strong and added their fourth try seven minutes into the third quarter, via flay-half George Cullen in the right-hand corner, this time unconverted.
The moment a lot of the crowd would have hoped to see materialised six minutes later when former England player Varndell stretched his legs from 22 metres out, following good work from Fred Betteridge, before dotting down under the posts. Reed's conversion sent Bury into the next break one score down at 26-19.
With the crowd in the main stand stamping the floor and starting choruses of 'Bury, Bury' the green and golds soon reacted and made their pressure count with their fourth try seeing them level the scores six minutes into the final quarter.
Meyers carried the ball well and the ball was soon laid into the path of Greenhall to finish to a stirring recpetion before Reed kicked over for 26-26.
Within three minutes they were celebrating taking the lead with second row Fred Betteridge bursting down the right wing, though Reed's kick agonisingly came back off the left-hand post.
There were no more tries to come but Reed capped a fine day by firing over a long-range penalty for a 34-26 victory for the hosts.
The players are set to return for pre-season in July before confirmed pre-season matches start in August against Colchester (away), Bishop's Stortford (away) and Cambridge (home).