Larham proud after Ducks suffer more play-off heartache

Sam Page dives over to score his second half try. Picture: MarkBannisterPhotography.com
Sam Page dives over to score his second half try. Picture: MarkBannisterPhotography.com

It was not third time lucky for Aylesbury Rugby Club who suffered more play-off heartbreak as they just missed out on promotion for the third successive year.

Having qualified for the play-off match by virtue of finishing second in the Southern Counties North, Aylesbury faced Midsomer Norton for a winner-takes-all game on Saturday and it was the Somerset club who ran out victors, winning 29-22.

Head coach Dave Larham said: “While the headlines might be about us losing a third consecutive promotion play-off final, it is only right to praise the boys for their courageous performance.

“We are not in the habit of looking for excuses or attributing blame. The opposition started well and had a game plan that suited the pitch and wind direction.

“We had to dig deep to get ourselves back in the game and I did think we were good enough to win the game. It’s hard to gain territory and possession if your line out is under pressure, and we were second best in that area of the game.

“Ultimately, Midsomer won because of their superior set-piece and powerful drive.

“It was difficult to see the disappointment on our players’ faces because it demonstrated how much defeat in a must win game meant to all 19 players.

“We have to accept the defeat and review our season, performances, structures and rebuild. Whatever the outcome, I am immensely proud of the team and know they gave 100 per cent in this game.”

For the third season running Aylesbury had earned themselves a play-off promotion decider against the second-placed finisher in the Southern Counties South.

By virtue of their higher number of league points, Midsomer Norton had the home advantage and would be defending a 15-month unbeaten home run.

The hosts kicked-off in front of a large and buoyant home crowd and Aylesbury quickly found themselves under early pressure as Midsomer ran in two unconverted tries.

It was a nightmare start for the visitors but they regrouped and gained a foothold when an errant Midsomer pass was intercepted by fly-half Alex Shearer who powered back up the other end and crossed under the posts.

James Woodfall slotted the straightforward conversion to get the Ducks back in contention, only for Midsomer to hit straight back as they unlocked the visiting defence again to lead 17-7.

But a to-and-fro first-half continued to swing one way and then the other as Aylesbury went back on the offensive and a period of pressure resulted in a penalty which Woodfall slotted through the posts.

Another well-worked passage of play then saw the Ducks pull level at half-time as James Serrano’s try was converted by Woodfall and with the scores locked at 17-17, it was all to play for in the second-half.

Unfortunately for Aylesbury, though, it was Midsomer who wrestled the initiative and applied most of the pressure with an unconverted try putting them back in front.

To their immense credit, the Ducks refused to buckle and they came roaring back again as this time young winger Sam Page ran in a superb try when sprinting down the touchline and diving over in the corner.

Woodfall’s missed conversion kept the scores level, and as the tension cranked up, Midsomer struck the fatal blow when running in a converted try with 10 minutes to play.

A yellow card to a home prop offered Aylesbury hope as the visitors piled on pressure but despite having an extra man, the Ducks ran out of time and once again they missed out on promotion.