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Blues maintain proud Pink Day tradition with hard-fought win over high-flying Winchester

Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy said it was a special day for the entire club as his side maintained their proud tradition of never losing on Pink Day with a 15-12 win over high-flying Winchester.

Newbury had yet to lose in seven years on their annual Pink Day – when the players swap their traditional blue for a pink strip and the entire club raises money for Newbury Cancer Care – but looked to have their work cut out to make it eight unbeaten ahead of the visit of second-placed Winchester, who had lost just three of their 17 matches prior to arriving at Monks Lane.

Blues, on the other hand, have endured an altogether more indifferent campaign, winning one of their last 10.

Newbury in their changed strip for Pink Day
Newbury in their changed strip for Pink Day

However Newbury, who have made raising their game for the big occasion a habit this season, ripped up the form book to secure a memorable victory just three months after Winchester hammered them 34-0 in the reverse.

Unlike on that miserable afternoon in November, the hosts stood up to the physical test posed by Winchester, defended like their lives depended on it and made good use of their attacking opportunities.

After matching the visitors for most of the contest Newbury finally got their noses in front seven minutes from time to earn an important victory that moves them further clear of trouble towards the bottom of the league table. Ben Davies and Jamie Futcher were the try scorers, while skipper Dan Thorne added five points from the kicking tee.

And McAvoy was delighted with the difference in his side’s showing compared to their hammering in Hampshire before Christmas.

“This one meant a lot,” he said.

“There was a significant amount raised for Newbury Cancer Care and that’s ultimately what the day is about, celebrating the club and what we can do to raise funds for such an important cause.

“I was so pleased for our forward pack. Going to Winchester away was a tricky day, we struggled with the conditions and they put our pack under a lot of pressure.

“Winchester are so strong in the set-piece but our pack won the battle this time. The attention to detail was magnificent.

“We came out on top in both the lineout and the scrum and it was a scrum penalty that decided the game – I think that was fitting.”

Winchester dominated the physical battle in the reverse but Blues, bolstered by the long-awaited return of Josh Winfield at eight, managed for the most part to neutralise their rivals this time around.

Newbury knew they needed to get to grips with the visitors’ powerful pack and McAvoy was impressed with how his forwards responded.

He said: “When we’re mentally in the right frame of mind and we can match teams we know we’re capable of scoring tries almost at will.

“We knew that if we’d allowed Winchester to play their own game and get their big ball carriers into the game then we’d be in for a tough day.

“Equally, we knew that if we could match them physically then our attack would be able to exploit their weaknesses.

“We put a lot of pressure on their set-piece and negated their threat. Thankfully, the plan worked.”

Pink Day is always one of the outstanding days in Newbury’s calendar and is a chance to showcase the best that the club has to offer.

McAvoy named a squad that included 14 home grown players and felt having such a sizeable core of his team with a special awareness of what Pink Day means to the club helped Blues raise their game.

“The amount of players with asterisks against their name in the programme to denote that they’d come through the junior ranks was glaringly obvious,” he said.

“The charity do such great work and in a group of any 20 people there’s always a high percentage who have been impacted by cancer in one way or another.

“A lot of the boys have grown up together and have their family and friends in the crowd – it makes it such a special occasion and it’s amazing for local lads to represent the club in such a fantastic manner.

“On the other hand, we do want to have different perspectives and so adding that little smattering of boys who have played at other clubs or gone abroad is equally important.

“We’ve got a really good mix and just the right blend.”

Blues have had a difficult season but have proved themselves a match for the biggest and best sides in the league.

Despite struggling for consistency Newbury have enjoyed memorable wins against London Irish Wild Geese, who were unbeaten when Blues edged past them in October, and Winchester, who had won all of their last eight games.

McAvoy is challenging his squad to produce their best on a more regular basis but admits there’s something special about the group that makes them capable of beating anyone.

He said: “In my three Pink Days since I’ve been here we’ve had really challenging games against top sides who had beaten us earlier in the season.

“Everything, in terms of the result earlier in the season, the form guide and the league positions would have suggested we were unlikely to get a result.

“There is something about the squad and the players – and we need to work out how to harness it more often – that means we have a belief that we can give anyone a game, it doesn’t matter who turns up.

“We had a few spells where they were five or 10 minutes from our line and I think they’d expect to walk in from there with their carries, but we didn’t let them. Sometimes we just have a feeling that we can’t lose.

“I could not have been more proud.”

McAvoy will be hoping his side, who move up one place to ninth, can re-discover that formula in a fortnight’s time when they travel to third-placed Tottonians.

Tottonians were 29-10 victors at Monks Lane in November but McAvoy is hoping his side can play with the shackles off now that the threat of relegation has eased.

“We needed the result (on Saturday) and I think the scoreline could have been wider, I think we left points out there,” he said.

“We’ve got some confidence and we’ve got a bit more of a gap on that bottom two now. We knew we needed some points before the Reading game, we didn’t want to leave it until then.

“We’ve got a bit more freedom going into the next three games. We know Tottonians will offer a fairly similar gameplan to Winchester and then we’ve got a trip to Jersey to look forward to. We owe Witney a game and I can already tell the boys are up for that one.

“We’ve got nothing to lose now and we’re going to give it a right good go.”

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