Blues make superb start to new season with thumping win over local rivals Reading
Newbury Blues started their new season with an emphatic 30-0 win over local rivals Reading at Monks Lane.
Following a league restructuring over the summer, Blues are set to do battle with a number of new nemeses this term but their Regional 2 South Central campaign began against a familiar foe in Reading, who pushed Newbury hard at set-pieces but were unable to contend with the home side’s typically fluent attacking.
Rugby’s return also meant momentous milestones for three Blues players, with Marlborough man Ed Wrench making his debut, Dylan Stewart making his 99th appearance 18 months after he suffered a serious injury against Sherborne and Harry Waye-Branch, who marked his 50th cap with a try.
Visitors Reading, alive to the potential of upsetting their local rivals on their own turf, made a fast start and would have gone ahead had it not been for a fine try-saving tackle from Ali Magee.
Blues opened their account when George Robinson-Slater, powered by the driving force of his fellow forwards, went over following Newbury’s first attacking lineout of the afternoon.
Captain Dan Thorne kicked the conversion to make it 7-0 and Blues were hitting their stride, adding a penalty and then their second score after the skipper released Michael Klichowicz to score in the corner and make it 15-0.
Klichowicz turned provider before the break, chipping over the Reading defence for Ali Magee, who crossed to extend the home side’s lead to 20-0 at half time.
The hosts continued to assert their dominance and made it 25-0 when Harry Waye-Branch secured Blues a bonus point when he went over 15 minutes into the second half.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, Jacob Checksfield, who had just been introduced from the bench, made good ground and put Blues in a promising position, which was eventually converted into points when Alex Du Sautoy crossed to complete the scoring and round off a promising afternoon for James McAvoy’s side.
And the Blues head coach was pleased with his team’s performance at both ends of the pitch.
“We’re delighted, I couldn’t have asked for much more,” McAvoy said.
“We’ve worked hard in pre-season on the new tackle laws and how we can be a little more physical in defence.
“It’s so difficult to win to nil, so we were really pleased to come away with a clean sheet and to get the bonus point tries.”
Talented teenager Ed Wrench, who signed in search of experience in men’s rugby before he heads to Australia to play in the Shield, made a positive impression from the bench.
The 18-year-old, making his senior bow, helped Blues impress at the set-piece along with veteran front rows Ben Hicks and George Robinson-Slater.
McAvoy said: “We had a great battle, and we were really pleased with how Ed progressed.
“We problem solved throughout and we competed with a really physical Reading pack.”
Blues have managed to retain the bulk of last season’s squad, with the likes of Dan Thorne, Josh Winfield and Jamie Futcher all back for another season at Monks Lane, and McAvoy feels that continuity can be crucial as he looks to bed in new additions and improve on last season’s strong finish.
“It’s massive, we can’t overstate it,” he said.
“We’ve been able to build on last season, and just being able to layer on top of what we’ve already done, rather than teach anew, has a hugely positive impact.
“We’ve got more leaders than we’ve ever had and our caps are growing in numbers, it puts us in a strong position.”
One of those experienced heads is hooker Harry Waye-Branch, who scored on his 50th cap for the club.
McAvoy said: “We’d like to give a massive congratulations to Harry, to get 50 caps at his age is a great credit to him.”
Blues travel to Wimborne, who were well-beaten by Winchester at the weekend, on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Newbury Stags began their Counties 2 Tribute BBO South campaign with a convincing 51-19 win at Crowthorne.
Two scores from centre Harry Stevens as well as tries from Ben Davies, Harry Bedford, Louis Carnell, Benjamin Kaesser, Robin Swann, Jack Ward and Tom Hunt ensured Stags returned home from Bracknell Forest with five points.
Stags, who will be coached by former Blues chief Paul Archer, had a mixed season last term, but Blues head coach James McAvoy has been mightily impressed by what he’s seen from this year’s squad, and is backing the side to have more success this term.
“I said to Paul Archer in the week that it was the best I’ve seen the Stags train in the two years that I’ve been here,” he said.
“It was a fantastic result for them, but it wasn’t a surprise.
“The amount of boys that are in that team that have already got Blues caps is impressive.
“There’s a lot of competition, a lot of hunger and there’s a lot of boys that have grown a lot in this two year period.
“I think the Stags should be targetting a really good league finish this season.”
Stags’ scheduled game at home to Maidenhead III has been cancelled, after the opposition pulled out of the league, meaning their next match is a trip to Reading to take on Rams IV, who lost their opener, on September 16.