GREENE KING IPA
The weather and the rugby were on a par — both pretty poor — but Newmarket ground out a victory over Crusaders on Saturday.
Newmarket took to the field against Crusaders having made the usual raft of changes to cover injury and unavailability, with Simon Guenigault taking the injured first-team list into double figures after suffering a nasty facial injury two weeks ago.
Newmarket played with the wind in the first half and — despite marginally enjoying more possession — they were unable to make it count in a scrappy, stop-start half.
The hosts had to make do with two Mike Reeves’ penalties to show for their efforts versus one from the visitors to lead 6-3 at half-time.
The second half began in much the same fashion with both sides guilty of giving possession away easily along with a raft of penalties and, despite the wind disadvantage, Newmarket were able to hold Crusaders at bay and did manage to cross the line once only to be held up by some strong defence.
There were notable defensive performances from Tom Peacock and Matt Dyer in the pack and Ben Cockerton and Ben Phipps secured the midfield for long periods.
After 20 minutes of malaise, the deadlock was broken when Crusaders managed to fashion together several phases of powerful play, which resulted in their winger just about getting in at the corner.
The touchline conversion was slotted and the visitors led for the first time, 10-6.
A frantic final 20 minutes ensued as Newmarket upped the pace.
There were mistakes a plenty, but the endeavour was clear to see and, after Phipps was adjudged to have been held up, it was to be third time lucky as Reeves crashed over with two minutes remaining.
Reeves slotted the conversion and the hosts looked to have secured victory at the death.
There was still a minute to play and — true to form — Newmarket made it a nervy one for the spectators, who had now silenced the visitors as possession was given away once more,.
However, the defence held strong to secure the victory.
The standout performance from the hosts came from stand-in fly-half Max Bell, who had an excellent game in an unfamiliar position.
His reading in defence and strength in the tackle belies his short stature.
Rarely was he felled by the first would-be tackler as many of the good things Newmarket did came from the diminutive playmaker, who in his first season back has established himself as one of the best players in this league.
Newmarket: Terenzi, Richardson, Smith, Reeves, Peacock, Howes, Dyer, Harper, H Bell, M Bell, McBride, Phipps, Cockerton, Forbes-Lange, Burton. Replacements: Shipp, Alleyne, Philp.