18:27 Sunday 15 December 2013

Burton 29, Walsall 36

Written byRUGBY REPORTER

JUMPED UP . . . Walsall won two line-outs against the head before Burton hit a purple patch to score three quick tries. But it was Walsall who took the spoils to close the gap on their hosts in Midlands One JUMPED UP . . . Walsall won two line-outs against the head before Burton hit a purple patch to score three quick tries. But it was Walsall who took the spoils to close the gap on their hosts in Midlands One

WALSALL closed the Midlands One gap to five points behind second-placed Burton after a spirited display at Peel Croft to inflict only a third league defeat on the hosts.

New signing Tom Harris, Darryl Banton and Sam Benjamin scored tries for Burton midway through the opening half to put the hosts in pole position.

But Wasall hit back before the break to regain the initiative and went on to become the third side this season to beat the Crofters on home soil.

Lawrence Betty, Benjamin and Joe Gazzard all made strong carries in the opening exchanges.

However, Harry Titley was required to make a try-saving tackle as Walsall enjoyed the best of the early scoring chances.

Titley and Luke Peach launched a counter-attack but Walsall were soon back in the command before Tom Murphy halted Walsall’s progress as they tried to drive into the Burton 22.

Walsall opened the scoring on 12 minutes with a well-worked try which was converted.

After a failed attempt, Dave Archer then successfully compensated for the strong cross-wind to peg Walsall back and get three points on the board for Burton.

The first half was played at a furious tempo with both sides looking to run the ball despite the heavy conditions.

It was Burton who then enjoyed a purple patch and scored two tries in quick succession.

Ben Cook made an excellent catch in the swirling wind and eluded a couple of defenders as he ran forward, with Burton taking play back over halfway.

The Crofters made ground towards the try-line but Gazzard was not able to take the spinning ball after he charged down a clearance kick.

Play remained inside the Walsall 22 and the visitors managed to prevent a try – only to lose a player to the sin-bin.

Walsall won two successive Crofters line-outs, but the hosts regained possession soon after.

Burton maintained the pressure and new signing Tom Harris forced his way over the line from close-range to mark his debut with a try. Archer added the extras.

Moments later Gazzard off-loaded to Banton who scampered under the posts. Archer again added the conversion.

Burton looked unplayable during this period and Benjamin, who was doubtful after a knock the previous week, came in-field on halfway.

Benjamin took a pass from scrum-half Banton and burst through several defenders to score to the right of the posts.

Archer appeared to allow a huge margin for the cross-wind, but the ball still hit the upright and failed to go over the bar.

Walsall showed great determination to force their way back into the game, and benefited from a Burton indiscretion to kick for the corner and then drive over.

The Walsall backs then moved the ball well for another seven points, to establish a 24-22 lead at the interval.

The furious pace had seen 36 points scored in just 15 minutes of action.

After the break Walsall were awarded a penalty on the 22 and kicked for the corner. Burton failed to halt the drive after a clean take and the visitors then exploited a gap on the blind-side to cross for an unconverted score.

An ambitious Walsall penalty attempt failed before good defensive work from Damon Varney and debutant Dewi Williams.

The Crofters needed to gain a foothold in the game and Charl Neethling and Joe Briggs were replaced by Murphy and Cook.

Craig Dutton, who enjoyed an influential game on his return from injury, found a gap from a pick-up at the base of a scrum before racing over the line for a try.

Archer again found the target and Burton had drawn level – and secured a bonus point with their fourth try.

Walsall, who enjoyed the better of the second half, took the lead when their huge centre burst through several defenders and raced over the line from 10 metres line.

The difficult conversion was superbly struck to put Walsall 36-29 ahead.

Ian Gilmour then replaced Luke Peach at fly-half. But only half chances came Burton’s way for the remainder of the second period – and the hosts were unable to capitalise on the few opportunities that presented themselves.

However, the margin remained the same despite a yellow card late on for Dutton, to give the Crofters a second bonus point.

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