SOUTHERN COUNTIES JUNIOR VASE SEMI FINAL: Marlborough 37 Crowthorne 14
JONNY Mantle’s hat-trick of tries sent Marlborough comfortably through to their second Southern Counties Vase final in two seasons on Saturday.
The home side, who lifted the Senior Vase last season, on their way to the national quarter final, again took strides down the road towards a Twickenham final as they overpowered their visitors from Berkshire at The Common in the junior version.
They will now host Abingdon, the leaders of the Berks/Bucks & Oxon Championship division, on February 1 for the right to play in the South West Junior Vase Final – again the national last eight.
The Dorset & Wilts Plate winners were always in command of the tie, although errors – understandable in the slippery conditions – prevented them from racking up a much more convincing scoreline.
Playing up the slope but with the elements in the opening half, Marlborough wasted no time getting on the front foot.
After being denied a try by being pushed into touch, they promptly stole the Crowthorne lineout and, from the resulting maul, number eight Mantle strolled across the line and dotted down for the opening score.
Full-back Nathan Morgan added an excellent conversion and, less than 10 minutes later, stroked over a penalty from 30 metres to stretch the advantage.
The home scrummage was in dominant form, frequently marching their opponents back and Morgan hit a post with another long-range penalty shot before succeeding from 40 metres shortly before the half-hour mark.
Crowthorne were struggling to hold on and, on the rare occasions they did clear their lines, Morgan’s booming boot sent them right back down deep into their own territory.
Only home mistakes prevented the scoreboard from ticking over more frequently but a fully-deserved second try arrived shortly before half time as the visitors were shunted off their own scrum ball and Laurence Baker powered over from close range in the corner.
Any thoughts Crowthorne might have had about working their way back into the game were buried within a minute of the restart.
After the kick-off failed to go the regulation 10 metres, Marlborough again scrummaged well and Mantle picked up to rampage through the middle and under the posts from halfway, Morgan adding the extras.
The away side got on the board when home flanker Joe Mitchell was penalised for taking out full-back Ross Yates, who had chipped ahead, and a quick tap from scrum-half Sam Short saw him dive over, Ade Lovejoy converting.
Marlborough kept their opponents at arm’s length until 10 minutes before the end as Yates broke up the wing and gathered his own chip to go over by the posts, Lovejoy again converting.
By this time though, Marlborough coach Chris Budgen had joined the fray and he played a pivotal role in the final two tries.
The former Northampton and Exeter prop’s pass allowed Morgan to pile over down the left wing for a try he superbly converted.
Then, as Marlborough dominated the breakdown again, Budgen’s dextrous hands sent Mantle galloping over from 35 metres to round it off.
REACTION AND PICTURES FROM MARLBOROUGH'S VICTORY, PLUS THE REST OF TEH WEEKEND RUGBY IN THURSDAY'S GAZETTE & HERALD