Dream year for skipper 'Chuckie' as Avonmouth seal double glory
AVONMOUTH followed up securing an historic promotion to the national leagues with a solid victory over Thornbury to clinch the Charles Saunders Combination Cup for an eighth time.
Tries by hooker Aidan Sloman and skipper Neil 'Chuckie' Evans plus 13 points from the boot of man-of-the-match Andy Taylor at full-back saw their side to victory in this rearranged play-off at the Memorial Stadium in front of an estimated crowd of 1,200.
Thornbury began brightly and finished strongly. But for the best part of an hour Avonmouth had the upper hand, edging the forward exchanges and giving half-backs Connor Power and Matt Belbin the chance to showcase their slick distribution skills.
Evans said: "If someone had said to me at the start of the season 'you're going to win promotion and the Combination Cup' I would have snapped their hand off.
"It's been a dream first year for me as captain, and it means a lot because I grew up playing junior rugby here with a lot of the guys.
"We'll enjoy the moment and have a couple of weeks off, but the hard work will start again soon for next season."
Thornbury counterpart George Maggs said: "I felt we matched them for the first 20 minutes, but then we let our foot off the gas and our kicking game was not the best.
"But we have to remember that this has still been our best ever season. This was the first time in our history that we've been through to the final and we also managed to stay up after reaching the highest division we've been in the leagues – that's something we're now looking to build on."
Taylor nudged Avonmouth in front with a fifth-minute penalty, soon cancelled out by Tim Stephens, who then curled a 25-metre effort narrowly wide as underdogs Thornbury gave their opponents plenty to think about in the opening exchanges.
Taylor was off target himself with a 20-metre penalty, but was handed a straight 35-metre kick less than a minute later, giving Avonmouth a lead they never in truth looked likely to surrender.
The first try of the game came in the 26th minute, the dangerous Charlie Reynolds coming in off his wing to splinter the defence before quick ball was worked right for Sloman to crash over, Taylor converting.
There was a let-off for Thornbury two minutes before half time when No 8 Harry Hone, 24 hours after representing Gloucestershire Under-20s, lost the ball in the act of diving over the line.
But Avonmouth kept the heat on in the second period, electing to send a kickable penalty into the corner and being rewarded with a catch-and-drive try for Evans, Taylor converting.
Thornbury finally managed to get their hands back on the ball in the final quarter, and increased urgency was rewarded with a close-range score by lock Giles Bristol, Stephens converting, to make it 20-10.
A third penalty from Taylor, whose powerful counter-attacking and rock-solid defence were real features of the game, eased any pressure on his side. And although Thornbury went for broke in a fiery finish, scrum-half Jak Evans crossing for an unconverted try in the 80th minute, it was too late to affect the final result.
Clubs will next month vote on a restructuring of the knock-out event which would see the introduction of a third tier of competition.
Under proposals now being considered, the Bristol area's top eight sides – decided on final positions in the league structure – will compete in next season's cup.
The next 12 clubs will take part in a new-look vase with all other entrants going into a bowl.
The proposals are aimed at ensuring competitive games for all clubs, reducing the number of cry-offs and encouraging more entries.