Banbury Bulls came agonisingly close to getting something from their South West One East opener.
James Kerr’s boys lost 18-15 in Saturday’s opening game at Witney where Bulls came back strongly in the second half but were unable to draw level.
A hard-fought encounter saw the home side come away with the spoils even though they had less possession and territory.
Witney relieved Banbury’s early pressure via Henry Lamb’s boot after Matt Goode had been held up over the line, unable to wriggle underneath the cover defence.
Bulls continued to push forward, but with slower ball from the break down than they would have liked, and they were not able to turn early pressure into points.
A moment of madness from scrum half Ed Phillips saw him kick the ball away in the Witney 22 and the home side pounced, easing up the field. Bulls failed to clear when they had the chance and Witney capitalised on the two errors in quick succession to score and Lamb adding the conversion
Lamb kicked well with the wind in his favour, adding two penalties, the first being cancelled out by Alex Stevenson. Lamb’s boot was the home side’s main weapon in the first half and they took advantage to gain decent field position.
Witney again took advantage of another error as the visitors watched a 22 drop-out sail over their heads and run into touch on their own 22 metre line. The home side added another score to lead 18-3 at the break.
After the restart, Bulls kept Witney at bay for the entire second period. As the home side looked to build phases and increasingly played with ball in hand into the elements, Banbury were stretched.
But the visitors took advantage when Josh Deegan opened his account with a perfectly timed interception, running in from 40 metres and turning what could have been a try scoring opportunity for Witney into Banbury’s first score. Stevenson added the extras and it was game on.
The mood changed, Bulls kicked to the corners and Witney had to work their way out.
Bulls pushed for the remainder of the game, setting up camp in the Witney 22. Goode crossed sides, picked and went on the blind-side and strolled over from ten metres out untouched. Phillips slotted the conversion to close the gap to three points with ten minutes left.
Sam Stoop twice pinned Witney back with two brilliant kicks but Bulls could not take advantage of their field position. Phillips was twice held up over the line in the dying minutes as the forwards hammered at the Witney defence but they kept the visitors at bay.