It’s been a memorable journey for Banbury Bulls but it came to a disappointing end.
Despite an outstanding effort, it proved to be one game too many for Bulls as they missed out on promotion to the RFU Clubs Championships South West Premier division.
Exeter University overturned a three-point halftime deficit to run out 42-31 winners in Saturday’s South West One play-off.
Exeter flew out of the blocks and went into an early lead, Bulls produced some brilliant goal line defending but the hosts were ruthless with carry after carry. Simon Linsell was stopped narrowly short but James McRae picked up and went from the base of the ruck to score under the posts and Ted Landry added the extras.
Barely ten minutes into the game and Exeter were in again. Bulls were punished for offside and Exeter kicked to the corner, George Gosling found his man in the resulting line-out before gathering the ball at the back of the rolling maul and touched down out wide, leaving Landry to add the conversion.
Ed Phillips kicked Bulls back into the game with a penalty after Exeter failed to roll away at the breakdown before they got their first try following some brilliant work from the pack. From a line-out, Bulls took a rolling maul from outside the 22 all the way to the try line, Ian Isham was stopped inches short but one phase later the ball was whipped out to Angus Johnson who evaded his marker to score and Phillips converted.
Bulls had a score ruled out when the referee indicated the ball had been held up but from the resulting five metre scrum, Phillips found Sam Stoop who popped the ball up for Matt Goode to run in untouched under the posts. Phillips converted to make it 17-14 at the break.
Exeter came out in the second half fired up and a couple tactical tweaks made them very dangerous. But the first try was a frustrating one from Banbury’s point of view.
Exeter had a line-out on the halfway line which wasn’t thrown in straight and there was also an argument for crossing just afterwards but neither decision went Banbury’s way. Landry took full advantage to burst his way through the Banbury line before brilliantly stepping his way past the last man to score and his conversion put Exeter back in front.
Exeter extended their lead with a try from deep, breaking to the edge of the Banbury 22. Exeter used dummy runners the whole game very well and it was another try where it could have gone a different way.
Johnson was run into by a dummy runner and Dom Thorne snuck his way through the gap to score out wide and Landry converted to make it 28-17.
Stoop got Bulls back into the game in bizarre circumstances. Pouncing on a loose pass, Stoop kicked through and it looked 100 per cent that the ball was going to roll out into touch in the Exeter 22.
Max Himbury tried to shield the ball out but Stoop got boot to ball again and this time chased his kick down to score out wide to the right. Phillips converted to close the gap to just four points.
But Exeter responded almost immediately. Bulls conceded a couple of penalties and, once Exeter had sucked in enough defenders, they whipped the ball wide and Thorne crossed for his second try with Landy adding the extras.
Exeter extended the lead when another rolling maul was stopped just short of the line but Linsell picked up from the base of the ruck and drove over from close range.
Landry converted before Bulls scored a late consolation try. Philips and Stoop got the ball down the blind-side for Isham who smashed his way over from close range and Phillips converted.