Banbury Bulls saw their eight-match unbeaten run ended as Marlborough completed the double in Saturday’s Wadworth 6X South West One East fixture.
Bulls suffered a blow before the game with Pete Boulton ruled out through illness and Duncan Leese’s flight home delayed which meant he missed out.
Both sides cancelled each other out in the opening exchanges with most of the action coming in midfield and little in the way of opportunities. But Marlborough opened the scoring when Epeli Kotobalavu forced his way over the line following a brief spell of pressure in the Banbury 22.
Bulls got their first points on the board through a penalty from Ed Phillips before Semisi Rasivo got a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on as Matt Powell threatened to get away. Bulls twice went close to a try with first Ken Key and Ed Berridge being held up just short of the line after Marlborough failed to retain possession from a line-out on their 22.
Another good passage of play saw Bulls go through several phases across the pitch but Marlborough defended in depth to keep their try line intact. It was finally breached following a sustained spell of pressure, Sam Stoop’s quickly taken penalty set up Callum Horne who was held up but Ian Isham forced his way over and Phillips added a simple conversion.
Bulls turned the screw and increased their lead with another try when Isham was driven over in the corner after more good work in the forwards in a rolling maul.
But Marlborough reduced the deficit when Jed Boyle’s intended pass to Tommy Gray was intercepted and the visitors kicked for the corner. That resulted in a line-out from which Bulls failed to clear their lines and Kotobalavu forced his way over.
That try rejuvenated Marlborough for the second half and they made a strong start with scrum-half Jake Williams prompting their best attacking moves. A spell of pressure produced a penalty for offside and Williams kicked Marlborough back to within two points of Bulls.
But a superb intervention by player-coach Matt Goode produced a score out of nothing for Bulls. Goode’s flying tackle on Garth Bari saw the ball run free, Stoop kicked it on and Tom Burman grounded behind the posts for Phillips to add the extras.
Marlborough went close after they were encamped within a couple of metres of the try line but determined defence kept them out. Phillips went into the sin-bin late on for trying to nick the ball from an offside position in the red-zone and that proved decisive.
Bulls also lost Stoop through injury and the visitors took full advantage of the extra man when super kick from Russ Westcott put Ben Fulton away in the corner. Trailing by just four points, Marlborough sensed victory and only a last-gasp tackle from Berridge stopped fly-half Amori Nailago in his tracks with the try line beckoning.
Marlborough turned the screw and the pressure finally paid off with the best try of the game. Marlborough switched play from left to right with some quick hands before Nailago found a gap in the home defence and burst through to score behind the posts, leaving Williams with a simple conversion.
More late pressure from Marlborough saw Williams held up but Kotobalavu forced his way over and Williams kicked the conversion.
Back to the full quota, Bulls desperately tried to get back in the contest and a brilliant run by Berridge left several players trailing in his wake before he raced behind the posts and Phillips reduced the deficit to three points with the final play.