Banbury Bulls will face Exeter University in the play-offs to decide who gains promotion to the South West Premier division.
Matt Goode’s side produced a dominating display to run our worthy winners at Witney in Saturday’s final Wadworth 6X South West One fixture. Skipper Ian Isham completed a hat-trick of tries as Bulls secured a 36-19 victory, their 18th on the spin.
Bulls did all they could in the push for automatic promotion but long-time leaders Old Patesians finished four points ahead following their 34-7 victory over Oxford Harlequins to go straight up.
Jimmy Manley got Bulls off to the perfect start at Witney, opening the scoring after only five minutes. Tommy Gray threw a looping pass to skip two defenders, Manley gathered the ball, ducked his way out of a high tackle before smashing his way through two tackles to score in the corner.
Bulls increased their lead when they won a penalty after Witney were penalised for diving in off their feet. Bulls kicked to the corner and Isham found his man in the line-out. The rolling maul was sacked before it could get going but Isham picked up from the base of the ruck to crash over from five metres.
The Bulls pack combined for another try after they won a scrum against the head, quickly followed by good carries from Chris Phillips, Angus Johnson and Pete Boulton to edge towards the try line. Isham picked up from the base of the ruck to crash over for his second try and Ed Phillips converted to make it 17-0.
Witney responded almost immediately from the restart. Quick hands from Charlie Marshall got the ball on to Rhys Morgan who sprinted his way down the touchline to score.
Marshall nailed a tricky conversion before the same combination provided Witney’s second try. Morgan broke down the touchline and, despite more than a suspicion of a foot in touch, Witney smartly played to the whistle. Morgan released Marshall down the right before he cut inside to touch down under the posts.
Marshall converted to make it 17-14 at halftime but soon after the restart Isham completed his hat-trick. Witney were penalised for offside and Bulls kicked to the corner.
Isham found Kallum Dixey in the line-out before gathering the ball at the back of the rolling maul. Good work from the pack got Isham up to the try line before he dived over.
Bulls had to readjust their back line after Jack Briggs went off injured, Goode switched from fly half to his usual inside centre position and Ed Phillips moved back to fly half.
Despite the changes, Ed Phillips and Goode combined for a great score. They pulled the Witney defence around before Goode popped a pass to Gray who burst his way though the gaps to score under the posts. Ed Phillips converted to make it 29-14.
Goode created a brilliant try soon afterwards, the inside centre was running a charging line but slipped just before contact. Goode picked himself up and charged his way through a gap in the Witney line, stepped inside and as the defenders closed in and put a delightful grubber kick to the corner. The ball popped up perfectly for a sprinting Dan Brady to gather and crash over in the corner.
Ed Phillips converted from the touchline to make it 36-14 before Witney reduced the arrears in unusual circumstances. Witney overthrew a line-out close to the 22 with the ball popping straight up in the air. Gareth Campbell managed to out jump the surrounding players to gather the ball before releasing Tom Puddle who sprinted his way over.