Banbury Bulls lost 27-9 in Saturday’s Oxon Knockout Cup quarter-final tie at South West One outfit Grove.
The heavy conditions suited the direct Grove style while Bulls could never get into their stride to play their usual brand of free-flowing rugby. They also did not help their cause with some sloppy passing and handling, while the ball was lost too often in the tackle.
It was Banbury who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges testing the home defence but failed to take the lead when the usually reliable Eddie Phillips missed two penalty opportunities. The Grove forwards started to stamp their authority on proceedings and when they forced a scrum close to the Bulls line they opened the scoring with a pushover try. That was shortly followed when Rory Gratwohl forced his way over from close range following a line-out. Phillips did get Bulls on the board with a penalty but Grove extended the lead with another close range try from Ben Nicholl.
The first half finished when Bulls lost possession deep in the Grove half with Danny Ferguson seizing the loose ball and having made good ground, kicked ahead and with the bounce evading the Banbury cover, claimed the try. With Jona Cali adding one conversion the hosts held a comfortable 22-3 lead at the break.
Two Phillips penalties early in the second half gave Bulls renewed hope but they received a further setback when Grove won yet another turnover from a mistake, good handling and passing allowed Danny Ferguson in for his second try.
To their credit Bulls did not allow their heads to drop and despite losing James Burge to a somewhat harsh yellow card defended strongly to keep their line intact.
The game finished on a positive note when fine breaks from 17-year-old George Grieve, who made a promising debut, nearly led to tries as Bulls produced a gutsy second half performance marred only by unforced errors.