by John Butler
IN many ways this was a disappointing end to Coventry’s nine-match winning run, but few could argue with the final outcome.
Ampthill, who overall had more of the game, dominated the second half scoring as they moved a step further to achieving their goal of a highest-ever league finish to a season.
Coventry certainly never achieved the domination built so many times this season, certainly on the day lacking power and drive.
A mitigating factor to a degree, which did not become knowledge until after the game, was that four players were very unwell after arrival at the ground and that cannot have helped either with the warm-ups or what followed.
Nothing though should be taken away from Ampthill. Thrashed at Butts Park back in December, that was an afternoon they clearly wanted to put right and were certainly very fired up seeking revenge.
Ampthill’s style of physical, driving close quarter play may not be the most attractive to watch, but it can be very effective and that certainly was the case, notably in the second half.
Cov’s cause, in addition, was not helped by three yellow cards, Nile Dacres just before half-time and James Stokes and Pete White in the second half which left the Blue & Whites down to 13 men for a time.
Add to that a high penalty count and after a fiercely-fought first half, it was Ampthill who tightened their grip on proceedings.
It did look for a long time in the opening half as if it might just end point less, both sides cancelling each other out. Ampthill having the best of the opening quarter, Cov the second.
The opening minutes saw Ampthill constantly battering away at a wall of a Coventry defence, clear cut scoring chances as a result being minimal.
Dacres’s yellow came in the 32rd minute with Ampthill applying pressure, but following good earlier work notably from Will Maisey and Rob Knox, Cov then took the lead just into added-on time.
Pressure built, White also being prominent, before from close in, hooker Scott Tolmie powered over for the opening try, Maisey converting.
Several more minutes were then to be added on, notably because of an injury that followed to the try-scoring Tolmie. After being attended to for several minutes, Cov’s hooker was able to walk from the field to sympathetic applause.
7-0 to the good, Cov then found themselves having to play up the Dillingham Park slope.
Within four minutes, two penalty goals from Ampthill’s former Cov player-coach James Pritchard reduced the margin to one point.
Again, Cov were forced into more excellent defence before back they came back to force the pace inside the home 22. A brief skirmish followed which saw Ampthill penalised, Maisey landing the simple kick for 10-6.
It was to prove to be Cov’s last score of the match.
Pritchard, again, with a third penalty on 63 minutes reduced the margin back again to one point, the penalty count at this point being 10-7 in Ampthill’s favour.
Two minutes later, the home side went in front with their first try. With a move emanating in Cov’s half, the Ampthill forwards used the narrow side before flanker Joe Bercis flew over wide out, Pritchard’s attempted conversion drifting wide.
Within the space then of just three minutes, Cov lost two long line-out throws when in home territory before both Stokes and White received yellow cards in quick succession with the battle raging.
Locked between the two came Ampthill’s second try. More pressure, this time on the left, desperate defence initially keeping them out before finally replacement front row forward George Thornton battled his way over, Pritchard again finding the angle defeating his conversion attempt.
At 19-10 down Cov were staring at defeat for the first time since January. Pressure was still coming from a number of forward-orientated angles from Ampthill before, finally, five minutes into added on time, Pritchard slotted a fourth penalty.
Understandably, Ampthill’s players and their support had fully enjoyed a hard-earned success.
For Cov, another large away following which surely must have helped bring Ampthill’s biggest crowd of the season.
The visiting support witnessed again the difficulty of keeping up the levels of intensity shown before the title was won.
This match also saw Cov leave the pitch without securing a match point for the first time.
The hope must be for the squad to return to Butts Park for the remaining two games, sure in the knowledge a successful ending to a truly great record-breaking season is still very much in their own hands.
Ampthill: tries Bercis (65), Thornton 74); penalties Pritchard 4 (41, 45, 63, 80). Coventry: try Tolmie (40); conversion Maisey (40); penalty Maisey 59).
Ampthill: Lynch; Pritchard, Hanks, Weightman (Wilson h-t), Baker; Rayner, Williams; Culverhouse (Thornton 53), Lutui (Oghre h-t), Collins (Molitika 68), Burgess (Pitfield 53), Walker (Lutui 60), Johnson, Bercis, Molitika (Allman 42).
Coventry: Stokes; Knox (Asiedu 42), Stevens (Asiedu 28, Stevens 34), Fenner (Palmer 62), Grove; Maisey, White; Brown (Litchfield 18), Tolmie (Priestley 40), Boulton (Brown 56, Boulton 71), Jubb, Oram, Dacres, Preece (Hutchinson 71), Daynes.
Referee: Alex Thomas.