The Blues second match of their French preseason tour was played inside the ancient fortified city of Bayonne against their Espoirs (U23’s) on a wet but warm night in the south-west of the country. After the narrow loss to Biarritz the previous Thursday and an encouraging week’s training, the Blues entered this second match in a positive frame of mind and were hopeful of securing a first win of the 2013 Varsity Campaign. The match was moved from the main Bayonne Stadium to the samller but very picturesque Christian Belascin Stadium, with it’s 3G artificial surface which considering the wet conditions was perhaps a blessing. The Blues started strongly, but could not convert the early territorial advantage in to points and with the strong Bayonne pack gaining an ascendancy in the tight, the Blues were soon staging a goal line defensive effort which kept the match scoreless until the 28th minute. The Bayonne scrum-half and captain took a quick tap from a scrum offence conceded by the Blues and the ball was quickly recycled from one ruck and moved right for the outside centre to slash through and score a try, with the scrum-half adding the extras. On the stroke of half-time Bayonne extended their lead when the referee had no option but to award a penalty try following repeated scrum offences, the scrum-half again converted to make the score at the break 14 nil in favour of the home team.
Five minutes into the second half the Blues narrowed the gap when they stole a Bayonne line-out in the home sides 22, with hooker James Wisson carrying hard towards the try line before Australian second row Tim Little breached the Bayonne defence to crash over for his first ‘Meat Pie’ for the club. Full-back Pietie Olivier added the conversion. Bayonne then extended their lead further after a midfield scrum saw them attack the blind side and put the left wing over in the corner, the scrum-half maintained his 100% kicking record by adding the touch-line conversion. The Blues then started to use their bench to alter the course of the match and whilst the replacements added tremendous enthusiasm they could only narrow the lead by one score, when Marcus-Alexander Neil, who enjoyed a strong outing in the centres, burst through a midfield hole to add a second try for the Blues; Olivier hit the post with the conversion. Despite pressing hard in the final 5 minutes the Blues could not add any further scores with the final score being 21 – 12, meaning the Blues will leave France without a victory, but two good performances under their belt. Captain James Harris lead the side in exemplary fashion, in particular one tackle bringing the crowd to their feet when he stopped a Bayonne player in his tracks, the referee was surprised he penalised Harris for a high tackle, despite the fact the hit was on the Bayonne players chest! No 8 Tom Reeson-Price impressed with his 80 minute performance and leadership qualities.
The Blues now enjoy a weekend of R and R in San Sebastian before returning home to continue their preparations for the 2013 Varsity Campaign.
Team Dean Irvine, James Wisson, Ian Williams, Tim Little, Stuart Greeff, James Harris, Alexander Macdonald, Tom Reeson-Price, Chris Williams, Matt Janney, Alastair Adams-Cairns, Marcus-Alexander Neil, Will Boardman, Sebastian Williams, Pietie Olivier
Subs Daniel Barnes (on for James Wisson), Michael Hannah (on for Tim Little), Steven Patch (on for Stuart Greeff), Fraser Heathcote (on for Tim Little), Edward Doe (on for Pietie Olivier), Will Dace (on for Matt Janney), Philip Bell (on for Marcus-Alexander Neil), Samson Egerton (on for Chris Williams)
Scores T: Tim Little (1), Marcus-Alexander Neil (1) C: Pietie Olivier (1)