MELKSHAM captain Aaron Brailey conceded his side ultimately paid the price for a sluggish first half as final opponents Marlborough lifted the Dorset & Wilts 1st XV Vase at Devizes RFC on Saturday.
Replacement Patch Campbell’s late try finally ended Melksham’s stirring fightback and booked a December 22 meeting with neighbours Hungerford in the South West knockout competition.
Brailey’s men seemed non-plussed by a first-half display packed with powerful running, slick handling and precision-sharp finishing as Marlborough romped into a 18-3 interval lead In contrast, the victors were left hanging on by their fingertips in the second period as Melksham’s ferocious forwards effort threatened a stunning comeback.
Brailey said: “The second half was a good reaction but obviously we’re disappointed in the first half.
“Really we just gave them too much room and played the wrong game. At the end of the day my lads came up short but I told them to have no regrets after the game – no ‘I could have done that or this.’ “I’m happy to say they didn’t and I was a very proud captain.’’
Marlborough skipper Nathan Morgan admitted his side needed the full range of skills to ensure that they secured the trophy.
“The clinical backs play meant we took our chances well and the defensive efforts of the forwards in the second half was immense,’’ he said.
“We need to learn to play a bit more savvy and realise how to help ourselves.’’
Marlborough, who spent the vast majority of the second period grimly hanging on, took an early lead when flanker Taniela Delaitamana drove upfield. As the ball was spun wide, Alex Sawbridge ploughed over in the corner for the opening try.
Centre Morgan booted a penalty to push his side further in front but Melksham centre Scott Simmons was off target with two penalty shots after wing Matt Glover had led the charge upfield.
Marlborough lost number eight Chris Patterson to the sin-bin. After his return, they kicked to the corner before a set three-quarters move sent Hugh Sutcliffe over, although Melksham complained bitterly about crossing in midfield.
Salt was rubbed into the wounds five minutes before half time as Morgan picked off a Melksham attack on halfway and broke clear, shovelling a one-handed pass to Russ Westcott who touched down.
In the last action of the first half, fly-half Simon Foster booted a penalty to get Melksham on the board and in the second period, their pack took control.
What amounted to a virtual 40-minute siege of the Marlborough line saw them batter away but the defence held firm until Foster spotted a gap and went over near the posts, adding the conversion himself.
With 10 minutes to go, the alarm bells started sounding for Marlborough as another series of scrums ended with number eight Phil Williams pushing his way across the line to cut the gap to just three.
The momentum was all with their opponents but, in a rare moment of respite, Marlborough worked their way upfield and kicked a penalty to the corner.
The lineout was scrappy, but Campbell was alert to the bouncing ball to pile over and assure his side of the trophy.