Bermuda’s World Rugby Classic title challenge halted by Lions
Bermuda’s World Rugby Classic title challenge suffered a major setback after going down to a 24-10 defeat to Lions Legend at North Field, National Sports Centre yesterday.
Having overcome Classic Canada 20-5 in their opening encounter on Monday, and watched on as France Classic Rugby made it back-to-back wins with a 34-3 success over the same opposition on Wednesday, Bermuda headed into the match aiming to also maintain a perfect record and set up a mouthwatering championship decider between the sides on Saturday.
However, it was not to be as Jamie Barnwell’s side were left to rue a lack of tactical nous and in-game management at crucial moments against their more experienced opponents, who twice came back from behind during the first half to hold a 14-10 advantage at the interval.
Building on that momentum, the Lions further asserted their dominance after the restart, scoring a further two tries, while also holding Bermuda at bay, to claim victory and bounce back from their opening day 22-0 defeat to France.
The result leaves France firmly in the ascendancy, who now only have to avoid a heavy defeat to Bermuda in the final game to clinch the title.
Despite the obvious disappointment, head coach Barnwell hailed his players endeavours as he reflected on the fine margins that ultimately proved pivotal.
“These players had such little time to prepare for this tournament and there is so much transition going on within the group; what they’ve done is remarkable,” he said.
“Overall they did a great job out there tonight because that is arguably the toughest match they have played in the past three years.
“They put themselves in with a shout at victory and while it’s disappointing, the great thing is that there is so much learning always going on for us as a group, which is key.
“We are at the point where we are talking about fine margins and key decision making at pivotal moments, which shows our expectations and where we’re at.
“Their own expectations were heightened after the Canada victory and while they’re disappointed not to meet them; they should all be very proud, because the coaches are.
“All of the lads are greatly disappointed but they have to focus on the things that they have done really well, both in that defeat, but also in the victory against Canada.
“We made a number of poor choices which proved costly. We can be disappointed that we didn’t execute certain situations as well as we did against Canada and that cost us, but we will go away and work on that.”
Bermuda got off to the ideal start after breaking the deadlock in the second minute with a successful penalty from the boot of David Lunn to take a 3-0 lead.
However, the lead only last four minutes as the Lions obvious greater physical advantage paid dividends. Building momentum with a driving maul, Bermuda were powerless to prevent Koree Britton from crashing over. Damien Hudd added the conversion to put his side 7-3 ahead.
Bermuda responded superbly and after a period of prolonged pressure managed to regain the lead midway through the half with the first try of the game. Breaking through the Lions defensive line, Alex Brown managed to create an overload, handing off to Rory O’Kelly-Lynch, who was able to race clear and score under the posts. Lunn added the simple conversion to gift his team a 10-7 advantage.
Once again momentum swung back to the Lions who again took full advantage of their mauling prowess, driving Bermuda before Chris Fortey forced the ball down in the left corner. Once again Hudd slotted the conversion between the posts as the Lions went into the interval with a slender 14-10 lead.
After a tentative start to the second half, a moment of ill discipline resulted in Jamie Baum receiving a yellow card, as Bermuda were reduced to 14 men for five minutes.
The Lions capitalised on the man advantage immediately as from the resulting penalty, Cai Griffiths kicked the ball to the opposite flank, where an overload led to a simple unconverted try in the corner for Tom Arscott, extending the advantage to 19-10 with 15 minutes remaining.
Just five minutes later, the Lions themselves were reduced to 14 men as Aaron Bramwell was shown a yellow card. However, despite being back to the full contingent of players, with Baum’s return to the field, Bermuda failed to capitalise on the numerical advantage.
Instead it was the opposition, also back to 15 players, who managed to further extend their lead in the closing stages as an incisive break on the left wing resulted in Mike Powell crashing over for one last unconverted try as the Lions wrapped up victory.
While France find themselves on the verge of championship glory, Bermuda coach Peter Dunkerley is adamant his side will far from roll over on Saturday and just hand the title to their rivals.
“The attitude of all the players in the huddle after that match was that they are looking at the France match as one they want to put on a great performance and secure a win,” he said. “It was fine margins tonight and if you take those away we were very competitive once again. Looking at the France game, we need to ensure that we make the right decisions, maintain our attacking structure and keep errors low.”