London 3 Essex

GALLANT Braintree suffered only their second defeat of the season as they narrowly failed to overturn a 19-point deficit in a blood and thunder encounter.

The black and ambers gave their all against the current London 3 Essex leaders but eventually ran out of time with their hosts clinging on to the points for all they were worth.

On an unusually warm October day in front of a large and partisan home crowd the two sides virtually cancelled each other out in the first half, in a classically cagey affair.

Two missed penalties – one for each side – were all the spectators had to quicken their pulses until the last five minutes of the half.

Probing their opponents’ defences high up the pitch, Braintree managed to get the ball over the try line only for the ref to disallow the score for an alleged ‘double movement’.

When play resumed Epping were quickest to the punch and after winning a line-out resulting from a kick to touch they worked their way up field to score out wide for 5-0.

The second half started with both sides showing a lot more purpose but the visitors’ line-out was uncharacteristically out of sorts which dampened their attacking threat.

They were made to pay when after another spurned penalty opportunity Epping increased their lead when their outstanding number eight powered through to score under the posts.

The kick was converted to give the home side a 12-0 cushion and 10 minutes later they went further ahead courtesy of the best move of the game.

A superb passage of attacking play saw the Epping backs exchange quick ball before scoring to the right of the posts, the resulting kick giving them a 19-0 advantage.

With 20 minutes remaining it looked like the game was in the bag for the leaders but their fans were made to sweat as Braintree launched a determined fightback.

Belatedly they began to string a few passes together and after several near misses they eventually grabbed a converted try courtesy of outside centre Joe Young, for 19-7.

It was Epping’s turn to dig deep but Braintree kept coming and breached their hosts’ defences again when replacement Rob Oakley crashed over for another converted try for 19-14.

The visitors piled on the pressure in the last five minutes only to be slowed down by good defending and their continued line-out issues as Epping closed out the game.

Braintree Head Coach Jamie Clarke said: “It was disappointing to lose what turned out to be a very tight game.

“The players kept going to the end though and to come back from 19-0 down to secure a bonus point and very nearly win the game was a testament to their commitment.

“We still have both of the top teams to come at home and we are still very much in the mix in what is a very competitive and tight league.”

Braintree will look to return to winning ways at Robbs Wood this weekend when they host east London-based side King’s Cross Steelers.

Braintree’s second XV had a happier day last Saturday as they beat Felixstowe Badgers, 50-14.