HIGH Wycombe suffered a 36-31 defeat against Witney in a pulsating game of rugby at Kingsmead Road on Saturday.

The match was a double-header for league points as well as semi-final tie in the Intermediate Cup. Wycombe qualified as the Bucks champions with Witney – who have a perfect winning record in the Southern Counties North this season – the champions of Oxford.

Wycombe brought both Sean Tolhurst and Jamie Volwes into the starting line-up as well as fit again Tom Bosley, but lost Lewey Newton to a hamstring injury before kick-off. Mitch Green came off the bench to start on the wing.

The action started from the first whistle as the home team were quick to open the scoring as man-of-the-match Jake Banton hacked the ball forward over the try line and won the foot race to score. The conversion attempt was missed.

It got better for the hosts when Ollie Fennell-Wells spotted Joff Forber on his inside and a well-timed pass put him one-on-one with the full-back. He side-stepped the opponent to score under the posts before Billy Bickford added the extras.

More excellent continuity put Wycombe on the front foot and Witney were forced into conceding several penalties. Bickford stepped up to take the three points from one of them for a 15-0 lead.

The visitors then upped their game and, when the referee gave a penalty for offside, they opted for a scrum and pushed their hosts over the line to score an unconverted try.

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Witney were then forced into conceding another penalty for which their number eight received a yellow card and Bickford stepped up to extend the advantage with his boot.

Bickford took another three points when a penalty was conceded for coming into the side and again slotted between the posts as Witney were penalised for playing the scrum half – their number 10 received a yellow card.

Wycombe received a yellow card of their own when Mike Fradgley was penalised for holding down a player off the ball with minutes until the half-time whistle.

The away side reduced the arrears to 24-12 before the break as a rolling maul went over the line although the lineout did not look straight.

The hosts were dealt a blow at the start of the second half when Banton was yellow carded for a high tackle meaning his side had to play for five minutes with just 13 players.

From the penalty a solid lineout was fed out to the backs where the Witney inside centre cut a great line to go over and score – the conversion was missed.

Wycombe survived the rest of the yellow card period but suffered another blow as Liam Dudley was forced off the pitch with an injury.

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The game was restarted with a scrum and a fantastic backs move put Banton away to round the last defender and score a converted try under the posts.

Witney then showed their power at the scrum to score a pushover try and reduce the deficit to 31-24 with less than 15 minutes still to play.

Wycombe were dealt a pivotal blow when Fennell-Wells was injured in a ruck which meant they had to play the remainder of the game with 14 men.

The scores were level at 31-31 as Wycombe had no right winger to cover and deal with a speculative cross-field kick. The ball bounced over the try line and the visitors won the foot race to dot down.

Witney had their tails up and gathered the ball at the restart to put some good phases together to score the winning try in the corner.

The away side suffered a blow late on when their flanker received a yellow card for stopping Wycombe for playing quickly, but some resolute defending allowed them to see out the rest of the game.

The defeat leaves High Wycombe in sixth position in the Southern Counties North table ahead of a return to action at high-flying Aylesbury on Saturday 1st February (2.15pm). Wycombe lost the reverse fixture 30-24 back in October.