Canterbury had to dig deep for this opening day victory, but dig they did and a Tom Best penalty goal two minutes from full time gave new Head Coach Nicky Little a winning start.
The tight finish and low scoring reflected a game which suffered from first night nerves on both sides, full of handling errors, ball turned over too easily and, in Canterbury’s case, a hefty first half penalty count.
It was a match of contrasting styles. Barnes’ based their approach around a lively pack and crash ball tactics in mid-field, while the city side were keener to put width on their attacks. But neither team could find the finishing touches and the errors, and two solid defences, saw half time arrive with the scoreboard blank.
Barnes had come closest. After missing an early penalty chance they failed to profit from prime catch and drive positions and, ultimately, that was to prove costly. Best missed a penalty shot for the city side but when ever they threatened with the ball in hand they invariably lost it in contact or handed out penalties.
It took a penalty goal five minutes into the second half to stir them into life and claim the only try of the game. Josh Coles kicked the home side into the lead after Canterbury offended at a scrum but the city side found a quick response.
Sean Nixon, one of six debutants in the squad, came off the replacements bench to make an immediate mark as Canterbury attacked the right hand corner. The flanker spotted a gap and slipped the ball neatly out of the tackle to give Mason Rosvall a clear run to the line. A good conversion from Best put more heart into his side and they enjoyed a period of territorial supremacy. However, they made nothing of it and a second penalty goal from Coles left the result still anyone’s guess.
The probabilities tipped heavily in Barnes favour in the last quarter when Canterbury Number Eight Max Cantwell was sin binned for a late tackle. Somehow they held out against the pressure but were let off the hook when Coles missed a highly kickable penalty chance. Going into the final ten minutes Coles then redeemed himself to put his side into the lead, leaving the city men city men with everything to do.
You could not fault their heart and attitude to that set back as they flung themselves into a last offensive. The penalty was won and from 38 metres out, wide on the right, the experienced Best showed the league newcomers what it is to hold your nerve.
Canterbury: M.Beaumont, C.Horey, D.Winchester, W.Farris, M.Rosvall. T.Best (repl G.Hilton), D.Smart (rep T.Best), J.Green (repl I.Miljak), N.Wakefield (repl S.Rogers), T.Mount (repl J.Green), R.Cadman, T.Burns, S.Rogers (repl S.Nixon), R.Ward, M.Cantwell