WITH fourteen wins to their name, it was inevitable leaders Oxford Harlequins would have no trouble stuffing their first opponents in 2014.
But, unfortunately, the opposition was Neil Loader’s depleted Salisbury RFC.
His sparse squad, once again, meant a reshuffle was unavoidable against a side that have one defeat to their name in South West 1 (East) Division.
However, like much of the season, Salisbury made do and adopted a spirited attitude, pulling the scores back and defending stubbornly in the 82-10 defeat.
Oxford had two early tries on the board before a Salisbury attack switched the ball right and Dirk Knight, rising to the challenge of playing at full back, ran a great line to score on the corner.
Andy Herriot was unlucky with the conversion kicking both uphill and against the tide.
Salisbury turned around 40-5 down but started the second period well, a beautiful grubber kick from James Kaminski turned the defence, and when the visitors came again through a thunderous drive from Luke Esnouf, pictured, the ball found Jon Goldsmith who was able to carve a way to the line.
Sadly, there were no more scores from the city side despite Esnouf, in his first game back, galloping around the park putting in a few of his trademark bone-shaking tackles, as well as carrying well into the heart of the Oxford defence.
Ritchie Roe and Kaminski also made welcome returns from injury.
Genghis Miller ran the ball from deep on numerous occasions – and to the spectators the match did not have the feel of the post Christmas hammering the score would suggest.
“The guys gave it their all, trying to play positively – despite the scoreline – and were only beaten by Oxford’s size and power,” said Loader, whose side remain wedged at the foot of the table.
Elsewhere, the start to 2014 was enjoyed by Salisbury A XV and Salisbury Colts at the weekend, both collecting earnest wins.
A XV claimed a famous 12-17 victory over Wimborne III XV with James Burton leading the way from the off.
Leading 5-17 at the break meant Salisbury were on the back-foot throughout the second period but restricted their hosts to one converted score with a disciplined defensive display. Taro Phillimore dominated the lineout.
The Colts were victorious with a 5-65 victory over Lytchett Minster. A bright start from Salisbury saw Richard Cox, Henry Toomer, Rupert Coley, and Seb Eades score four tries in 25 minutes, setting the tone for the duration.