In the end, Newbold 2nds ran out worthy winners of this Clonmell Cup clash but they certainly knew they had been given a real game, which had not seemed all that likely an hour or so before kick off.
For a scratch team as Rugby are this season, it is not easy to raise a full side and first indications from the team management were that, with a Sunday fixture and a spate of injuries in recent matches, Lions might only be able to put out 13 players for this, actually their first officially competitive game of the season.
But the phones were used non-stop and, come kick off, there were 16 players, even if the backs were mostly playing out of position and included a back row forward.
But how well Rugby played against an impressively well organised Newbold side led by skipper and former Lion Paul Bale with another, Kevin Mills, at no. 8 and Phil Read in the dugout as part of their coaching team. It was also good to see Tim Murphy in the crowd as he continues his recovery from a serious work injury.
The game was played in an excellent spirit, especially for such a local derby, and this was much helped by referee Mark Snell’s impressive control.
The early attacks came from Rugby but they were kept out and instead the visitors took the lead with prop Dave Smith’s try converted by Ethan Wookey on 15 minutes.
Around the half hour mark, Lions suffered two injuries with kicker and playmaker Gareth Bott off with a sprained wrist and Karl Lawson soldiering on with a bruised ankle.
But the next score came from a fine penalty from Rugby’s James Webb in the gusty wind. Rob Cleaver was denied a try from a too-quickly taken tap penalty but Jack Riley’s score did count and surprisingly Lions took an 8-7 lead into half time.
Newbold always looked dangerous and could string together fluent moves but Lions’ young and older players tackled tenaciously on a very hard ground.
With that wind blowing flags in opposite directions at the same time, the standard of play from both sides was surprisingly good and so was Webb’s second penalty kick for 11-7 just after the restart.
Newbold’s fitness was expected to make this a difficult second half for Rugby with their shortage of bench players and the dangerous winger Ashton Harris’s converted try gave his side a lead they were never to give up.
Around the hour mark, Shaune Pollard scored Bold’s third converted try for 11-21.
Rugby still created chances with the speed of their younger players and they were finally rewarded with Dan Martin’s try converted by Webb to set up a tense final 15 minutes at 18-21.
Newbold 2nds’ pressure finally started to tell and they were able to close out the match with a second converted try from Harris to set up a Clonmell Cup semi-final at Lutterworth for the right to meet Old Laurentians in the final.
There’s one more game left for Lions in this revival season, at home to Hinckley on Saturday (ko 3pm), while the Midlands Leagues Committee consider their application for re-admission to the league structure.
l Rugby: D Martin, W Tuite-Dalton, J Scott, K Lawson, J Ure, G Bott, J Webb, G Bennett, J Riley, S Bennett, N Hill, B Everton, R Cleaver, T Fuller, T Kimberley, G Rothwell, I Edwards
l Newbold: P Cunningham, A Harris, P Spooner, P Bale, J Richards, E Wookey, M Staley, D Smith, R McCullough, L Bayliss, G Rupal, M Pails, R Rippon, C Harness, K Mills, T Dixon, M Porteus, J Fletcher, S Pollard