Last game of the season against Northampton Casuals
PICTURES BY MIKE BAKER
Midlands 3 East (South)
Rugby St Andrews 5
Northampton Casuals 34
In terms of possession and territory there was little to choose between the teams, but Casuals impressive backs made the difference with their ability to strike clinically from all parts of the field.
Saints’ approach work was much improved, showing more patience and control when building attacks but, even when camped deep in the visitors’ territory, they lacked either the power or guile to finish off promising situations.
Casuals gave early notice of their intent and ability. Regaining the ball from the kick off, they worked through a couple of phases before quick hands by the backs enabled the winger to squeeze in at the corner after only two minutes.
Saints responded immediately with some effective work from the cobbled together pack. A series of attacks took them upfield and the scores were levelled with a try from a lineout drive, claimed by Kristen Ennifer.
They continued to apply pressure but Casuals won a turnover in midfield and, aided by some sloppy defending, broke away to score a converted try. Saints then had a good 30 minutes, scrummaging solidly and managing some line out steals they had the Northampton side on the back foot. A number of forward drives were held on the line, Jamie Clynes broke clear to the posts, but was thwarted by a desperate ankle tap as he rounded the last defender.
In injury time the backs combined perfectly to create a three to one only to see the final pass intercepted and the visiting winger race clear over 90 metres for a converted try and a flattering 19-5 lead.
Heads did not drop and a big hit by Matt Waldron from the restart enabled Saints to camp in Casuals 22. Casuals defended soundly and when the ball went loose they countered swiftly.
The initial surge was halted but a long downfield kick bounced favourably for the chasers and secured their bonus point fourth try, once again totally against the run of play.
Now full of confidence, Casuals piled into the attack. Saints were under severe pressure on their own line.
A series of penalties led to the inevitable yellow card but depleted Saints’ pack held out against a full frontal assault until they won a brace of penalties to allow them to clear the danger.
Some intelligent tactical kicking then set up good field position on a number of occasions but yet again they were unable to capitalise. In stark contrast, Casuals good skills in the back division enabled them to break from their own half twice more to record their first ever win at John Tomalin Way.
The result means that Saints have finished out of the top half of the table for the first time despite some excellent pre-Christmas victories. The fact that 40 players have been called on for first team duties this season clearly illustrates the problems that Saints have experienced in fielding anything like their strongest fifteen.
The situation has worsened since the new year. Saturday’s team was missing 14 regulars, who contributed 43 tries between them last season, which does much to explain the recent try famine. Credit is due to those who stepped up to plug the gaps and gave their all. Had they not done so under such demanding circumstances Saints might well have been in danger of relegation. As it is, they will be competing in East Midlands 3 for another season, hopefully with a number of this year’s wounded back in action and challenging for promotion.