Victory at St Ives for Rugby St Andrews 1sts
Midlands 3 East (South)
St Ives 39
Rugby St Andrews 42
Saints made the long trip to St Ives in the full knowledge that the home side would be desperate for victory to move them out of the relegation zone.
The ‘Chicken Shack’ has not been a successful venue for the visitors and another stern challenge from the Bulls’ formidable forwards on their sloping pitch was anticipated.
The omens were not good as late withdrawals of key players, prop, hooker and number 8, led to a hasty reorganisation, necessitating the involvement of coach Craig Jones for his first full game of the season.
The restructuring proved successful as he brought the best out of props Dean Hamilton and Mark Dunkley, which gave them the edge in the set pieces despite the lack of bulk behind them.
Opting to play with the slope, strong wind and sun in their favour, Saints chose to ignore these potential benefits from the kick off. Instead of pumping the ball back downfield they dithered around in their own 22, lost possession and conceded a converted try when the Ives’ prop was driven over.
Worse followed when Craig Jones was harshly yellow carded, reviving memories of the referee’s performance at Long Buckby when he penalised Saints out of the game. The fears were groundless as he went on to have a pretty good game in difficult conditions, although a vociferously partisan home crowd might beg to differ.
Even before Saints were back to full strength they took the lead with a Ryan Taylor penalty and a try from winger George Headley as play was switched from side to side until the gap appeared.
Brother Will then repeated the dose after another patient build up. Ryan Taylor converted. Once again Saints created their own problems from the restart to concede three points only for the Bulls to make a similar error when a wayward kick was gathered and taken forward by the back three. This was to become a defining feature of the game as the ball was swiftly recycled.
Spencer Brown and Ryan Taylor combined down the blind side and Todd Spencer was the ultimate beneficiary with a try converted by Taylor.
A loss of concentration and a failure to make first up tackles allowed the Cambridge boys back into the game with a converted try for a 22 -17 scoreline, but their hopes of further improvement were quickly dashed as Saints’ fluid running game generated two more tries before the break.
A rehearsed midfield move released Tom Helliwell to surge untouched through to the posts. Ryan Taylor converted but was unsuccessful with the extras from his own try as he cut through an overstretched defence. With a 17-point lead to carry into the second half nerves had been settled.
Conditions had dictated that St Ives played a game that was alien to them, hence the number of times that they were turned over, but they were now in their element.
Long kicks for territory followed by close driving surges by the pack were now on the agenda. Saints needed cool heads and patient defence to cope with this predictable assault but lacked both as the home side grabbed three tries in a torrid 10- minute spell which edged them ahead at 36–34, with 25 minutes left on the clock.
A Taylor penalty temporarily regained the lead which the Bulls cancelled out a couple of minutes later. That, however, was their last shot as Saints dominated the last 20 minutes. Sustained pressure at the set pieces and at the breakdown kept the home side pinned in their own half.
Attempted clearances were run back with interest. A four on one scoring opportunity was foiled by a cynical deliberate knock-on, which surprisingly drew just a penalty, but Saints were not to be denied by an increasingly desperate defence and Spencer Brown finally found his way through to the line for the winning try.
This had been a tense and exciting match between two teams with contrasting styles of play, which in different ways, produced 11 tries. Significantly all six of Saints’ tries came from the backs whereas the Bulls’ forwards claimed the credit for four out of five.
The win moves Saints up a couple of places to fifth in a congested mid-table. There is no league action this Saturday but next week St Neots will make their first ever visit to John Tomalin Way. Saints won the earlier fixture quite comfortably but will be aware of the threat posed by another big pack. They will be keen to cut out the defensive errors that allowed St Ives a brief lifeline.
Rugby St Andrews 2nds 24
Kenilworth 3rds 20
A relatively youthful Saints team finally wore down their bigger more experienced opposition to snatch victory with two late tries. Good support and handling gave Saints an early lead but the older Kenilworth heads then took control to set up three tries. A series of forward drives cut the deficit but the visitors closed out the half with a penalty to lead 20–14. Both sides struggled for continuity and there was no further score until the closing minutes when Saints’ young speedsters outpaced a tired defence.