Earlsdon's win means Saints almost certain to be relegated
Slideshow by Mike Baker, other pictures by Brian Dainty
What a difference a year makes. Only 12 months ago Rugby St Andrews were celebrating promotion to Level 7 as league champions, writes Rod Blinco.
Saturday’s squad was missing ten players from that successful campaign, including the three leading try scorers, and failed to secure the victory over Earlsdon that could have staved off relegation.
Whilst accepting that life in Midlands West 2 would be tough (significantly the league provided three of the four semi-finalists in the RFU Midlands Division Senior Vase competition) there was a quiet confidence that they could establish the club at this level.
When at near full strength the team has justified that confidence, notching good wins over Earlsdon, Barkers, Old Sils, Leamington and Old Coventrians.
However, untimely unavailabilities and a horrendous injury list left them vulnerable to sides boasting bigger, faster stronger players accustomed to the demands of this level and quick to exploit any weaknesses or mistakes.
The fact that no fewer than 11 players have featured in the front row this season, including both coaches, gives an indication of the problems faced by the selectors.
There is a mathematical chance that relegation could be avoided but it will need a try bonus victory and a 70-point winning margin over Evesham, who themselves have had a poor season but are difficult opponents on their own turf. The team will no doubt be going all out for victory to end the season on a positive note and lift themselves off the bottom of the final table.
Sadly the records and bare statistics of this difficult season will not reflect the circumstances or the unstinting efforts and commitment of the players and coaches.
However those of us who have actually experienced the highs and lows, pain and pleasure of Andrews rugby as players and hardy supporters will recognise and remember the unquenchable spirit of those who gave everything on the field, sometimes playing through injury for the sake of the team and its reputation.
It is not the ending that retiring coach Craig Jones would have wanted but he has been instrumental in raising playing standards to a new level and his contribution will be missed.
The Andrews celebrate their 90th anniversary next season and have a chance to rebuild in less demanding conditions. The former colts who debuted this year will no doubt be pushing for regular places and ensuring that the team will be back in the promotion mix.
In Saturday’s game, Earlsdon soon demonstrated that they were keen to avenge their defeat at home with some aggressive attacking play. Using their big runners and patiently working through the phases they monopolised possession without making much headway against some solid tackling until the 20th minute when they scored from a lineout drive.
The Andrews had some opportunities from turnover ball but the ‘must win’ pressure led to them forcing the game and making unforced errors. Earlsdon capitalised with three more close-range scores to end the half with a 24 point advantage.
Stern words at the interval were clearly effective and the Andrews started to put consistent pressure on the visitors’ defence, which began to look uncomfortable.
Cynical offences at attacking breakdowns led to yellow cards but Saints were unable to capitalise and it was Earlsdon who broke out of defence for a late try and a flattering 31-0 scoreline.