Saints host Ledbury at John Tomalin Way on Saturday
PICTURES BY DAVID LEATHLEY
Midlands 3 West (South)
Dunlop 19 Rugby St Andrews 24
Saints are on the cusp of securing the league championship and promotion after a bruising encounter with Dunlop.
Traditionally fallible on the road, the priority was the win. The bonus point was a welcome addition because it means that they maintain the points gap between them and the three other contenders.
Dunlop were always going to be difficult opponents. Subtle they are not, relying on a big powerful pack to grind down their opponents.
Saints’ smaller forwards did well to hold their own in the tight but frequently found themselves outmuscled at the breakdown where the home side ensured that slow ball was the order of the day.
As a result the game was a staccato affair with frequent stoppages for injuries, scrums and penalties, of which there were 28 in total, mainly against Saints.
Unavailabilities meant that Ran Scott returned after injury and Jordan Lloydall made his debut on the wing, becoming the 39th player to pull on a first team shirt and the fourth teenager to graduate from the Mini and Junior section this season.
Not for the first time this year, the whole starting 15 was home grown and the benefits of this continuity are increasingly apparent across the whole club as the three teams all had convincing wins over good opposition.
Saints had the first chance of points after just a couple of minutes but the penalty was fired wide. Dunlop continued to infringe under pressure. The next two penalties were kicked to the corner. On both occasions the ensuing drive was held but when the ball went wide Ryan Sabin was hauled down just short of the line where Grant Taylor picked up and dived over. Ryan Taylor converted for 7-0 after 10 minutes of dominance.
A second score soon followed, initiated and completed by Kristen Enefer. Dunlop pulled themselves back into contention, helped by Saints’ ability to discover some novel ways of offending the referee, they steadily progressed upfield with a mixture of kicks and forward drives until they finally crashed over from a series of driving mauls.
Saints continued to threaten with ball in hand but were unable to finish off some promising moves which were halted either by excellent cover tackling or by some illegalwork at the breakdown that eventually cost Dunlop a yellow card just before the break.
Saints capitalised on their numeric advantage with an opportunist try when Ran Scott broke down the unguarded blind side off the back of a maul.
Showing good pace, he covered 30 metres unchallenged before passing inside for Ryan Taylor to score between the posts. Tom Oglethorpe converted.
Once again Dunlop rallied. They piled into the visitors with some thunderous forward charges. The loss of Kristen Enefer to a yellow increased the pressure but a lineout steal by Scott Randle raised the siege, enabling his side to clear.
The Coventry side continued to kick for position but fortunately rarely troubled Saints young back three who were quite happy to run back anything that was slightly wayward.
Jordan Lloydall had already tested the home team with his pace. Another great run took him past the first line of defenders before he cleverly chipped past the last man who, realising he would never outpace the youngster, cynically and dangerously took him out.
It could easily have been a red card but he escaped with yellow. The penalty went into the corner.
The first line out drive was pulled down but the second was unstoppable. Grant Taylor touched down for his second try.
Benefiting from yet more of Saints’ perceived illegalities Dunlop again smashed their way over from short range.
With a number of their players needing protracted medical treatment during the final quarter, their hefty compatriots had plenty of opportunities to rest up prior to a final surge, which brought them a third short-range try that ended the game in the 87th minute of playing time.
Saints v Ledbury
If Saints win this Saturday they will be promoted as champions. Ledbury will be doing their best to spoil the party, just as Saints did to them in the last game of last season.
They won their home encounter by 22-15 but their recent away form has been woeful. A losing sequence was ended last week which will no doubt boost their confidence.
This is the most important day at John Tomalin Way since 2008 when Saints achieved their second league promotion. They have come close in the intervening years but this is their best opportunity yet. The stage is set for an epic. The weather seems to be set fair. It is Saints’ VPs and former players day. The team would love to see the touchlines packed with supporters urging them on, so if you have ever pulled on an Andrews shirt please make your way to Ashlawn Road to add your support.