Victory over Old Leamingtonians keeps Saints level with leaders at top of table
Midlands 3 West (South)
Old Leamingtonians 6 Rugby St Andrews 29
This was a fine away victory against an Old Leams side that are the league’s top points scorers and very much in the promotion hunt.
The win was forged from stifling defence across the park, which restricted hitherto prolific opponents to just a brace of penalties, and the ability to make the most of limited possession.
With the home side dominating the set scrums and Saints’ normally reliable lineout faltering, there was precious little quality ball from the set pieces.
OLs were able to retain possession for long periods but their pick and drive tactics through their big forwards failed to make much progress against a solid defensive wall and, when they finally brought their pacey backs into play, they too were picked off with some regularity.
Saints were far more adventurous despite the wet ball and heavy pitch and were prepared to attack from all parts of the field. Their reward was a four-try bonus win that keeps them level on points with Shipston at the top of the table.
In a frantic opening Saints had their opponents defending desperately on their own line.
Dan Hull crashed over but was deemed to have been held up before Ryan Taylor was presented with a simple three-pointer after five minutes of play.
A knock-on from the deep restart gifted OLs field position from which they equalised with a penalty.
They continued to exert pressure, particularly in the scrums where Saints were being driven of their own ball but the predictability of their attacks meant that they never really threatened a score.
An optimistic kick into Saints’ 22 was calmly collected by Tom Oglethorpe, who evaded the first chaser, drew two more defenders and released Ryan Sabin.
The winger outflanked the cover, drew the full back and gave Oglethorpe a clear run to the posts. Ryan Taylor converted.
Another counter from long range was narrowly foiled when the home winger just edged the kick and chase into in goal but OLs kept themselves in contention at the break with a second penalty goal.
Saints quickly regained the initiative with a second try after 45 minutes. Once again Leams were forced to defend on their own line.
They managed to hold out against a series of forward drives but, when the ball was moved to the backs, Spencer Brown cut a perfect line from his wing to scythe untouched through the midfield. Ryan Taylor converted.
The home side’s problems increased when they lost their influential number eight to the naughty step after a late tackle. Saints immediately capitalised.
Strong running by the forwards made the initial inroads before switching to the backs where Pat Howard, on his welcome return to the club, was the beneficiary of a huge overlap with only his second touch of the ball.
A second opponent was binned for a professional foul in the red zone as Saints pushed for the bonus-point try.
They had to wait until the 79th minute. The forwards swarmed towards the line but half a dozen efforts were halted before Tom Oglethorpe, now at scrum half, spotted a gap and darted through to score. Ryan Taylor added the extras and the game ended.
With Shipston also claiming a bonus point win, they still top the table but on equal points with Saints. However both teams have opened up a seven-point gap between them and their nearest challengers with eight games still to play.
Saints will be aiming to sustain their challenge when they host unpredictable Old Wheatleyans, who rather surprisingly gained a bonus-point win over Woodrush, who beat Saints earlier in the season. Wheats made Saints work hard for their win in Coventry and must not be underestimated.