Pictures by Ray Andrews
Midlands 1 West
Rugby Lions 26 Wolverhampton 37
Wolverhampton came to Webb Ellis Road in what the Lion’s chairman described in the programme notes as a must win game for both sides, writes Dave Rushall.
With only one victory this season, the visitors were on the scoreboard after 15 seconds when Rugby were penalised for not releasing. Lions responded almost immediately when a lovely dink by Weston was touched down by Ash Williams with Weston adding the conversion.
Rugby were well in charge at this stage, and it was no great surprise when new signing Tanama Bolenaivalu expertly jinked through the defensive line to score under the posts with Weston again adding the extras.
Dave Weston was harshly shown a yellow card when he grabbed the back of an opponent’s shirt too high for the referee’s liking. A strong run from the home 22 by Chris Wood, led to Joe Higgins breaking through and slipping the ball to George Curtis for another try.
The numerical disadvantage was evident when the visiting backs strolled over the line with their first visit to Lions’ 22 after 21 minutes. The conversion was successful to reduce the arrears to 21-10.
You could sense the confidence in Wolverhampton’s ranks rising as they put in some strong runs, which aided by some poor tackling, resulted in another converted try. A penalty for the visitors reduced the lead to one point.
With Rugby back at full strength, a chip and chase by Weston was halted when he was taken out off the ball.
The penalty was put into touch and from the resulting line-out the ball was fed down the back line for Stuart Lee to dive over for the try bonus point score. The conversion attempt by Weston drifted wide.
A strong drive by Lions pack following a line-out crossed the try line, but was deemed to be held up by the referee. A wild pass from the five metre scrum allowed Wolverhampton to go the length of the field and following a minor scuffle, Lions were down to fourteen players again with George Curtis shown a yellow card. A scrum for the visitors led to an unconverted try in front of the clubhouse to make the half time score 26-23.
Captain Chris Wood picked up a knock and was replaced by Alex Tansley at the start of the second period. Lions dominated the play for the first15 minutes, but stout defence, a lack of composure, and wrong options meant that they failed to add to their score.
Gradually the visitors got back into the game and applied some pressure of their own. Bolenaivalu was forced to leave the field with an injury, which meant that Wood had to return. Play was now mainly in Lions’ half and loose clearance kicks were being returned with interest to keep the pressure on. Yet another yellow card was shown, this time to Sam James for offside at a ruck. The game is hard enough without having to play 30 minutes with a man short.
Being a man down meant that Rugby’s scrum was being shoved off their own ball on their try line, and it was no great surprise when the pressure told and Wolverhampton took the lead with a converted try with only 15 minutes left.
A loose clearance was picked up by the Wolverhampton fullback who had enough pace to beat the defenders to score in the right hand corner. The conversion was expertly accurate to put the visitors 11 points ahead. With 80 minutes on the clock, the referee belatedly gave a yellow card to the visitors for a genuine high tackle. Lions came storming back and Jordan Diston looked to have crossed the line for a try which would have given Lions a losing bonus point.
The referee, however, came back for a penalty to Lions, and a knock-on meant that Lions dismal recent run of defeats continued. With some tough fixtures coming up it is difficult to see where the next victory will be. With three teams being relegated this season, Lions are being sucked into a relegation battle which nobody could have envisaged back in October.
Their next fixture is away at Bromsgrove on March 3.