Level on points at the top now and another big game on 27th at third-placed Old Leamingtonians
PICTURES BY MIKE BAKER
Midlands 3 West (South)
Rugby St Andrews 29 Old Coventrians 22
Saints’ drive for promotion gained impetus with a solid home win while simultaneously putting a dent in Old Coventrians’ aspirations, dropping them down from top to fourth, albeit still only two points off the lead.
Coach Craig Jones showed confidence in the bulk of the team that had played so well against Manor Park. Even though he had the services of the influential trio of Spencer Brown, Dan Hull and leading try scorer Bryn Jones, only the winger made the starting line up, opting for a high impact bench.
That confidence was repaid with a blistering start. The visitors were turned over from the kick off and Saints went through the phases to test the defence before winning a penalty, which went narrowly wide.
There was no respite for the Coventry side as Tom Oglethorpe broke down the right wing before the ball was moved back across the field where Spencer Brown floated a long pass to put Will Headley over in the corner for an unconverted try after five minutes.
More quick recycling enabled Saints to sustain the pressure. Tom Oglethorpe was dragged down just short of the line where a desperate defender killed the ball and earned himself a yellow card. OCs’ were reprieved when the attacking line out failed to fire but Saints settled for a neat drop goal by Ryan Taylor.
An eight-point lead was actually a meagre return for the first quarter dominance. Had Saints taken all their chances they could easily have been 20 points ahead before OCs’ first serious foray provided them with a simple three points.
They then caught Saints napping with a quick 22 drop out that took them 40 yards upfield. A series of close range drives by their forwards inched them forward and infield and finally over the line for a converted try to take the lead on the half hour.
This was shortlived as OCs’ were harshly penalised for a deliberate knock-on. While they were chuntering about the decision Spencer Brown tapped and sprinted clear before linking with Ryan Taylor, who beat the full back to touch down under the posts. His conversion gave his team an interval lead of just five points, so the visitors were surprisingly still in touch after being under the cosh for much of the half.
Saints’ defence had been magnificent, forcing their opponents into handling errors as they tried to offload under pressure, while the backs had regularly punched holes through the midfield without managing to escape some good covering by the visitors.
Dan Hull announced his arrival straight after the break as he barrelled his way through a number of defenders. Gaz Curtis emerged from the short side of the ensuing ruck and made 30 yards unchallenged before offloading and give Spencer Brown a clear run to the line. Ryan Taylor converted this and a second effort by Spencer Brown, which earned the try bonus and a 29–10 scoreline with 15 minutes to play.
In between those scores Saints were almost over for three more. Having split the defence, both Dan Hull and Tom Oglethorpe were halted just short by covering tackles and Will Headley, not for the first time, lost his footing when clear.
However the final minutes belonged to OCs’. Saints’ defensive discipline and concentration had been almost immaculate until this point but they then conceded penalty after penalty, allowing the visitors to lay siege to their line.
They conceded a converted try from a close-range lineout drive and lost Grant Taylor to the bin. Further pressure was absorbed at the cost of more penalties which OCs’ repeatedly kicked to the corner in search of the try that would give them the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Another surge in injury time ended with what Saints thought was a knock-on, which would have ended the game, but actually resulted in Ryan Taylor joining his brother in the bin.
OCs’ set up another lineout drive with virtually the whole side joining in. In the 85th minute they finally gained the touchdown. The conversion failed and the game ended.
The win puts Saints into second place behind Shipston with the same points total and only two points separate the top four teams. There is no league action for Saints this week but all the top four are in action against each other next Saturday. Saints travel to third-placed Old Leamingtonians, who have been in prolific form in recent weeks and will be keen to avenge a 41–22 drubbing inflicted on them at John Tomalin Way. Once again this is a ‘must win’ for both sides as is the clash between Shipston and OCs’.