Pictures by Mike Baker
Midlands 2 East (South)
Old Laurentians 3 Belgrave 18
OLs slumped to a dismal defeat on a day when a casual visitor to Fenley Field would have assumed that Belgrave were the team gunning for promotion, rather than settling for mid-table respectability, as they were sharper all round than a lacklustre home side, writes Bill Wallis.
When Belgrave inflicted a chastening defeat on OLs in the reverse fixture last November they did so through their dominant pack, who took the game over in the final quarter to come from behind and secure the win points.
This time round OLs achieved equality in the set piece battle, even stealing some Belgrave lineout throws and winning a couple of scrums against the head. In that earlier game OLs did come away with a four try bonus point, but on this occasion they finished try less, the first time this has happened for at least three seasons.
Belgrave attacked with menace and defended aggressively, neutralising OL’s free scoring back line and limiting their scoring chances to just a handful. Although OLs achieved at least parity in the set pieces it was in broken play and at the breakdown where they were outfought. They didn’t look after possession well enough and too many passes were spilled or knocked on in good positions.
After threatening the line on a couple of occasions and just held out by scrambling defence, Belgrave had the first points on the board after 10 minutes when they went over for a try after two scrums close to the home line, converting it for a 7-0 lead.
Twenty-five minutes of relatively featureless play followed before a cleverly flighted cross field kick by Belgrave’s fly half found its target and the right wing went over unhindered for a try. The conversion attempt was missed but Belgrave had a 12-0 lead.
OLs did come close in the dying minutes of the first half but Belgrave held them out, despite losing their number 8 to a yellow card for a tip tackle on Ben Scott, who was showing up as OL’s most aggressive and threatening player.
OLs got three points back early in the second half when Robbie Bunn put over a penalty, but that was as good as it got for the home side.
The second 40 produced little by way of entertaining play and OL’s best efforts were held comfortably enough as the clock ran down. Belgrave added a penalty and rubbed salt into OL’s wounds with a last-minute drop goal to complete the scoring.
OLs missed a golden opportunity on Saturday as the gap between the top three was narrowed to just three points when Luton travelled to league leaders Oadby Wyggestonians and beat them. OLs now find themselves seven points adrift of third placed Luton and their chances of winning a promotion spot severely dented, if not damaged irreparably. A dramatic improvement on Saturday’s performance will be essential over the remaining five games if they are to have any hope of forcing themselves back into contention.
Some hope still flickers, as OL’s game this Saturday is at 10th placed Stewarts & Lloyds; and on the same day, second placed Market Harborough play third placed Luton, giving OLs a chance to narrow the gap on at least one of them.