Pictures by Mike Baker
Midlands 3 West (South)
Rugby St Andrews 33 Bromyard 7
Saints’ promotion bid remains on track as they collected the requisite five-point win over visiting Bromyard, who are fighting to avoid relegation after only a single season at this level.
Having put pressure on themselves with a below-par outing at Alcester, Saints were keen to make amends and ensure that there was no further erosion of their lead at the top of the table.
This led to them attempting to force the game against a well-organised defence, resulting in unforced mistakes and far too many penalties when in prime attacking positions.
Having raced into a 21-point lead in just 15 minutes, the bonus-point try remained elusive until the third quarter to the visible frustration of the whole team, which only served to increase the error count.
Still, another five-try tally was achieved despite the continued absence of their top three finishers. There was the bonus of the return of Dan Hull, whose rampaging charges made life painful for any would-be tacklers, and Flinty Lister in the front row where he provided uncompromising scrummaging and the usual close quarter graft.
Brandon Glover was recalled and made a significant impact from the bench in a scrum reshuffle that put tiring opponents under increasing set-piece pressure.
An early fumble by Bromyard almost cost them a score as they were pinned in their own 22. Twice Saints knocked on with the line looming. Ryan Sabin touched down but was recalled for a foot in touch before a powerful break by Dan Hull was carried on by the pack and Gaz Curtis crashed over.
Another Bromyard fumble was snatched up by man of the match Kristen Enefer, who drew the last defender to set up Will Headley from 30 metres.
A third try followed swiftly when the visiting fullback made a hash of a clearance kick, landing it in the welcoming arms of the chasing Ryan Taylor, who put Ryan Sabin away to canter in between the sticks.
Taylor landed his third conversion. At which point Saints seemed set for a scoring bonanza. But the basement boys clearly had other ideas. They tightened up their defence and, aided by a string of penalties, kept Saints at bay.
The last minutes of the half saw the home defence tested for the first time. A series of close-range scrums and forward drives were held up close to the line and the whistle came as a welcome relief.
Saints restarted with the same attacking intent. Good support play and offloading in the tackle soon had them on the offensive. Ryan Sabin had a second and third touch down disallowed for an offside and forward pass respectively, but was not to be denied when his forwards made ground from a tap penalty and slick interpassing gave him space to squeeze in at the corner.
Bromyard bounced back almost immediately. Although fairly innocuous from long range, where every move seemed to end with a kick, they were a different proposition with a sniff of the line. One such aimless kick luckily rebounded off a defender and gave them field position to attack from close range.
The first wave was contained but persistence was finally rewarded with a converted try. The final quarter belonged to the home side despite the ever escalating penalty count against them. A sweeping move was halted by a try-saving deliberate knock-on for which the offender was binned, but there was nothing they could do about the final try.
A rolling maul rumbled remorselessly upfield, sucking in defenders as it went and opening up a gaping hole through which Ryan Taylor sniped untouched. The conversion was added.
Saints pushed for more. The pack laid siege in the closing minutes. They eventually crossed the whitewash but were deemed to have been held up and that was the final act of the game.
Only a lack of clinical finishing prevented a much more comprehensive victory. With a little more luck and care the try count could have been doubled. There were plenty of positives in the performance. The defensive organisation was back to its normal high standard and the offloading in the tackle was much improved by virtue of more players making themselves available in close support positions.
However, there is concern, coupled with some bewilderment, about the high penalty count. Surprisingly Saints, who were dominant in terms of possession and territory, shipped 14 penalties compared with beleaguered Bromyard, who conceded just four.
Hopefully this problem will be resolved before this week’s clash with unpredictable Dunlop. The Coventry side have had a good record against Saints over the years with some very narrow victories but the sequence was ended earlier this season with an 8–0 home win.
Since initially heading the table with five straight wins, Dunlop have lost 11 of the last 15 games, including last week’s thumping by relegation threatened Old Wheats. However, they did Saints a favour prior to that by grabbing an unlikely away win over prolific second-placed Old Leams. Saints should be prepared to face a forward oriented onslaught and not become involved in an arm wrestle that they are unlikely to win.
There is no let up in the promotion pressure on the four candidates, who all secured victories last week. Each one has a mathematical chance of promotion and is in a ‘must win’ situation for the remaining games.
Saints will be holding their VP and Former Players Lunch on Saturday, April 21, 12.30pm onwards, prior to the final league game against Ledbury. As every point is now vital in the promotion chase the players would love to have plenty of vocal support from a packed touchline. All former players and supporters are welcome on what might be a very special day for the club.