Pictures by Mike Baker
Midlands 3 West (South)
Rugby St Andrews 25 Upton on Severn 8
This was not one of Saints’ more spectacular displays but a solid, workmanlike performance produced the desired five-point victory over an obdurate Upton on Severn, who are fighting for survival in this league.
The visitors, clearly boosted by their win in November, made Saints fight for every point.
Conditions were tailor-made for the pick and drive tactics of their big well-drilled forwards and they recycled possession very well, albeit without gaining much yardage against a disciplined defence.
It is a sign of Saints’ growing maturity that they adapted their game to suit the circumstances.
Even though their backs were clearly superior, a wide open game was fraught with peril and a more attritional approach was adopted.
The pack conceded both height and weight to their opponents, but technically and tactically were far superior, holding their own in the set pieces, forcing penalties at the breakdown and consistently making huge gains with their driving mauls.
Saints attacked from the start. Moving the ball well they soon drew a penalty, the first of many, and Ryan Taylor took the three points.
A couple of errors handed the initiative back to Upton who embarked on a series of powerful forward drives, which inched them towards, and eventually over the whitewash.
Some more enterprising play had the visitors backpedalling but they struggled to gain any continuity with Upton fiercely contesting the breakdown with varying degrees of illegality.
From one such transgression Saints kicked to the corner and launched an unstoppable drive from the lineout, finished off by Dan Hull.
This prompted a fierce response by the Worcestershire side who pounded away in the home 22 before landing a penalty to tie the scores just before the break.
With steady rain now falling handling became increasingly hazardous. Saints sensibly opted for an even more conservative approach. The rolling maul had already been a success and Saints saw no reason to change a winning formula.
A couple of clear cut chances went begging on the line before the pack camped in the red zone. Another drive from a lineout ended with prop Steve Young claiming the touch down.
A neat blindside move then freed up Tom Oglethorpe and yet another collective effort from the pack enabled Steve Young to claim the spoils with his second try of the afternoon.
It was a bit like the proverbial bus service – you don’t see one for ages and then two arrive together. By this time Upton were really struggling but bravely hung in to prevent any further score.
This week, weather permitting, Saints travel to Shipston for their rearranged fixture.
The main pitch of the south Warwickshire side is currently out of use after being relaid and the alternative was deemed unplayable last week after recent rain.
With more rain forecast the playing surface is likely to be heavy so Saints’ rolling maul may well be in operation again.
Even though it was the backs who accounted for the six tries in the home game it was a tactic that paid dividends in setting up field position and sucking in defenders.
For Shipston this is a must win game if they are to continue their push for promotion because all three of the other main contenders banked five points, dropping them down to fourth place, but with a game in hand.
Saints do not have a good away record against them and they will be smarting having shipped 13 tries in the last two games at John Tomalin Way.