The top of the table clash, an unbeaten Lions versus an impressive Claverdon - who themselves had only lost once all season, narrowly missing out at Evesham - proved to be a real test of Lions’ credentials and was just what the doctor ordered, writes Player Coach Rob Dignum.
With all due respect some of Lions’ fixtures this season have been one-sided, indeed in six games at Webb Ellis Road prior to the weekend, 475 points for, 9 against; an average of 80-1, no tries conceded. Lions 16-3 Claverdon therefore made for a much harder fought encounter and boy did Claverdon fight for everything.
Coupled with the magnitude of the fixture, Lions were shorn of seven regular first team starters also with Tom Kilburn, Sam James, Jack Brenchley, Rich Ramsden, Adam Attenborough, Jonny Ure and Ciaran Wardle all out, the latter likely playing his last game in a Lions shirt; this was going to be a toughie.
In the build up, coaching staff had done their research and envisaged Claverdon having a lighter pack than ourselves and a pacey backline that liked to play wide and would likely cause us some problems… well, we could not have been more wrong!
Claverdon were big up front, and angry, contesting everything and played route one all afternoon. The Claverdon wingers rarely touched the ball, the plan clearly to keep it tight and scrap for everything.
This paid dividends early on as Claverdon took a three-point lead on five minutes after some sustained pressure.
Thereafter the team in ascendancy swapped back and forth on several occasions. Ordinarily, the Lions forwards have it very much their own way, the Claverdon forwards, however, were giving as good as they got and were a nuisance at the breakdown all day long, intent on slowing down ball and looking for a mud wrestle at every given opportunity.
Wiley old heads in their pack played the official well, the breakdown being something of a lottery to both sides with numerous confusing penalties awarded fairly evenly in both directions.
On 20 minutes, the Lions backline were rewarded with some rare time and space, Rob Dignum breaking and feeding Gareth Bott who in turn timed his pass to winger Jack Taylor to score in the left corner, conversion missed: Lions 5-3 Claverdon. The score remained until the official blew for half time, the game very much in the balance.
Talk at the break was of winning the battle at the breakdown and of being more clinical at moving defending players, who were now diving in from every angle to slow down Lions ball.
Similarly, we changed our game plan, their strength being in their pack, not in their backline as envisaged; let’s play wider and deeper and see what success we have out there.
Five minutes into the second half Lions were rewarded with a simple penalty in front of the uprights which Bott duly knocked over to extend the lead by five.
As the game wore on and as niggle crept in, buoyed on by 100 travelling fans on two coaches who were in fine voice; it was left to back rowers Sunny Dhindsa and Josh Lockley plus full back Patrick Larchet to raise their heads highest, all having fine games both in defence and attack.
On 50 minutes, further Claverdon indiscipline at a ruck saw another three points taken by Lions for an 11-3 lead.
The hammer blow came on the hour mark, with some excellent interplay by backs and forwards that resulted in man of the match Dhindsa crossing out wide.
Lions successfully put together ten plus phases in some sweeping play that covered two thirds of the pitch, including rare good ball and subsequent width, the final phase a walk in. If only we could have strung more play together like this earlier in the game! Alas conversion missed, Lions 16-3 up.
Lions had further opportunities to score but for a mixture of resolute Claverdon defence, wrong decisions or the final pass being spilt these were not capitalised upon and in fairness to the opposition, they themselves had their chances… alas we are still yet to concede a try at Webb Ellis Road this season.
All in all this was a good run out for Lions and a real contest that we have been in search of.
After scoring 22 tries at home last week, it was pleasing to see players rolling their sleeves up and getting their hands dirty.
Other positives, it was great to welcome back club
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stalwart, veteran Ben Everton who came off the bench and had an industrious afternoon after a long lay off, similarly well done to Tom Kimberley and Tom Johnson who both made first team home debuts this season, Johnson proving a real handful for the Claverdon defence and I have no doubt that he will feature more prominently this season.
Our thanks to Claverdon, a good side on the field and a decent set of blokes off it; they caused us some new problems that other sides have yet to. Proof of this, the two player coaches still bickering like a married couple upon the final whistle, akin to any squabbles I might have with actual wife Tara; I’d of backed down… only I knew I was right!
After nine league games, Lions now sit at the top of the table seven points clear of second placed Evesham and ten in front of Claverdon in third.
Next up, Lions are looking forward to an away trip to Coventrians and are again hell bent on another positive performance and hopefully subsequent result when we entertain Evesham at Webb Ellis Road on December 20. Get these two games right and we will indeed be sitting pretty come Christmas. In cup competition, we are still awaiting the quarter final draw for the Midlands Junior Vase, to be played on January 3 and on Sunday, December 28 we travel to neutral ground, Leamington RFC to face Harbury RFC, currently a league higher than ourselves in the semi-final of the Warwickshire Shield… a mouth watering few weeks indeed!
Result: Midlands 4 West (South)
Rugby Lions 16