Chipping Sodbury V Spartans Match Report
Hard fought win to start the season
Chipping Sodbury 1st XV – 15
Gloucester Spartans 1st XV – 7
The Ridings was resplendent for the opening league game of the season. Sodbury welcomed freshly-promoted Spartans and, with both teams looking proficient in the warm-up, a fine contest was expected.
The early exchanges went the way of Spartans as the Sods conceded 3 rapid-fire penalties. Sodbury threw themselves into the defensive effort with little regard for their own wellbeing. The intense nature of these clashes led to some over-frank discussions up front. Once the referee had separated the two heads of the debate, he had no option but to brandish a red card to one from each side. Spartans maintained the pressure on the Sodbury try line but were unable to cross it due to the tackling from Jon Cook, Lee Ralph and Phil Player. They were also stung by their own lack of discipline, as they conceded penalties while Sodbury gleefully kicked to relieve the pressure.
A lineout on halfway was expertly won by the spring-heeled Player, who has returned to 1st team duty having lost none of his lineout prowess. The ball found Raffi Sheik, who came thundering off the wing to smash his way deep into the Spartan half. He actually sat down the first two tacklers before being dragged down himself. His crossing of the gain line led to three rapid rucks before Sodbury were awarded a penalty for a high tackle. Jon Cook stepped up and stroked it between the uprights for a 3-0 lead.
Both teams kept at it, with Spartans having some success out wide, but Sodbury’s never-say-die scrambling defence kept them at bay. Both teams went on to miss a shot at goal, along with receiving a yellow card each. This left the new coaching team of Harvey Skelton and Matt Dew plenty to sort out at half time.
The instructions received at half time seemed to have some effect and Sodbury’s effort now had some cohesion. Dom Pullen took over from the multi-talented Tom Farthing, who had run himself to a standstill for the cause. The culmination of Pullen’s offensive defence and a 20m lineout drive had the crowd bellowing their approval.
When Spartans sent a long but thoughtless kick down the middle of the pitch, James Bennett was on hand. He set in motion a wonderful sweeping move from 75m out. There were thunderous rucks which saw quick ball used by the likes of Pete Butcher, who evaded the Spartans tacklers like a slalom skateboarder.
Things slowed down 15m out but a dummy run from Scott Kembry, who had run his legs off during the game, fixed the defence and made space for Dan Bradley. The following rapid passes found Cook, who easily drew two defenders before feeding to Raffi, who cruised in to score.
The Sodbury scrum was ratcheting up the domination, this was largely due to Ralph and Big Al Keeping, who was playing out of position at tighthead. Fresh from his Antipodean adventures, Jason Petchey was brought on for Kembrey, and showed that his all-action style hasn’t been blunted whilst away. His tackle count was high but his poaching of Spartans’ lineout ball was inspirational.
After 60 mins, the Sods kicked a penalty for a lineout 15m from Spartans try line. They lost the ball but Big Al wasn’t having any of that: he simply shouldered his way through the melee and ripped the ball free. One brutal ruck in field spat the ball out for Bradley, he found Jake Lewis and, with all the twists and turns of Hurricane Irma, he unleashed his footwork and scampered in for a try which Cook converted.
Sodbury now had a bit of breathing space with the score at 15-0. However, they seemed to relax and kept up the infringements. From a penalty, Spartans found touch just 10m out: the resulting drives at the Sodbury try line had real venom. Bennett led the way with the first try-saving tackle. He was followed by Cook, Pullen, Bradley, Petchey and George Barnes as they steadfastly repelled all invaders. As the fatigue started to bite one tackle rode up and was deemed high enough to award a penalty try.
The game was played on for another 10 minutes after that but neither team could add anything to the scoreboard. Sodbury’s campaign is off to a winning start but the 18 men who have everything for the cause are under no illusions that hard work on the training pitch awaits.