Stags went into Saturday’s match against Wellingborough focused on a win to build on the flashes of promise shown in previous matches. And unlike the weekend before at Bugbrooke, there was intensity from the start from Stags in both attach and defence, with pressure on the Wellingborough line and strong scrummaging leading to four penalties in quick succession inside the opposition 22 meter line.
But frustratingly, it was Wellingborough who scored first capitalising on some possession, hacking the ball through, and then winning the foot race to score a try that was easy converted. 0-7 to Wellingborough, but from the kick off Stags were rewarded with a penalty that was duly dispatched by the trusty hoof of Tad Chapman. With their tails up, Stags then played some beautiful rugby. Rom the half way line Chapman broke, offloaded to Adam Smith who made great yards before the ball went through two more sets of hands and ended up with a flying Barnie West going over in the corner. Pace, precision, fluency, and a kicker in the zone as the conversion made the score 10-7 in Stags’ favour going into half time.
The crowd were all pretty absorbed with a good game of Level 6 rugby, with both side’s defences taking a battering, but holding firm. That was until Stephen Chantler took the ball on the Wellingborough 22 and use some sublime footwork to power his way through the defence and then offload to Charlie Saunders, backing up well, to score out wide. A difficult conversion was missed by Chapman, but with his record for the season standing at 20 successful kicks out of 22, the home supporters were in a forgiving mood. 15-7.
However, just as ‘Boro had done after their try, Stags gave away a penalty from the restart that was duly dispatched, and also lost the rugged and influential Matt Coley for a ten minute breather after a high tackle. This didn’t stop Stags from pushing forward, nor did it deter their defensive resilience with eventual Man of the Match Lewis Smith making some massive hits on the opposition. But eventually, the Wellingborough pressure told against a tiring Stags defence, and after holding out on their own line for phase after phase, a simple pick and go by the ‘Boro scrum half from one yard was enough to bring the scores level at 15-15. The conversion was missed at the second attempt, the referee, who had an excellent game throughout, giving the poor lad another chance as the wind toppled the ball during his run up, much to the bemusement of the players and crowd. This seemed to fire Stags up, as they went after the win. But it was Wellingborough who could have won it at the death with a long range penalty that hit the right post and bounced back, when on another day (or indeed at the other end where the posts have seen straighter days) it could have gone over. That it didn’t was probably a fair reflection on the match, although both sides will be left ruing missed chances – Stags in particular had two potential try scoring opportunities that went begging due to the last pass not going to hand.
Coach Damien Whales was unhappy at the end that Stags hadn’t finished off his old club, but as the season builds there were still positives to be taken. Two match points gained might be seen by some as two dropped given that Stags were at home and had chances. But the intensity and defensive solidity was back, as was accuracy in the line out, and the scrum was more solid and imposing than it has been all season. Youngsters such as brothers Lewis and Adam Smith, Luca Proiotti and Tom Brooks are not looking out of place playing senior rugby at this level, and the sight of Murphy Hill coming off the bench and into the centres for his first game in a while was great to see.
Stags go into the first weekend break of the season in 10th position in Midlands 1 East, and welcome Kettering to the Racecourse on 14th October , when we will be holding a Vice President’s and Former Player’s lunch beforehand. In the meantime, the Staggerers take on Oundle at home this Saturday, 3pm KO., all spectators welcome.
Updated 19:54 - 16 Oct 2017 by Sid Millar