Stags lose by a single score to Northampton Old Scouts.
Stags were missing 6 players through injury for the annual trek over to Rushmere Road.
It is a huge shame that the EMRU take no account of the previous year’s venue in the junior league structure as Stags haven’t hosted a home game against Old Scouts since they were playing Tag rugby some 8 years ago! Despite a narrow win last year Huntingdon knew they faced a tough morning back in Northampton.
On a perfect morning for rugby and on a pitch holding up well under the recent wet weather, Northampton were quickly out of the blocks and set up camp in the Stags half. Despite some courageous tackling; when Scouts moved the ball wide they seemed to have men spare. Instead of getting up in their faces Stags seemed content to let them run at their defensive line which meant by the time the tackle finally came, Scouts were virtually over the line. Two tries were scored in quick succession and in similar style. The second kick was missed, despite the Scouts touch judge bizarrely claiming it had gone over, and Scouts led 12-0.
Stags coaches feared an onslaught but slowly the 15 green shirts started playing with more confidence. After keeping Scouts pinned back Adam Garrood spotted the full back was out of position and deftly kicked into space. Malcom Milligan was up fast, but the ball bounced kindly for Garrood to gather his own kick and dive under the posts. The kick was successful and Stags were back in the game 12-7. Stags were playing with confidence and Ben McNichol threatened the Scouts defensive line on more than one occasion. After a sustained attack from the hosts Stags had the chance to clear their lines but a kick was horribly sliced and Scouts were able to keep the pressure on. From a line out Scouts again moved the ball wide and worked the extra man well to cross the line for the third time.
Several decisions seemed to go against Stags at this stage and the referee seemed overly keen to penalise Stags while giving the benefit of the doubt to the home side. Holding onto the ball after being tackled and players joining rucks from the side or off their feet seemed particularly inconsistent. Stags were getting riled and trailed 19-7 at the break.
A few changes were made at half time and this seemed to inspire Stags who were all over Scouts in the five minutes that followed the break. From the back of a ruck Chris Turley threw a lovely dummy pass and cut through to touch down beside the uprights to make the score 19-14.
The next score was crucial and Stags knew they were a match for the hosts. Scouts used a screen pass behind both centres who ran forward and grabbed their opposite numbers preventing them drifting out wide. Scouts scored through their winger and one of Stags' coaches approached the referee to ask him to look out for this blocking tactic that the Scouts midfield were using. His response was that the ball was well behind the centres and so was irrelevant!?
Tempers were beginning to fray and tackles were going in hard, Jack Starkey, Luca Proietti and Adam Sampson agreeing to fill in on the wing, all put in big hits.
Scouts next try was harsh. Jack Starkey was being held down by the Old Scouts prop, who was twice his size. Stags players stepped forward to assist their feisty hooker. The referee seemed oblivious to Jack’s plight and stood and watched as a Scouts forward broke free with the ball and touched down under the posts. This time another of the Stags' coaches entered the field of play to remonstrate with the referee but was ordered away without any explanation. Scouts led 33-14 and the referee was spoiling what had been a great game of rugby.
Rather than throw in the towel Stags worked their way back into the Scouts’ half through some strong running by Ben McNichol and some good kicking by Adam Garrood. From a ruck 8 metres out Will Gould broke blind and despite three tacklers waiting the charge they could do nothing to halt a determined charge.
With time running out Stags were all over the home side who appeared to be tiring and were awarded a penalty when a Scouts’ back threw the ball over the dead ball line. From the penalty Ben McNichol charged into the defensive line, Scouts managed to turn the ball over but before they could get rid, Jack Starkey (who else?) clattered into his man causing him to spill the ball behind his line and Simon Graham, alert to the situation, was the first to react and dived on the loose ball. Sadly this was the last play of the game as momentum had clearly shifted. Adam Garrood kicked all 4 conversions and the final score was Old Scouts 33-28 Stags.
The Scouts coaches commented afterwards that had Stags channelled their aggression into their play instead of niggling the opposition and complaining about the referee they may well have won. This was a good performance despite the missing men. Turley, Garrood, Proietti, McNichol and Waring all had solid games but the parents’ player of the day was Jack Starkey.
Thanks to the Turleys for washing the shirts, Sally King for bringing cake for Max’s birthday and Andy Ward for more excellent photos.