Heart and Endeavour Secures Win
Pulsating encounter gives Melbourne early Christmas present
Melbourne 20 - 17 Rugby Lions
Melbourne hosted Rugby Lions on Saturday 16th December 2017, with the fifth placed side have coming off the back of a decent away win at Hereford the week previous when all other games with postponed due to the poor weather. It was once again the poor weather that forced Melbourne to shift pitches and host Rugby Lions at Nottingham Trent University.
Melbourne welcomed James Benstead back into the pack partnering Al Judge and switched the front row with Walker, Smith and Pop starting. The backrow of Nightingale, Lockhart and Percival was a familiar combination. Hancock came onto the wing in the other change from the previous fixture versus Lutterworth.
Conditions were good without the presence of a strong wind or rain to influence the tactics of the game. Rugby Lions looked strong in both their squad and warm-up, with the notable figure of their talismanic second row come eight Herrington at the fore. Lions won the toss and choose to play down the slope.
Melbourne started strongly, as is becoming custom, and within 3 minutes had a converted score following excellent link play that divided the defence of Rugby Lions and saw Benstead touch down far right. Despite the freshness of the game Holden converted excellently from out wide.
The game was a tale of two tactical opposites with the directness and aggressive nature of Rugby Lions forward dominated game plan compared to the running rugby of Melbourne and it made for a pulsating encounter. Melbourne looked threatening with the ball in hand and exposed space in the Lions defence time and again but the Lions always made the yards with their big pack carrying hard and direct through what was a resilient if somewhat tested Melbourne defence. It was from a line-out that the game became tied with Lions tipping the ball off the top to their backrow who ran hard from 5m out and squeezed over the line to tie the scores at 7 - 7.
The set-piece was equally competed with Melbourne having parity in the scrum against a massive pack. Percival, who has been an exceptional addition to the club, epitomised the gritty and hearty nature of Melbourne's performance with strong carries and fiery edge in the contact. Nightingale was Mr Velcro clinging to any legs and ankles he could latch onto and carrying hard with the ball in hand, closely followed by the likes of Lockhart and Judge.
Given the physicality of the game, which occasionally spilled over the wrong side of the law - including a number of off ball misdemeanours such as an off ball stamp from the Lions second row resulting in a yellow card - injuries quickly amounted with Jack Fisher and Matt Smith forced off. At such an early stage of the game this could have been a testing time but Stringer and Stephenson immediately adapted well and maintained the commitment and discipline shown by the side.
The game was finely balanced and credit to both sides who went hammer and tongue with one another with a penalty a piece the only further rewards for a thrilling first forty minutes.
Nicholson switched to tighthead in the second half and made a tremendous impact especially with his defensive duties. Melbourne began to grow in confidence and having sustained an impressive defensive performance in the first half they continued that form but with greater tactical effectiveness as they pinned the opposition back and pressured the big ball carriers.
The impressive Hancock harried the Lions out wide with excellent kick chase and with ball in hand looked threatening on each occasion. With a chip over the on rushing Lions defence Hancock collected the kick brilliantly and was on for a certain score but for a last minute scrambling tackle where he was mauled down a couple of meters short of the line. However, the green and gold didn't have to wait long as the ever excellent Page made a sniping run through a gap in the defensive line to touch down . Converted by Holden again.
Discipline was becoming an issue for Lions and a penalty on the halfway line was a whisker away from making it 20 - 10 but it didn't matter as minutes later a second penalty outside the opposition 22 was converted and took the scoreline to outside a single score.
As the game approached the final stages, the pulsating encountered did nothing for sufferers of high blood pressure or of nervous disposition as the Lions cranked up the physicality, looking to find tired bodies amongst the battered ranks of Melbourne's defensive line. It took twelve phases to eventuality breach the line with a minute left on the clock. It was harsh on gallant effort of Melbourne but fair for the Lions who had sustained their physical gameplay for the full 80 minutes. The score came down to a three point game 20 -17 and with the last play Lions were awarded a penalty for Melbourne's adjudged second tackler not releasing the player. Lions kicked for touch to attempt to setup their line-out but the ball was caught by Benstead, who was rightly impressive throughout the full 80 minutes, and was decisively put off the field to end the game.
It was a vital and impressive win against quality opposition and a great way to end 2017.
A final thank you must be made to all those that travelled to Trent University to support the lads, it was hugely appreciated by all of us. Roll on 2018!