Bulls abruptly halt Stewarts & Lloyds unbeaten run
Magnificent defence from the Ives wins the day
This St. Ives team continues to surprise itself. Despite two late changes to the squad St. Ives arrived at S&L in determined mood. Having been one of only two teams to take even a bonus point from the home side this season, Ives were quietly confident having suffered an agonising defeat in the earlier fixture between the two sides.
S&L chose to use the slope and breeze first and applied pressure. Immediately, bone crunching tackles were in evidence. The Bulls back row of Olivers, Bartlett and Raine, and David Stone
were magnificent in defence of the tackle line. The spirit was infectious and across the park, thumping tackles were going in from 1 to 15.
It took 15 minutes to break the siege when Paul Ashbridge
completed the first of numerous turnovers and relieved the pressure. But, it was only momentary as S&L surged back onto the attack.
But the Ives defence was not to be breached. Discipline afforded S&L no opportunities either with the boot or with ball in hand. Alex Henly was also having an excellent defensive match, choosing well when to blitz, when to keep guard at the breakdown and when to attack for the turnover.
Well into the second quarter, Ives had their first chance. A turnover by the three quarters was shipped to Josh Meadows
who made good ground. The ball found Bartlett, but the attempt to release the flying Albie Tayedzerwa
, returning to the 1st XV after many years away, went astray and the moment was lost.
The resilience of this team was demonstrated immediately. Playing heads up rugby, Ashbridge made a break through the heart of the home defence, galloped upfield and released the supporting Bartlett. He still had work to do and sprinted for a touchdown in the corner. The vociferous and boisterous home crowd was momentarily silenced.
Ives continued to make ground with ball in hand. S&L offended at a breakdown and Ashbridge stroked the penalty kick between the uprights.
But, S&L have not remained unbeaten for nothing. They attacked from the kick off and began to move the ball wider. After a number of attacks, tired defence finally allowed the left wing to skip down the touchline to score just before half time.
Half time score 5-8
Ives were now being well marshalled by stand-in stand-off Ashbridge. A couple of raking kicks gave field position. S&L were under pressure and leaking penalties. One attempt by Ashbridge slipped just under the bar from distance, but the next put Ives 6 points in front.
Precision in key moments deserted the Bulls as a couple of try scoring overlaps were spurned. Players took the ball into contact rather than release the outside man.
Calamity also struck as Henly made another burst to breach the gainline only to pull up with a hamstring tear.
The ball was lost and S&L pounded their way upfield. Entering the Ives half, the S&L stand-off put the ball aerial. It was not dealt with well by Ives and a penalty conceded.
S&L kicked to the corner. A fine line out maul took them over wide out on the right. The conversion was a tricky one, but successfully taken and with the game entering its final quarter the hosts were ahead for the first time in the match, by a point.
Ives played with great intensity and forced S&L into their own 22. Another penalty attempt slid wide, but the pressure was still on the home side. From a lineout close in, the Ives pack crashed into their opponents and gradually approached the try line. A final pick and go by Stone saw him score out on the left.
With the game so close, Ashbridge struck a beauty for what turned out to be the crucial conversion, from wide out.
With game entering its last minutes, it was plain to see that S&L are used to winning. They cranked up their effort, unfortunately for them on occasion illegally as Raine was poleaxed by the onrushing home winger. Having landed directly on his head, the referee was left with no option but to red card the offender.
Far from giving Ives a cushion, they found themselves under threat. Conceding penalties that were no use to S&L, they found themselves on their own 5 metre line with the hosts looking for a 7 pointer that would snatch victory. The canny Ives pack, allowed S&L to collect the lineout, then drove them towards the touchline. The strength of the S&L pack gave them momentum, but when the score came, it was right next to the touchline. The kicker could not convert.
There was time for the kick off, Ives still leading by a solitary point. Ashbridge put the ball deep and it was heartening for the travelling fans to witness the ferocity of the Bulls’ defence in the final minutes. S&L managed to get to their own 10-metre line before another hammer blow of a tackle led to a forward pass and the end of the match.
Having spent the previous day suffering from food poisoning, skipper Josh Dear
was a delighted but exhausted man. “We have set another standard for ourselves today. Many will feel they have been in a car crash tomorrow morning, but it has been worth it for that win.”