South Leicester travelled to Scunthorpe as the newly crown champions of National Midlands 3, having lost only one game this season, which was at their Welford Road ground to The Greens. There was much talk of what if’s and maybe’s at the pre-match lunch as Scunthorpe although short of a few regulars were still in prime form having won 7 of their last 8 games.
They took the field with 37 years old Rob Ward back in the senior side for the first time in a decade having originally made his first team debut in the late nineties followed by a move to Doncaster which saw him play for the Knights up to Championship level. Rob had retired from rugby and settled down to bring up his twin girls before once more getting the bug and playing several outstanding games for the ‘Stags’ side. Alongside him for the first time in the seniors was young wing threequarter James Passmoor. Will Harrison started at scrum-half in place of the injured Tom Hughes. Also missing are Jake Barron and Simon Fisher, both injured at Sutton Coldfield.
Scunthorpe played with a strong northerly wind at their backs in the first half and pinned the new champions in their ‘22’, not allowing them to impose their game by denying them the ball and an aggressive defence. It was in fact The Greens that first trouble the scorers when a powerful forward drive was initially repelled before Dave Garbutt found his way over after 9 minutes. Steve Johnson added the conversion for a 7 points to nil lead.
The Home boys maintained the pressure and played rugby totally without fear, as Tom Foster used those outside him who ran freely making breaks through the South defence. First Oli Wood made the incision through which Ash Dibden slipped and maintained his pace to cross for a try half-way out and to the right of the posts. Johnson again added the extras and Scunthorpe had taken a 14 points to nil advantage after 14 minutes of play.
South were bound to force their way back into the match but try as they might the home defence kept knocking them down. They did get some reward after 21 minutes when Ricky Aley slotted a penalty to get his team on the board. If they thought they were now on a roll, they were sadly mistaken as a minute later Johnson added a penalty to take the Heslam Park boys to a 17 points to 3 advantage and so the score remained until the teams went into half-time.
Scunthorpe stayed on the park whilst South left for the changing rooms. No doubt their coach had strong words to say which was not for delicate ears. They did come out for the second period with their backs to the wind and their tails up as they gained a position in the home half and maintained the ball through multiple phases. Like a busy wing threequarter should, Blane Howe came into midfield and took a pass in the home ‘22’ then wove his way through a defence that had until that moment stood firm, to touched down near to the posts. Aley added the conversion and the lead was now reduced to 17 points to 12 after 12 minutes of the second period.
Play continued mostly in the home half with powerful running from the Leicestershire boys. The Greens had their share of attacking play but any line breaks failed to find completion. James Passmoor came on to replace the injured Sam Morgan on the wing after Morgan had made a sizzling break only to pull up with a hamstring injury. Passmoor in turn immediately saw action and impressed with his pace and strength and although breaking through, was unable to link up.
South came back and after 27 minutes when they again executed multiple phases, showing great patience when eventually Harry Sharman forced his way over wide out on the right. Aley converted with an excellent strike to put his side in front by 19 points to 17 after 27 minutes of the second period. The home boys gained a penalty 35 metres out and against the wind but Johnson stepped up to sweetly strike the ball between the posts and again give the home boys an advantage by 20 points to 19 with only 6 minutes left on the clock. In this see-saw encounter it was no surprise when South fought their way back into the home ‘22’ and with Aley stepping back into the pocket, he sweetly struck a drop goal to take back the lead at 22 points to 20 with 4 minutes of play remaining.
Having had the more powerful scrummage all the way through the game it was from this phase that Scunthorpe again put pressure on their visitors and eventually camped on their line. The South joy was unbounded as a Scunthorpe error let them off the hook and they were able to kick the ball into touch to signal the final whistle.
Next Saturday Scunthorpe travel to now relegated Bournville and Tim Robinson will expect his boys to maintain the same quality of rugby that trouble the league champions and also improve their league position over the remaining 3 fixtures.
Match Report by LWJClayton