Shipston continued their decent run of form with a resolute display away from home in the latest round of the RFU Senior Vase. Harborne were the opposition in the Last 16 round of cup action but the match was played at Kings Norton due to problems with drainage at Harborne's ground. With 14 players unavailable through injury or work commitments, Martin Goodman and Ollie Morris played their first matches of the season for the Rams and in doing so, became the 37th and 38th different players to have represented the 1st XV this season respectively.
The match kicked off with Shipston playing up a slight slope and Harborne had the better of the opening exchanges with ball in hand. It didn't take long for Shipston to find their feet however and they set the tone up front in the first couple of scrums, pushing the opposition pack backwards with ease. Their dominance in the forwards allowed the backs some much needed time and space to play and Tobi Faulkner was the willing recipient of this extra room, latching onto a sweeping counter attack to go over for the first try of the afternoon. Sam Cooper made no mistake with the conversion to give the Rams' an early 7-0 lead.
Within a matter of minutes the lead was doubled following a well constructed lineout deep in the Harborne half. The ball was claimed successfully by Charlie Hollies-Everett and after an initial drive from the Shipston pack, was spun into the midfield for Faulkner to pick a lovely line and canter underneath the posts for his and the Rams' second try of the afternoon. Cooper again made no mistake with the conversion to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.
Shipston were really beginning to play with confidence and they were carrying the ball with great intent over the gain line. Leo Brice, Harry Barnard and Matt Corby all made good breaks to put the Rams into a strong position and the pressure soon told on the Harborne side, as they gave away a cheap penalty in front of the posts. Cooper slotted it home confidently to give Shipston a 17-0 lead with less than 25 minutes played.
The remainder of the firs half saw the Rams take their foot off the gas a little and allow Harborne back into the game with the concession of some poor penalties. The hosts were clinical enough to take the chances when they were presented to them and bagged a couple of tries of their own to chip away at the Shipston lead and drag the score back to 17-12. A final Cooper penalty on the stroke of half time gave the Rams a 20-12 lead at the break.
With some re-shuffling at half time due to injuries to Corby and Robbie Faulkner, Goodman and Morris were brought into the game along with Andy Hunt to add some fresh legs and a bit of impetus. The second period was a real dog fight, with both sides looking to stamp their authority in the forwards. Shipston picked up a brace of yellow cards (Will Hammond and Chris Calcott the recipients) to go down to 13 men, which allowed Harborne the advantage they needed. The hosts took control with the Rams depleted and scored another brace of tries. To Shipston's great credit, they hung on with 13 men on the field and even managed to create a couple of chances of their own. On one of those occasions, Tobi Faulkner found himself in some space and he was able to force his way over the line for his hat-trick score, making it 24-25 to Shipston.
The Rams wrestled to gain back control of the game and spent a period of time camped in Harborne's twenty-two. The sustained pressure forced another penalty from the hosts and Cooper calmly nudged it over to give the Rams a 4 point buffer at 24-28. With a tight last few minutes remaining, Shipston managed to control possession and see out the final few minutes of the tie to pick up a deserved victory away from home.
With a number of different faces and combinations in the side it was a decent showing from the Rams and proved the strength in depth of the squad once again. Despite excellent performances from the likes of Harry Barnard and try-scorer Tobi Faulkner, MOTM this week goes to Leo Brice who was outstanding all afternoon. He was strong in the line out and carried the ball effectively and aggressively all game, so is a deserved winner of the accolade this week.
Shipston are back in league action next week when they entertain Old Wheatleyans at Mayo Road with the revised kick off time of 2.15pm.