Shipston entertained Dunlop at Mayo Road on Saturday in front of a good crowd owing to it being Captains Day, where former captains and senior officials of the club from years gone by got together for some lunch and tales of the "good old days" shared with a few beers. The weather was kind and for the first time in a number of weeks the Rams were given a nice dry deck in which to ply their trade and they certainly made the most of it.
The first half was a tight affair,with Dunlop showing good line speed in defense and attempting to close down the Rams attack at the earliest opportunity. Their eagerness cost them after a couple of minutes however, as Shipston were awarded a penalty in front of the posts and Sam Cooper slotted it to get the first points of the afternoon. The pressure continued from the hosts and eventually they were rewarded with their first try of the match. The Rams won a lineout on their own twenty-two metre line and rather than clear their lines - as i'm sure some were expecting - the ran a clever wrap around move in the middle of the field to create space for Tobi Faulkner to race clear and into the Dunlop half. His offload was partially blocked by the covering fullback, but the bounce of the ball was kind to the supporting run of Harry Clark and he was able to gather without breaking stride and run clear of the covering defenders. The conversion was missed (the only miss of the game from Cooper has become very dependable from the tee of late) to give Shipston an 8-0 advantage.
The gap was soon narrowed to a single point however as Shipston's intent to play some expansive rugby came back to haunt them. The ball was spun wide from another successful Shipston lineout, only to be intercepted by the Dunlop winger who showed good pace to race clear and score. Then began a period of both sides cancelling each other out through a combination of poor discipline and good defensive work, with neither side showing enough composure to make the most of the possession they enjoyed. The Rams dug in and managed to score a second try of the game following another penalty concession from the visitors. The penalty was kicked to the corner and from the resulting lineout Shipston set up a well organised driving maul and shunted their way to the try line. Will Seys was the last man up with the ball claiming the try and a good conversion from Cooper stretched the Rams lead out to 8 points, at 15-7.
Just when it looked like the Rams might grab the game by the scruff of the neck, some more ill-discipline cost them very dearly. A penalty for a late hit on the Dunlop fullback gifted them more than 50 metres of territory and from the resulting lineout they were able to dish out a bit of the Rams own medicine and drive their way over the line from a strong maul, 15-14 to the hosts.
The final score of the half would go to Shipston though and offered them a comforting 8 point buffer at the break. Some excellent work from the likes of Leo Brice and Alex Hammond gave the Rams quality field position where they were able to force mistakes from the travelling defense. Another penalty gifted Shipston an opportunity to kick into the corner again to set up a maul and it was one that they duly obliged. The Dunlop forwards rallied and were able to disrupt the drive, but Shipston retained possession and were able to spread the ball into midfield. Tobi Faulkner to the ball on at first receiver and interested two defenders before offloading brilliantly to Harry Jackson to dive over for his first and Shipston's third try of the match. Another Cooper conversion gave the Rams a 22-14 lead at the break.
Buoyed by some excellent rugby in the first period, Shipston were determined to kill off Dunlop early in the second half and get the next score of the game. Things didn't go to plan however. An altercation at the breakdown saw 3 yellow cards dished out - two for the Rams and one for Dunlop - giving the visitors numerical advantage for the next 10 minutes. They made full use of their man advantage and scored their third try of the match underneath the posts following a barrage of attack on the Shipston line. The conversion was successful and reduced the defecit to just the single point again, 22-21 to Shipston.
During the sin bin period, Andy Hunt was brought on as front row replacement and in doing so, came on to represent the Rams for the 200th time in the league - a remarkable achievement owing much to luck with avoiding serious injury, a huge determination and commitment to training and also being an old git!
Now back up to the full compliment of players, Shipston set about rebuilding a substantial lead and winning the match. Their fourth, bonus-point winning try was soon secured by Harry Clark who notched up his second try of the afternoon, latching on to the end of a some excellent play from the Rams after yet another good lineout. They ran a wrap around ball with hooker, Matt Corby receiving the pass and heading round the corner into the middle of the field. From here, Shipston reversed the play and the ball was spun quickly through the hands of Faulkner, who found Clark in space on the right wing. The Rams were beginning to really express themselves and started playing with real authority and class. Jack Coupland and Jack Barnard were having excellent games in the forwards and the midfield of Tobi Faulkner, Harry Jackson and George Bird were tremendous, opening up the Dunlop defense at will throughout periods in the second half.
An interception try of their own was soon scored through Ed Cowper (his first try for the Rams in league competition) as he read the Dunlop attack brilliantly and pounced to kill off any hope the visitors had of getting back into the game. The Dunlop cause was dealt another blow as they lost one of their props permanently - picking up a second yellow card - after he deliberately knocked the ball out of the air when Shipston were in full flow and about to go into the corner again. From here, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Harry Jackson grabbed his second try of the game, once again receiving an lovely offload in the middle of the park, this time from George Bird, after the forwards had secured yet more good ball from an attacking lineout. Harry Barnard had now come onto the field and was beginning to make his usual carries in the midfield and Will Seys and Alex Hammond were dogged and effective all afternoon in the loose.
There was just time for Shipston to round off the match with a seventh try and a hat trick for Harry Clark. Scrum half, Will Hammond made an excellent break from an attacking ruck, racing into the Dunlop half and nearing the twenty-two. As he approached the covering fullback, he floated out a perfectly timed pass to Clark who was in support again and he was able to gallop clear underneath the sticks. Cooper slotted the conversion with the last kick of the game to get his seventh successful kick in eight attempts and it also bought up the 50 point mark for the Rams. Final score, Shipston 50-21 Dunlop.
It was a fantastic display from the Rams in front of a vociferous home support and the 5 point win keeps up their chances of promotion from the division going into their final league game next week, at home to Woodrush.
There were some excellent performances all over the park this week, Jackson and Bird in the centres were outstanding and all of the forwards were exceptional. Clark was certainly in the running for scoring another hat trick, as was Cooper for another fine display at fullback and off the tee. The MOTM this week however must go to Tobi Faulkner! Asked to put in a big performance this week, he delivered in spades, controlling the game well at stand-off and making some huge contributions with ball in hand to help set up 4 of the seven tries scored by the Rams.
As mentioned before, the Rams entertain Woodrush at Mayo Road next week in the final game of the season, requiring another bonus point victory to keep their hopes of promotion alive. Kick off will be 3pm!