Shipston suffered there first defeat of the season on Saturday when they hosted Old Leamingtonians at Mayo Road in a fiercely fought contest between two evenly matched sides. The OL's arrived with a huge pack so the Rams forwards knew that they would be in for a physical afternoon and that was exactly how it panned out.
The first exchanges saw both sides giving nothing away. The Rams showed good ball retention against a well drilled OL's defence and slowly managed to creep their way up the park, forcing the visitors to give away a penalty int heir own half. The ball was kicked to the corner and from the resulting lineout the Rams executed a brilliant driving maul, forcing their much larger opposition backwards and over the line for number 8 Scott Brandreth to touch down for his first try for Shipston.
A further penalty from the Rams pushed the score out to 8-0 but the OL's hit back and bagged a brace of tries of their own. The first came from a beautifully weighted cross-field kick from their fly-half, gathered very well by the winger who was able to gallop clear and over the line to score. The second came in a cloud of controversy, as the Rams backline all stopped, believing the referee would blow his whistle for a knock on from the OL's winger, only to allow the game to continue and leave the Rams looking very foolish as they allowed the visitors to canter over the line unobstructed and give them the lead at 14-8!
After some stern words underneath the posts, Shipston hit back at OL's and started playing some excellent rugby, throwing the ball around and attacking space well. The hosts pressure was rewarded with two tries in quick succession to give them the lead at the break. The first of these (and second of the game for the Rams) was rounded off by Dan Taylor following some slick hands out wide. Their third try came almost immediately after the restart, with some brilliant individual skill in the midfield from Robbie Faulkner. He chipped delicately over the oncoming defence and the rest was up to the centre pairing of Harry Jackson and Tobi Faulkner to finish it off. Jackson gathered the kick and made his way towards the OL's 10 metre line, before passing to Tobi Faulkner to race clear of the covering OL's defence and score. This gave the Rams a half time lead of 18-14.
The second half was quite error-strewn in comparison to the quality of rugby that both sides produced in the first period. Shipston were getting penalised frequently at the scrum and this gave OL's a huge platform to gain good field position and work their way back into the contest. They used their size up front to try and batter their way through the Rams but the defensive efforts were largely very good from the home side.
OL's did manage to score two further tries in the second half though, on both occasions the ball was spun wide from a set piece and they managed to create and overlap and go over in the corner. Both conversions were missed, but this still gave OL's a 6 point lead with the score now 24-18.
Shipston had to dig deep and fight back, especially after picking up two yellow cards. Robbie Faulkner was carded for an off the ball incident along with an OL's player, before Coupland received his marching orders fro repeated infringements at the scrum. With a man down, the Rams produced an incredibly spirited fightback. The likes of William Gasson and Leo Brice were herculean up front, always willing to carry the ball and make the hard yards, supported brilliantly by Jackson in midfield.
With only minutes left on the clock, Shipston were awarded a penalty and kicked tot he corner as they had done earlier in the match. The lineout was won and once again the Rams set about making their way to the try line. With only inches to go, the maul was collapsed illegally by OL's and the Rams thought they had been awarded the penalty try that would've won them the game! The referee had actually given a penalty and so the Rams had another go. Again the lineout was won and again they made great progress towards the OL's line. This time there was no infringement and the Rams burrowed their way over, with Matt Corby last man up to claim the score.
The score was now 24-23 to the visitors with the Rams having the conversion to clinch the game. Unfortunately the kick was pushed agonisingly wide which meant that OL's came away with the spoils. It was a fantastic game of rugby in which both sides played with great intent and one that could've easily gone the other way. But credit must go to OL's who came away with the win after 80 minutes of pulsating rugby.
It is a difficult decision for MOTM this week, with many boys putting in a shift and staking a claim. Harry Jackson had a strong game in the midfield, Rob James marshalled the troops well from scrum-half and the likes of Spider Gasson, Scott Brandreth and Will Cowper working tirelessly in the pack. It will go this week however to Leo Brice, who was dominant in the lineout all afternoon and carried the ball with real intent throughout, putting in a strong display for the full 80 minutes.
Shipston must lick their wounds and prepare for the trip to Old Yardelians on Saturday, kick off at 3pm.