Shipston secured a hard-fought victory on Saturday as they welcomed local rivals Alcester to Mayo Road for the latest round of league action in Midlands 3 West (South). It was a game that Shipston needed to win in order to keep pace with Pinley and old Leamingtonians at the top of the division, but it was always going to be a difficult task against a well-drilled Alcester side.
Playing up the slope in the first period, the Rams set off at a good pace and soon posed a few problems for the Alcester defence, however the ball was spilled or turned over on numerous occasions in the business end of the visitors half and it let them off the hook time and time again. In stark contrast, Alcester were extremely clinical every time they had possession and scored the first try of the afternoon after benefiting from more sloppy work from Shipston. The ball was knocked on as the Rams launched another failed attack, handing the initiative over to Alcester. They spread the ball wide through the hands and found a gap to go over for the first score. It was successfully converted, giving them a 7-0 lead.
A penalty from Shipston closed the gap to 4 points, but they were soon the masterminds of their own downfall again, as they gifted another try to Alcester shortly after. Some sloppy defending in the middle of the park allowed one of the big Alcester forwards to gallop through towards the line, before a nice offload to a supporting player saw them go over for the second time in the half and stretch their lead to 14-3.
The Rams had plenty of chances to get back in touch but failed to capitalise on the possession and territory that they were enjoying. The lineout was a particular concern for the hosts, as they missed 3 opportunities from 5 metres out to nail their set piece and put some pressure on the visitors. Rob James did manage to knock over another penalty before half time and cut the deficit to 8 points, with the score at 6-14.
After a quick reassessment at half time and some substitutions to freshen things up, Shipston came out in the second period looking rejuvenated and a different side from the first half. They were much more clinical with ball in hand and continued to pose Alcester plenty of problems. The likes of Tom Mylott and Aaron Neal were beginning to carry the ball and make good yards in the forwards, with the two Faulkners combining well in midfield to good effect. The call to bring on Will Gasson was also proving a master stroke as he looked extremely sharp and determined to make up for the last few weeks as injury forced him to watch from the sidelines.
The Rams scored their first try of the match on 44 minutes, when Harry Clark latched onto the end of a sweeping Shipston move to go over and get the home side back into the contest at 11-14. This seemed to galvanise the Rams and they began to play with much more confidence. Gone were the errors and the missed opportunities from the first half, as they set about turning the game on its head.
The second of the home side's tries was scored by the impressive Gasson. Shipston were on the front foot and sent some big runners up the middle of the park before throwing the ball wide through the hands to the left touchline. As the ball was recycled quickly it was sent back the other way, where Gasson was able to take a crash ball at pace and power his way over from 8 metres out. The successful conversion gave the Rams the lead for the first time in the match at 18-14 with just over 20 minutes to play.
Alcester were by no means done at this stage and they threw a lot at Shipston in return, going through a number of phases and trying to batter down the Rams' defence. The home side remained resolute and did brilliantly throughout the second half to thwart the attacking threat from the visitors and keep them scoreless in the second half.
The third and final try of the match was scored by another substitute, Karl Slatter, who was another who impressed after coming on at half time. The Rams launched another attack at pace and were able to cut through the Alcester line before the ball was spun wide to the right for Slatter to dive over and score. James again converted to push Shipston's lead out to 25-14 with 6 minutes left on the clock.
The Rams went searching for the fourth, bonus-point try in the final minutes but Alcester defended resolutely and kept them at bay, bringing the curtain down on a fascinating encounter with the final score at 25-14 to the Rams.
It was a very good turn around for the home side after a disappointing first half. They showed good strength of character to turn the game on its head and get the result they required after things didn't go their way in the opening period. Alcester always bring great intensity and dynamism whenever they meet the Rams and Saturday was no exception, they made it extremely difficult for Shipston all afternoon, so deserve a lot of credit for that.
The MOTM this week is awarded to Will Gasson (Spider). He may have only come on at half time, but his inclusion changed the game. He carried hard and worked relentlessly round the park to rejuvenate the Rams and get them back on the front foot.
Shipston are back in cup action this week when they entertain Daventry in the quarter final of the Midlands RFU Senior Vase, with kick off at 2pm.