Shipston were left to rue a number of poor errors and missed chances as they slipped to only their fourth defeat of the season at home to Berkswell and Balsall RFC on Saturday. Nine points clear of Old Leamingtonians before the start of play, the Rams were hoping to carry on their momentum and push ever closer to promotion from the division, but they were unable to secure the victory that would've maintained their advantage and now sit just 5 points ahead of their rivals with just two league fixtures remaining.
The game started slowly for the hosts as they struggled to get out of second gear for most of the half, not committing enough numbers to the breakdown and struggling to retain possession for any decent periods of time. B&B's came with a good game plan and executed it very well, shifting play away from the forwards wherever possible and trying to use their big runners in the centre of the pitch. It was a tactic that paved the way for much success for them as Shipston were sloppy in defence and gave away far too many penalties, allowing B&B's to gain a real stronghold on the match. The visitors soon found themselves 7-0 up after another bust in the centre of the field got them over the gain line, before a quick recycling of the ball got them around the Rams' defence and over the line for the first score of the afternoon.
There then began a period in the game where Shipston wrestled the momentum their way and piled the pressure onto the visitors, spending a number of phases in the opposition twenty-two. Frustratingly for the Rams, B&B's were able to spoil their momentum with penalties time and time again, preventing Shipston form getting the score that their possession and territory deserved. Eventually the referee finally went to his pocket and gave a B&B's forward a yellow card for repeated infringements and Shipston made the most of the numerical advantage, firstly by slotting a penalty over via Rob James and then scoring a try in the corner through Dan Taylor, to take the score up to 8-7 to the Rams.
Before the half was out, B&B's grabbed a penalty of their own and the two sides went into the break at half time with the score at 10-8 to the visitors.
The game was proving to be a very tight contest as both sides proved evenly matched and it was always going to be decided either way by whichever team was able to stay disciplined and stick to their processes the best. Shipston were guilty of giving away a number of poor penalties at crucial periods of the second half and this made it almost impossible for them to gain any sort of momentum whatsoever. B&B's took full advantage of the errors and ill-discipline and were gifted a second try midway through the half, pushing their lead out to 17-8 with 15 mins of the game to go.
Shipston hit back and began to play some nice rugby, finally going through some good phases and working their way down the pitch towards the Berskwell try line. Their persistence and hard work were rewarded when Tom Corby went over for the Rams' second try of the match, converted by Rob James, to close the gap to 17-15 with barely five minutes left on the clock.
From the restart Shipston looked like a team possessed and set about overhauling B&B's for an unlikely victory. They played some excellent rugby, off-loading well and running some brilliant support lines to take themselves into the Berkswell twenty-two. With the try line beckoning the ball was agonisingly spilt forward in the contact ad gathered by the visitors fullback. With the Shipston backline all geared up for a final assault, he was able to break free and race up the field towards the Rams' line. The weary Shipston defence was unable to track back quick enough and the B&B's fullback went the full length of the field to score the winning try and clinch the game for his side. The conversion was missed which left the score at 15-22 and meant that Shipston could take some solace in the fact that they would earn a losing bonus point for their efforts.
It was a disappointing loss for the Rams who struggled to get into the game and were uncharacteristically poor in both defence and with ball in a hand. That shouldn't detract from B&B's in any way though, who turned up with a clear game plan, stuck to their task extremely well and fully deserved to finish the game with the win.
The losing bonus point for the Rams and the fact that Old Leamingtonians managed to overhaul and 0-20 deficit with twenty minutes to go and win 22-20, means that Shipston's advantage has been cut to 5 points with two matches remaining. The Rams travel over to Coventry Welsh this Saturday (30th March) knowing that a win is vital in keeping the gap between themselves and OL's for the second promotion spot in the table.