Shipston RFC were celebrating on Saturday evening after a convincing victory on the road at Coventry Welsh RFC opened up a 9 point gap on third place Old Leamingtonians with only one league match remaining! After a slip up at home last weekend, the Rams knew that they needed a victory to keep their chances of promotion alive and they set about getting the victory required with some excellent rugby in the first half.
With the sun on their backs and the ground firm, the conditions were perfect for fast, running rugby and Shipston got into their stride early on, playing with real speed from the breakdown and moving the big Cov Welsh forwards around the park. The front five were dominating the scrum for the Rams and this gave them real momentum to take control of possession and utilise the pace they have out wide to good effect. After a decent first 10 minutes, Shipston managed to get the first score of the afternoon following some excellent work on the wing by debutant Henry Hobill. After receiving a ball out wide he was able to cut inside and offload to fullback Ed Cowper, who himself stepped a couple of defenders on the inside and raced under the posts for the opening try of the game. The simple conversion was slotted by Rob James and the Rams had an early 0-7 lead.
Within a further 5 minutes the lead had been doubled, thanks to a brilliant solo try, this time scored by Hobill, who was proving to be a real threat on the right wing for the visitors. The Rams worked their way up the field, retaining possession well, before the ball was spun wide through the hands to Hobill. With plenty left to do, he raced towards the line and managed to bundle his way over with 3 defenders for company, to score his first try for Shipston. Again, James was able to convert to push Shipston's lead out to 0-14.
With the Rams two tries up within the opening 15 minutes it would've been easy for the home side to drop their heads and let the game get away from them, but they showed great heart and character to come roaring back at Shipston and managed to grab a try of their own following some pressure in the twenty-two. After a poor kick in attempting to clear their lines, the visitors were forced into some resolute defence as Welsh threw everything they had at them. After a few phases of repelling the attack, Welsh were finally able to create an overlap and scored their first try of the game to half the deficit at 7-14.
The remainder of the half was quite scrappy as neither side were able to fully take control. A lot of the game was being played around the half way line as a mixture of decent defense and some sloppy errors prevented either side from mounting anything meaningful in attack. With the half drawing to a close, the Rams eventually did manage to create a chance as they upped the tempo and span the ball out to the left hand side from an attacking scrum. Tom Corby made a half break and linked well with his centre partner, Harry Jackson who showed enough pace to out-sprint the covering defence to the try line and grab Shipston's third try of the match. A third James conversion saw the sides go in at the break with the Rams leading 7-21 and one try away from securing a vital bonus point.
Playing down the slope in the second half, Shipston were again quick out of the traps and managed to secure the fourth try and the bonus point within a matter of minutes. Alex Hammond was up quickly and reclaimed the ball for the Rams from kick off and from there the visitors never relented in piling the pressure onto the hosts. After a number of good phases and the likes of Charlie Hollies-Everett and Ben Summers making good carries deep into the Welsh half, the ball was recycled quickly and found it's way to Matt Corby in the middle of the park. Corby was able to break through the first tackle and made his way to the try line with defenders crowding round. Just as it looked like he would be stopped just short of the line, the cavalry arrived in the shape of George Minogue and he was able to add his grunt in getting the Rams' captain over the line for the try. A fourth successful kick from four attempts for Rob James gave Shipston the lead at 7-28 and it was a lead that they never looked like relinquishing.
A fifth try was scored soon after following a good lineout win in the Cov Welsh half. Will Hammond got the ball away quickly from the line and James gave a short pop to Thomas Page, who hit the line at pace and easily broke the defence to advance towards the try line like a freight train! The fullback came across to cover but decided, perhaps wisely, to take some evasive action instead and the rampaging Page was able to touch down under the posts, pushing the score out to 7-35 to the Rams.
Shipston continued to pile on the pressure and scored another brace of tries before the hour mark, pushing their lead out to 7-47 and twenty minutes remaining on the clock. A few changes were made, with George Bird coming on for his first start of the campaign on the wing and Sam Treadgold and Jack Wyatt coming into the pack to freshen things up.
The last quarter of the game didn't exactly go to plan for Shipston though, as a succession of penalties gave easy possession and territory to Welsh, who made the most of their fortune and played some excellent rugby of their own to finish the game strongly. They used their big forwards effectively and scored a further three tries of their own to clinch a deserved bonus point and finish the encounter with the scores at 26-47 to Shipston.
The win for the Rams gave them the upper hand in the chase for promotion and the squad waited to hear how rivals Old Leamingtonians had got on away at Manor Par, knowing that anything but a match of Shipston's result would be enough for the Rams. News came through that Manor Park had won the game and the celebrations began as the victory for Shipston had opened up an unassailable 9 point lead with only one game of the season left.
It was a fantastic result for the Rams who made the trip over to Coventry knowing exactly what they wanted to achieve and they did it very well. The forwards were dominant in the set piece all afternoon thanks to excellent work from Summers, Simon Baldwyn and the two second row of Minogue and Charlie Hollies-Everett. In the backs, the centre pairing of Corby and Jackson worked very well again and it was great to see Hobill come into the side for his first start and make such an impact.
The MOTM was a tough call this week, with Page, Aaron Neal and Alex Hammond all staking a claim, but it has to go to Hobill after a debut try and a brilliant all round performance.
The promotion is a culmination of 3-4 years of hard work for Shipston and is nothing more than the squad deserve the way they've played and committed tot he cause this season in particular. There is one more round of matches left in the division and the Rams make the trip over to Ledbury on April 13th to finish the season, hopeful of another victory to end what's been a long, tough but enthralling season.