Shipston made the long trip down to Aylesbury on Saturday for their first installment of league action in the Wadworth 6X Southern Counties North, following promotion last season from Midlands 3 West (South) and in doing so, had to deal with a 3G playing surface for the first time.
Despite a number of players away due to holiday and wedding commitments, the Rams traveled down with confidence after a good pre-season and looked to start their new campaign off with a win. In Luke Hammond, Isaac Rowles and Charlie Hutchings, Shipston had 3 players making their debut for the 1st XV and also welcomed back prop Ben Haines into the squad after missing the majority of the summer training.
On a glorious afternoon the Rams made a slightly faltering start, playing too much rugby in their own territory and getting punished for it. Aylesbury pushed up quickly in defence and applied pressure, taking advantage of some sloppy Shipston play to score the opening try of the afternoon with 5 minutes on the clock.
The Rams soon got back into the game and started to make some headway of their own. The forwards found dominance in the scrum and parity in the lineout to give the backs some good front foot ball. The midfield partnership of Harry Jackson and Tom Corby made some excellent yardage and the back row of Alex Hammond, Charlie Hutchings and Aaron Neal were industrious all afternoon. The first points of the game and the season for Shipston came via the boot of Rob James, who knocked over a regulation penalty opportunity on 15 minutes following a period of sustained pressure.
The next score again came through Shipston on the back of some excellent build up play in the Aylesbury half. The Rams successfully won a lineout and hit some hard runners in the midfield to get over the gain-line, before moving the big home pack around the field for a few phases. Once the defence became more fractious the ball was shipped to the left and James slotted in a well judged grubber kick past the onrushing defensive line for Tobi Faulkner to race onto and dot down in the corner. The conversion was successful and Shipston took the lead at 10-5 with 25 minutes played.
The hosts were not to be denied a couple more scores of their own however and headed into the half time break with a lead of 17-10. Some uncharacteristic errors from Shipston allowed the big Aylesbury second row to crash over under the posts and then a sloppy scrum on their own 10 metere line was turned over, allowing the home side to spread the ball quickly wide and dart over in the corner. Particularly frustrating for Shipston considering their dominance at the scrum throughout the first half.
After a quick drink and chance to regather some thoughts, the Rams began the second half positively and put Aylesbury back on the defensive. Some strong carries from Charlie Hollies-Everett and George Minogue pushed Shipston deep into the Ayles territory and the Rams won a scrum on the twenty-two after the ball was slowed down at the ruck. After another strong drive from the pack the ball was released to the right and Harry Jackson broke through the line to score in the corner. The conversion from out wide was pushed wide and this meant that Aylesbury held a narrow lead with the scores at 17-15 and half an hour to play.
With tensions high and both sides defending resolutely the game entered into a period of stalemate, before a yellow card for Jackson for deliberately knocking the ball down gave the home side a player advantage. They made use of the penalty to knock it over for 3 points and push the score out to 20-15 before the extra man took its toll on the Rams. The forwards were working hard to cover the extra player but the Aylesbury attack made great use of the wide pitch to stretch the defensive efforts. After 5 minutes of playing with an extra man the home side eventually got round the outside of the Rams and raced away into the corner to score their 4th try of the afternoon. The missed conversion left the score at 25-15 to Aylesbury and that was how it remained for the rest of the match.
Try as the Rams did they were just unable to make the most of some good possession and territory in the final 10 minutes and they squandered a handful of try scoring opportunities when the final pass wouldn't quite go to hand.
Overall though it was an excellent game of rugby and one that cemented Shipston's belief that this is the level they should be playing rugby, despite the result not quite going their way. They showed glimpses of what is to come with ball in hand and with the addition of some of the missing players back into the squad, will be confident of getting good results throughout the rest of the season.
There were a number of excellent performances for the Rams, with the likes of Tom Corby, Charlie Hollies-Everett and the front row all putting in strong displays throughout the afternoon, but the MOTM was awarded to Aaron Neal, who played brilliantly from number 8, carrying well in attack and putting himself about in defense to great effect.
Shipston are next in action this Saturday (21st) when they host Reading at Mayo Road, kick off at 3pm.