Shipston secured their first win of the season in dramatic fashion on Saturday as they scored a try with the last play of the game to snatch victory against a well organised and determined Reading RFC. With a couple of players missing there were again changes in the Rams lineup, with George Minogue moving into prop and Josh Lewis making his debut for the club in the back row. There was also a first appearance for Henry Hopkins as the youngster was given an opportunity in the squad after impressing for the 2's against Shottery the previous week.
On a glorious afternoon with the sun beating down, the Rams played the first half down the slope and got off to a reasonable start, getting the ball through the hands early and testing the Reading defences. The visitors however looked very well organised and disciplined from the outset so this was always going to be a tight affair from the get go. Despite having some good phases of possession, Shipston were unable to look after the ball at the breakdown and found themselves offering up cheap ball to Reading for most of the first half. Uncharacteristically poor handling and slack work at the ruck enabled reading to poach possession to frequently and this got them onto the front foot. With 20 minutes of the game played the visitors finally took advantage of another gifted opportunity when the Rams spilled the ball forward in contact. A couple of quick passes away from the contact area before Shipston had time to reorganize their defence saw Reading burst through a gap and score the first points of the afternoon. The missed conversion left the score at 0-5.
A penalty was added a few minutes later to stretch the Reading lead to 8 points before Shipston finally began to keep hold of possession and build a bit of territory and pressure of their own. From a penalty the ball was kicked into the corner for a lineout, with which the Rams set up a driving maul. They advanced quickly towards the Reading line and as the defence split under the pressure, skipper Matt Corby broke off the back and dived over for the first score for Shipston. The conversion was pushed just wide and the score was 5-8 to Reading. Despite a couple of opportunities for both sides that was how the score remained going into the break.
The second half followed very much the same pattern as the first period, with Shipston showing good signs in attack before failing to capitalize on the final pass and gifting possession back to Reading. It was the visitors who would get the next scores of the game and extend their lead, through a well worked try from their forwards and a penalty. The try came about through some tight work around the fringes which Shipston initially defended very resolutely, however the phases and the pressure mounted and reading were able to finally force their way over the line to score their second try. Remarkably, from right in front of the posts, Shipston winger Matt Daniells was able to charge down the conversion and prevent the two extra points from being scored. A missed opportunity that would prove pivotal as the game moved into the latter stages. The regulation penalty was kicked from in front of the posts however and this gave Reading a lead of 15-5 with only 15 minutes on the clock.
With time getting on the Rams had to find that extra gear in order to salvage anything from the game and they upped the tempo with ball in hand. They found themselves consistently in the Reading twenty-two and the pressure was mounting on the visitors. From a lineout 10 metres out the ball was spun quickly into the centres where Dan Taylor timed a lovely offload to his midfield partner Harry Jackson, who crashed through the tackler and touched down underneath the posts. The score was converted and Shipston now trailed by just 3 points but with only 5 minutes left to play.
In the midst of the battle, Henry Hopkins had come onto the field to make his debut for the 1st XV and he looked very assured at fullback, carrying well and linking in support to mount a number of attacks for the Rams. There was also some excellent work upfront from the likes of George Minogue, Charlie Hollies-Everett and Aaron Neal, who all carried the ball extremely well and made some big hits in the defensive line.
With only 2 minutes of the tie remaining, Shipston kicked deep into the corner and Reading were given a defensive lineout to deal with just 8 metres from their own try line. They claimed the ball in the line successfully enough, but in setting up a driving maul, broke away from the main drive and gifted a penalty to Shipston for truck and trailer. There was a big decision to make, take a kick at goal and go for the draw or look to go into the corner for a lineout and the possibility of snatching the win with a dramatic late try. The option of the lineout was taken and it was up to the forwards to vindicate the decision and get that vital try. The lineout was won and the maul was set up, giving the Rams an excellent platform to attack from. As they inched their way towards the Reading line they peeled the maul to the right and with the addition of some extra help from the backs, crashed their way over the line. There was much drama and anticipation as the referee searched frantically for a decent angle with which to make his judgement but finally the try was awarded, much to the delight of the home support and it was Matt Corby who again came up with the ball to score his second and Shipston's third try of the afternoon. The conversion was pushed wide but it mattered not as that was the last action of the game and the referee blew his whistle to call time on a bruising and very engaging encounter between these two sides. Shipston were able to grab the victory from the clutches of defeat and the score ended 17-15 to the Rams.
There were a number of candidates again for the MOTM award this week, with Aaron Neal, Harry Jackson and Will Cowper staking a claim, but it was awarded to George Minogue for a very industrious and hard working display in the loose to accompany an assured performance at scrum time.
Shipston travel away to Bicester next week where they will look to make it two victories on the bounce - kick off at 3pm.