Shipston travelled to Bicester on Saturday in the hope of securing their first away win of the new season and in turn, making it two wins from two games in the new division following last weeks home victory over Reading RFC.
There were a couple of changes to the Rams side as Tom Mylott came in for his first game of the season in the second row to replace the injured Charlie Hollies Everett and there was also a reshuffle in the back line, with regular fly half, Rob James missing meaning Harry Jackson shifted in to replace him and Tom Corby returned back to the centres.
Having won the toss, Shipston decided to play the first half up the slope and into a strong wind, with the hope of containing Bicester throughout the first 40 minutes and heading into the half time break with parity. It was going to be a difficult task but the Rams started very brightly and controlled the majority of the first period, looking after possession excellently with some good work at the break down. The y did find themselves 3-0 down on the scoreboard early on however, as some ill-discipline gave the home side a penalty which was gratefully kicked by their fly half to open the scoring for the afternoon.
The Rams responded very well and began to string the phases together nicely, working the ball across the field and keeping hold of possession. The pressure began to tell on the Bicester defence and a number of holes started to appear, this gave the Shipston back line plenty of space to attack and make yards. The first try of the afternoon went Shipstons way and it was scored by the returning Tom Corby, who picked the ball up on the Bicester twenty-two and cut back inside, beating a couple of defenders before crashing his way through a third and over for the score. The conversion by Henry Hopkins (who kicked superbly all game) was successful despite the howling wind and the Rams now led 3-7.
The second try of the match for Shipston was also scored by Tom Corby and it followed a similar pattern to the first, with the forwards securing good ball through a number of phases before the ball was released to the back line to mount an attack. This time however, he had considerably further to go to the line, receiving the ball on the Shipston twenty-two and breaking through the centre before arcing round the covering fullback and sprinting to the line for the try. Another successful conversion from Hopkins gave the Rams a lead of 3-14 with twenty minutes of the half remaining.
Bicester fought back strongly and used the wind to good effect for the remainder of the first period, kicking for territory and pinning Shipston deep into their own half. Their own spell of possession and territory was rewarded with a try out wide as the scrambling Rams defence couldn't quite cover the numbers on the touchline. From the restart, Shipston's kick chase was very poor and it allowed Bicester easy yards back at them towards the halfway line. They then recycled the ball quickly and popped up to their number 6 who hit a piercing line between the two Shipston defenders and showed good pace to accelerate away from the covering defence and score a second try in quick succession for the home side. The Rams were left to rue a momentary lapse in concentration and were rightfully punished as Bicester now crept in to the lead 15-14 with 5 minutes of the half left.
Despite the brilliant effort from the Rams in the first half to keep the scores virtually equal, they were not content with going in behind at the break and pushed hard for a third score before the break. Some excellent carrying up front from the likes of Josh Lewis and George Minogue pressed the home defence back and some slick hands sent Dan Taylor through a gap in the midfield and towards the try line. Taylor showed a clean pair of heels and was able to race clear of the covering Bicester tacklers to touch down for another Shipston try. Hopkins was again successful with the kick from out wide and this gave Shipston a lead at half time with the score at 15-21.
With the slope and wind in their favour in the second half you could've been forgiven for thinking the remainder of the match was a formality for the visitors, but it was far from the case as Bicester showed tremendous heart and desire to keep themselves in the tie and make it extremely difficult for the Rams. The Shipston game plan of kicking for the corners and using the wind seemed to go out of the window and they gave away far too many cheap penalties to allow Bicester and easy escape from their own territory on too many occasions. The home side took full advantage of the cheap possession and pushed the Rams back towards their own line with some penalty kicks to touch. After 10 minutes camped in the Shipston half the Bicester forwards finally managed to breach the resilient Rams defence and scored a third try of their own in the corner, burrowing over after a number of pick and go's around the ruck area. The conversion was missed and the score was now 20-21 to Shipston.
A penalty for Bicester with 15 minutes left on the clock pushed them into the lead for the first time since the 10th minute and it looked like Shipston might've thrown away a great opportunity for a win on the road with the home side now in front at 23-21. They never gave up though and continued to put pressure on Bicester and forced them to play deep from their own half. With 8 minutes of the game left Shipston had possession int he Bicester half and they began to make good yards with some excellent carries in the forwards. Aaron Neal and Alex Hammond in particular were everywhere for Shipston all game and they took it upon themselves to get the Rams on to the front foot. Witht he home side back-peddling the ball was spun wide to the left through the hands and Matt Daniells was on hand to race into the corner for Shipston's fourth try of the match. The ever reliable Hopkins was again successful from the touchline and this put Shipston back into the lead at 23-28.
The home side came back and threw everything they had at Shipston in the final 5 minutes but the Rams defence held strong and they managed to cling on for a hard fought victory, 23-28. The four tries for Shipston ensured the bonus point and so the Rams came away with 5 points to take them into 5th position in the league after the first three rounds of matches.
MOTM this week was awarded to Alex Hammond for a tremendous shift in the back row. He carried hard and tackled solidly all afternoon and was a more than worthy recipient of the award this week. There must be some notable mentions for Aaron Neal, Josh Lewis and Tom Corby who all had very good games as well.
Shipston are back at home next week (October 5th) as they welcome Reading Abbey RFC to Mayo Road, 3pm kick off.