Shipston secured their third win in succession in Wadworth Southern Counties North with a hard fought 3 point victory against a determined and resolute Reading Abbey RFC. The Rams had to call upon the strength in depth of their squad once again as a number of key performers were missing through injury and unavailability. Alex Hammond, Tom Mylott, Ben Summers, Charlie Hollies-Everett, Isaac Clayton, Josh Lewis and Barney Neal were all missing from the Shipston forwards, so in came Luke Roberts, Tom Furness, George Bird and Sam Treadgold to a re-shuffled pack.
The changes did little to hamper the Rams from the start of the game as the forwards showed their dominance early and gave the Reading side a difficult time at the set piece, with the scrum in particular proving a real area of strength for Shipston. With just 2 minutes on the clock the Rams had possession and were stringing some good phases together to get across the halfway line and into Abbey territory. After a good couple of carries from the forwards, the ball was spun wide to the right touchline, where Harry Jackson popped a well timed offload to Tobi Faulkner, who showed a good turn of pace to race down the wing and score the first points of the afternoon. The conversion from out wide was missed and the Rams led 5-0.
A penalty from returning fly half Rob James extended the Shipston lead to 8 points before Reading enjoyed a period of success of their own. The Rams began to give away some cheap penalties and gifted the visitors easy possession and territory, which they made good use of. From a lineout in the Shipston twenty-two the Abbey forwards set up a driving maul and just as it looked like the Rams' forwards had thwarted the drive, managed to break away and touch down for their first points of the afternoon. The conversion was pushed wide and the hosts led 8-5.
The rest of the half was dominated by Shipston but they were guilty of squandering a few chances to increase their lead. A couple of offloads went astray and some small handling errors crept in to keep Reading in the fixture, but the pressure and dominance in the scrum was soon enough for the Rams to touch down for another score. From a lineout this time the ball was spread into the midfield and Shipston launched an attack from just inside the Abbey half. Roberts and Aaron Neal carried strongly before the ball was moved quickly on from the ruck and Tobi Faulkner was again the beneficiary, cutting back inside the last defender and crashing over the line with a couple of Abbey defenders in toe to score his and Shipston's second try of the match. James was successful with the kick and the Rams took a 15-5 lead into the break.
The second half proved to be a real scrap between the two sides, with both defenses holding firm and repelling what was thrown at them. Abbey used the slope to good effect and kicked for the corners as much as possible and seemed content with keeping the ball in the forwards and trying to carry close to the ruck area. The Rams were sent down to 14 men when flanker George Bird was given a yellow card for entering a maul at the side and the visitors made good use of the man advantage in the forwards to score their second try of the game. The Shipston pack defended valiantly for most of the ten minutes spell while Bird was off the field the but the extra man paid dividends for Reading in the end and they picked tight around the fringes of the ruck to crash over under the posts. The simple conversion was made and it was now just a 3 point game with Shipston holding a narrow lead 15-12.
The rest of the half was a battle of wills and the victors would be the side who could hold their nerve and stick to their processes the best. Shipston continued to press in the search for more points and played much of the remaining game in the Reading half, but were unable to capitalize as the final pass repeatedly went to the floor. The dominant forwards made sure that Abbey never got too close to the Shipston line and the Rams were able to play out the rest of the match and claim their third victory in a row.
With a strong display from the pack it was no surprise that many of the forwards featured in this weeks discussions around MOTM, with the likes of Will Cowper, Luke Roberts and George Bird all playing brilliantly for the Rams. This week it was jointly awarded to George Minogue and Aaron Neal who were tireless in their efforts all game and made significant contributions with ball in hand throughout the game.
The Rams have a week off next weekend but return to league action with a trip to Chesham on 19th October.