Shipston secured their fourth win in a row on Saturday as they came away with the spoils after a long trip down to Chesham RFC for the latest round of action in the Wadworth 6X Southern Counties North division. There was a slight re-shuffle for the Rams who had to contend with a fresh round of injuries and unavailability, so they welcomed Charlie Hollies-Everett back into the pack in place of the injured Josh Lewis and Isaac Rowles was selected at fullback with Henry Hopkins unavailable.
After a long trip down the M40 the Rams made a mixed start, failing to look after the ball effectively and giving Chesham a couple of easy ways out of their own half in the early exchanges. Shipston were playing into a reasonable breeze and so were always going to be battling hard in the first period to retain possession and make yards, with kicking not a reliable option into the wind. Chesham on the other hand made good use of it and pinned the Rams back whenever they could, kicking for the corners and opting for easy territory. The Shipston defence held firm though and had an answer for whatever the hosts threw at them throughout the first half.
It was beginning to look like the two sides might enter the break level as neither team were able to break through for that decisive score. Shipston made a number of clean line breaks and looked a real threat with ball in hand, but were unable to capitalize and convert the territory and pressure into points. With 2 minutes of the half remaining the Rams were deep into the Chesham twenty-two and managed to force an attacker into touch as a slip from the fly half made it impossible to get a clearance kick away. From the resulting attacking lineout 8 metres from the try line, Shipston won the ball cleanly and powered their way over the line from a driving maul, with skipper, Matt Corby at the back to claim the opening score of the afternoon. Robert James was successful with the conversion from out wide and so the Rams entered the half time break with a 0-7 lead.
With the wind at their backs in the second half, Shipston were able to play for territory a lot more and this enabled them to play much more of the game in the areas that they wanted to play. The second score of the match would always prove to be decisive and much to the Rams credit it went to them. Chesham had the ball on the halfway line and attempted to go wide against a set Shipston defence. The ball was spun wide towards the left touchline and Tobi Faulkner (on to replace Luke Hammond) was able to intercept the ball and race clear of the covering Chesham defence to score in the corner. This gave Shipston a 0-12 lead with half an hour to play.
Instead of pressing on and using the advantages of the wind the Rams found themselves defending after Ben Summers was awarded 10 minutes on the naughty step for a late tackle on the Chesham fly half. The man advantage in the forwards was enough for the hosts to keep the ball tight and eventually creep over the line after a some tight picks around the ruck. The resolute Rams defence was finally breached and Chesham pulled a score back to make it 7-12.
The numerical advantage that the home side were enjoying was soon wiped out however as their winger was given his marching orders (somewhat harshly) for a collision with Shipston fullback, Isaac Rowles while both were competing for a high ball. With both sets of eyes on the ball the Chesham player caught Rowles with a knee to the head as he jumped for the ball and the referee deemed this sufficient to award him a red card and send him on his way.
At 14 a side it was Shipston who managed to up the tempo and create a platform with which to go on and win the game. From another attacking lineout in the Chesham half, the ball was won cleanly and a driving maul was set up by the forwards. With the home sides defence on the back foot, Will Hammond released the back line and centre, Harry Jackson went crashing through a tackle and handed off the fullback to score Shipston's third try of the game and restore the Rams' 12 point advantage at 7-19.
With 5 minutes left in the match and with both sides feeling the effect of injuries and playing with 1 less player, the game began to really open up and both sides gave it a real go to push for more points. Chesham were positive with ball in hand and had switched their plan to be more direct with big runners up the middle of the park. After a handling error from Shipston deep in their own half, the hosts made good use of the free possession and kept hold of the ball really well. They went through a number of sapping phases before eventually powering over the line to score their second try from a pick close to the ruck. This reduced the arrears to 5 points with the score now 14-19 and only 3 minutes left on the clock.
Shipston controlled the remaining minutes brilliantly though, firstly by kicking deep from the kick off to force Chesham to play 90 metres if they wanted to salvage anything more from the game and secondly through applying great pressure from the chase to hurry Chesham into a knock on just 8 metres from their own try line. From the resulting attacking scrum the Rams shifted the ball into the midfield and chunky centre, Tom Corby went crashing through the defence to score Shipston's fourth try and gain them the winning bonus point in the process. James was successful with the conversion in front of the posts and so the Rams pushed the score out to 14-26 and earned a deserved victory, making it four wins from the last four games in the new division and moving them up to third place in the league after 5 rounds of matches.
There were lots of positives to take from the game, not least the fact that Shipston were able to win well with still plenty to improve on in the coming weeks. There are certainly still some areas of accuracy to work on that only bodes well for the future. The MOTM was shared this week between a forward and a back but there were a number of other candidates who stuck their hand up for recognition. Aaron Neal and Charlie Hollies-Everett worked tirelessly in the forwards all afternoon and Isaac Rowles and the midfield combination of James, Jackson and Tom Corby were all very good in the back line. The joint award this week however was shared between Isaac Clayton in the forwards, who scrummaged excellently and defended strongly and Will Hammond who had a very good game at scrum half in both attack and defence.
The Rams welcome local rivals Stow RFC to Mayo Road next weekend in what looks like being a brilliant contest, with the added bonus of it being the first VP's day lunch of the season!