Shipston bagged their first victory of 2020 and continued their fine run of home form for the season as they overpowered Bicester RFC in a high quality contest at Mayo Road. With the loss of Tom Corby and Harry Jackson from the centres there was a new partnership in midfield of Dan Taylor and Luke Hammond, with the returning Tom Mylott in at second row to strengthen the lineout options up front.
The Rams played down hill in the first half and were quick to get into their stride, running some good phases and stretching the Bicester defence across the park. The forwards were working particularly well against a much bigger Bicester pack, with the likes of Charlie Hollies-Everett and Thomas Page making plenty of yards to get Shipston onto the front foot. After 10 minutes of sustained pressure the home side were eventually rewarded with their first points of the afternoon. The ball was won from an attacking lineout and shipped into the middle of the park, where Dan Taylor went crashing up the middle. A number of quick phases followed with the the Rams shifting the big Bicester forwards around the field, before the ball found it's way into the hands of Luke Hammond at outside centre, who stepped inside his defender brilliantly and raced away for his first try for the club and the first try of the match for the Rams. Rob James slotted the conversion and this gave Shipston an early 7-0 lead.
The Rams lead was doubled on twenty minutes when some more clinical attacking play exposed some holes in the visitors defence, leading to a second try of the afternoon. George Minogue and Aaron Neal punched holes up front for the hosts and the ball was again spun wide to the left, this time finding the hands of Ed Cowper from fullback, who was able to jink past a couple of would-be tacklers and dive over for the second try of the game. James was again on target from the tee and the Rams extended their advantage to 14-0.
The Rams thought they had extended their advantage on a couple of occasions after Page had a try disallowed for the referee obstructing the Bicester back row from making a tackle on their own 5 metre line and also when Matt Corby had grounded after a well executed driving maul, only to be told that the ball had been lost forward in the action of scoring the try - much to his dismay!
To Bicester's credit they came roaring back in the latter stages of the first half and began to play some good rugby of their own. Shipston had let a couple of silly penalties creep in to their game and the visitors made the most of the free possession and territory to punish the home side with a score of their own. The forwards used their bulk to get within 5 metres of the Shipston try line and there was nothing the Rams could do to prevent the score from coming. The conversion was successful and this halved the deficit to 14-7 - which is how it remained going into half time.
The second half started poorly for Shipston as they continued to give away needless penalties and allowed Bicester to maintain their momentum. Isaac Clayton, who was on for the injured Matt Corby, was shown a yellow card for infringements at the scrum and the visitors made the most of their man advantage to score their second try of the game from an attacking scrum. The successful conversion was made to level the scores at 14-14 and it looked like Bicester had grabbed all of the initiative moving into the last 25 minutes.
The numbers were evened up shortly afterwards when Bicester also had a player sent to the sin bin for some foul play and this, coupled with the reintroduction of Thomas Page to proceedings, bought about another shift in momentum back the way of the hosts. Along with the likes of Tom Mylott and Alex Hammond making good ground for the Rams, Page began to have a real impact on the game, using his considerable size and hard running lines to puncture holes in the defence and give Shipston some excellent go forward. On the back of another attacking lineout in the Bicester half, the ball was won cleanly and passed quickly into the midfield, where Page received a short pop ball from flyhalf, Rob James and went crashing through 3 defenders to score the Rams' third try of the game. Another conversion was slotted by James and this gave Shipston a 21-14 lead with 15 minutes left on the clock.
The 4th try was secured a matter of minutes later, again through Page. He picked up the ball from another lineout and carried a number of defenders over the line with him to grab his second try of the match and secure the bonus point for Shipston. James' faultless display from the kicking tee was unfortunately ended from out wide and the unconverted try gave the Rams a lead of 26-14.
It was an advantage that they never looked like squandering and the final whistle bought an end to a fascinating encounter between two sides that played some excellent attacking rugby at times. The win gave Shipston another valuable 5 league points and leaves them 6 points behind second place Aylesbury in the promotion places.
There were a number of candidates who put their hands up for the MOTM award this weekend, notably the midfield combination of Rob James, Dan Taylor and Luke Hammond who all had outstanding games and William Gasson on the wing, who looked dangerous whenever he got a sniff of the ball. In the forwards, George Minogue and Simon Baldwyn were strong a ever in the front row and Mylott and Hollies-Everett worked tirelessly in both attack and defense to get Shipston n the front foot. The MOTM this week must go to Thomas Page though, who not only scored two tries, but carried the ball brilliantly all game (when he was on the field) and made a real impact to get the Rams the momentum that they required.
Shipston travel to Reading Abbey RFC next weekend, kick off at 2.30pm.