Shipston secured another victory in the Wadworth Southern Counties North with a hard fought victory over a determined Chesham RFC side, who arrived full of confidence off the back of their first win of the season over Bicester the previous week. The Rams were fully aware that league positions mean very little at this stage of the season, with sides like Chesham at the wrong end of the table, scrapping for every last point in a desperate bid to avoid relegation.
The game started very brightly for the hosts who were playing up the slope in the first period but with a strong wind at their backs. They soon got into their patters of play and Ed Cowper cut a slicing line from fullback as the ball was spun wide to race through the gap and go over for the first try on just 3 minutes. Rob James was able to add the extras and give the Rams an early 7-0 lead.
Not to be outdone, Chesham soon got themselves into the tie and looked after possession very well. Belying their league position, the visitors looked very comfortable with ball in hand and created some opportunities of their own in the first half. They were rewarded for their endeavors with a penalty try after James was penalized for a high tackle close to the try line and shown a yellow card for his efforts in doing so. The scores were now level at 7-7 and the Rams had a tough task of staying in the tie while they were a man down in the sin bin.
The forwards worked extremely hard for Shipston and managed to give them plenty of front foot ball despite the numerical disadvantage. FRom an attacking scrum in the Chesham twenty-two, number 8, Aaron Neal picked up from the base of the scrum and went powering over the line to score his sides second try of the afternoon. The kick from out wide was always going to be a struggle given the wind conditions, so it was no surprise when that was missed. Shipston now back in the lead at 12-7.
The back and forth scoring continued with Chesham now using their man advantage to good effect. They moved the ball quickly from the breakdown and used their big forwards to try and puncture holes in the middle of the field. After some relentless pressure on the Shipston try line, the Stags forwards were eventually able to power there way over the line and get their second try of the game. The conversion was successful and Chesham found themselves in the lead with the score at 12-14.
With 5 minutes to go in the first half, Shipston piled on the pressure in search of their third try. It came from some excellent rugby which saw an attack launched from another scrum in good field position for the Rams. The ball was won cleanly and then James, now back on after his 10 minute stint on the naughty step, launched an attack out wide to the left. Some clever running lines and slick hands saw an overlap created for Matt Daniells to finish well in the corner and creep Shipston back into the lead at 17-14 on the stroke of half time.
The second half began with Chesham using the wind to good effect and putting Shipston on the back foot early on, but the Rams defence proved up to the task with some big hits and good re-alignment stopping Chesham from getting over the gain line. The pressure from the Rams was veryy good, they were quick off the line and didn't give the Stags and chance to get some momentum going. When it was Shipston's turn to have ball in hand they again looked very threatening. Tobi Faulkner had come on at half time and he was involved in some good link play down the right hand touchline with Luke Hammond, which eventually saw Harry Clark put into space and able to gallop away from the covering defence to score the Rams 4th try of the match and secure the bonus point, 22-14.
The drama didn't stop there though and a routine win for the Rams was not on the cards! Chesham had a good attacking platform in the Shipston half and managed to create a bit of an overlap near the left hand touchline. George Cowper was the last line of defence and he attempted to intercept the final pass, only to knock it on and become the second Rams player to be shown his marching orders for 10 minutes in the sin bin. To compound the misery, a second penalty try was awarded to the visitors and this left the score at 22-21 with 20 minutes left to play and Shipston again down to 14 men.
The Rams managed to control the game relatively well from this point and slowed the game up when they needed to while they were a man down. Chesham continued to throw everything at them but the Shipston defence held firm and repelled everything that was thrown at them. With Cowper returning after his stint in the bin the Rams pushed on with the numbers back to parity and looked good on the front foot. They won an attacking lineout 15 metres from the Chesham try line and set up a driving maul, powering their way close to the line. Thomas Page was the man with the ball at the back and he broke free with 5 metres to go, barreling over the line and taking 3 defenders with him to score Shipston's fifth try of the match and extend their advantage to 27-21.
The final minutes produced even more drama, with winger Matt Daniells becoming the third Shipston player to receive a yellow card after catching his opposite number high from a high ball. Despite the protestations for the Chesham playing having ducked into the tackle, the new laws give the referee very little option and Daniells was given his marching orders.
Shipston were again resolute in defence and didn't allow Chesham any further chances to get into striking distance and so the full time whistle blew with the Rams holding onto victory with a scoreline of 27-21. It certainly wasn't the prettiest of games for the sizeable crowd to view, but Shipston showed good character in the face of a fair amount of adversity, coming away with the 5 points despite receiving 3 yellow cards and giving away 2 penalty tries for good measure!
The win maintains Shipston's slim hopes of promotion as they sit in 4th place in the table, eight points now behind second placed Reading RFC. There is a gap in the fixtures this coming weekend but the Rams return to league action on the 15th when they make the short trip to derby rivals Stow RFC.