What an outstanding performance by Spalding in the RFU Midlands Senior Vase Cup Final on Saturday against home favourites Dunstablians, who ran out clear winners in the first league game of the season by 24 points.
The road to the final for Spalding started back in September when they claimed a win over Notts Moderns, followed by a very narrow home win over Mellish. Spalding then travelled to Nuneaton and started to look the part, with a good performance and a twenty six points to sixteen win over Manor Park
This brought up a home semi-final against old league rivals Buxton, who were riding high in their league. Spalding completely shut the visitors out leading them to secure their first ever Midlands RFU Senior Vase final.
Having trained on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Captain Dan Adams, faced a tough team selection, trying to keep as many of the players involved in reaching this stage. This meant that young Miguel Da Silva, who starred in the win over Nuneaton, had to make do with being on the bench along with prop Jacob Greaves, Matty Holmes, George Brown, Mark Haighton, Rob Lucas and Callum Lewis
In front of a crowd of over three hundred supporters, Dunstablians kicked off and the home team were soon into their stride, using big carries by their forwards to punch holes in Spalding’s defence. Within the opening few minutes Spalding were penalised for holding on in a tackle and then by a further ten metres for not retreating - the Dunstablians' fullback successfully kicked the penalty for an early three point lead
Spalding were on edge and a further offence near the half way line, resulted in a penalty kick which missed the posts in the wind. But it looked like, outside centre, Jack Patrick, would settle Spalding’s early nerves, as he sliced through Dunstablians defence, only to lose control of the ball as he touched down. However the referee was playing advantage and a yellow card was shown to a Dunstablians player. The penalty kick to touch and a maul was established, driven forward for hooker, John Barrett, who was underneath to score opening try. Conall Mason saw his kick go wide, in difficult swirling wind.
Minutes later, Spalding were again penalised, holding on, but the penalty kick also went wide. A further infringement of offside by Spalding and another penalty kick sailed wide
Finally Spalding started to motor, with forwards Ryan Chappell and Ash Piccaver showing strength and pace with their carries and brought a penalty award. Kicking to touch and with a good through in by John Barrett, with Ash Anker catching and feeding scrum half, Will Shields, Willis Ingleby made a break at fly half, an offload to Dan Adams and his strength saw him reach the line and with Mason’s successful conversion, Spalding took a nine point lead
One of Dunstablians strengths was their scrum, but they had not taken into account that with props Pete Waudby and Luke Turner and Spalding's experienced number 8, Harry Sharman, the home team had met their match.
Chappell then made a good break out of defence but with the support slow to arrive, he was caught holding on in the tackle, but another Dunstablians penalty kick failed to go over.
With half time approaching, Dunstablians won a scrum penalty, but then failed to release at the next breakdown. The half-time whistle was blown.
Had Dunstablians not missed three kickable penalties in the first half, resulting from the excellent referee picking up on all infringements, the score line could very easily have been level. Instead, with two first half tries Spalding were starting to look the more accomplished team
With no half time substitutions, Spalding kicked off and after controlling possession for the opening minutes drew the first penalty against Dunstablians. Ingleby kicked to touch and with Anker winning clean ball, he retained possession setting up a driving maul. Dunstablians were penalised for collapsing and Spalding repeated the moves, but their advance was halted
With possession retained, scrum half, Will Shields, whipped the ball out to Ingleby, who in turn passed long to Mason, joining the attack out wide on the left. An excellent pass to left wing Gav Sharman and from 20 metres out his pace evaded the Dunstablians covering tackles, he scored Spalding’s third try of the afternoon
Spalding’s kicker, Mason, was now giving a master class to his opposite number, with a stunning conversion kick, from just inside the touchline establishing a sixteen point lead with half an hour to play
From supporters in the stand and along the touch line the cry of Spalding, Spalding, Spalding started to ring out. The excitement and sense of expectation were building.
Spalding were now going through phase after phase of play, controlling the rucks, with Dunstablians unable to make any impression. Harry Sharman was kicking deep into open space turning the home team back into their twenty two and with chasers such as Adams, Patrick, Gav Sharman and Ingleby cutting out any counter attack, with their superb tackling
However on one occasion Dunstablians escaped, kicked back over Spalding’s line of defence. Piccaver duel blocked a runner off the ball and was yellow-carded. With a man down in the forwards, fresh legs arrived with Jacob Greaves replacing Turner
The game was now swinging the home team’s way, as they spread the ball wide stretching Spalding’s defence. A high tackle saw the home team kick for touch. With a lineout won, their forwards in control, battering the try line, forcing Spalding to make a series of last ditch tackles. Finally their reward came with a converted try
Dunstablians were now nine points adrift with plenty of time left on the clock. Further fresh legs were needed for Harry Cole, having run himself into the ground, provided by George Brown. Spalding now shocked Dunstablians and hopefully secured the match, with Ash Piccaver having returned to the field
Ash Anker led the charge back into the home team’s territory, with a tremendous run, breaking numerous attempted tackles as he twisted and turned at pace. Finally he went to ground but the support was there to ruck over. With Dunstablians defensive line broken the ball was moved swiftly along the backs with Ingleby putting Mason into space, who in turn found Ben Shields on the right wing
With twenty metres to the try line, Shields, weaved his way inside and outside, leaving defenders standing and he was over in the corner. Another outstanding conversion by Mason put the lead back up to sixteen points with twelve minutes to play.
More drama was to follow...
Dunstablians came looking for further points and a Harry Sharman tackle was marginally on the high side resulting in a yellow card, leaving Spalding to play the last ten minutes, one short.
Spalding defended, Dunstablians were pressing, tension mounted for Spalding supporters. The minutes were ticking away, when an offside penalty was given on Spalding’s five metre line, the Dunstablians scrum half darted in for an unconverted try.
Sharman was back on for the final minute and a Spalding scrum saw the ball kicked into touch to the player’s relief and joy
Spalding played some stunning rugby, with powerful driving by the forwards against a stern and strong opposition. But it was the level of execution and handling by the backs that made the difference on the day, with three tries and outstanding conversion kicks
With the players raising the RFU Midlands Senior Vase Cup at the presentation, rousing cheers from the many Spalding supporters, rang around the ground
A proud day....
Team: Pete Waudby, John Barrett, Luke Turner, Ash Anker, Ash Piccaver, Harry Cole, Ryan Chappell, Harry Sharman, Will Shields, Willis Ingleby, Gav Sharman, Dan Adams, Jack Patrick, Ben Shields, Conall Mason
Subs: Jacob Greaves, Miguel da Silva, Mark Haighton, George Brown, Rob Lucas, Callum Lewis , Matty Holmes