Spartans hosted Hucclecote in the opening round of the North Gloucester Combination Cup. The game was played on a dreary evening and the last 15 minutes were played in near darkness.
Hucclecote benefited from a better warm up and were quicker in their stride. Despite the slippy conditions they moved the ball into wide channels and at times the Ants defence was stretched but they worked tirelessly to keep the visitors at bay.
The visitors took a 3-0 lead with a penalty from 30 metres out but by now Spartans had grown into the game and strong ball carrying from the forwards and clever tactical kicking allowed Spartans a foothold in the game.
Ashley Lewis levelled the scores with a monstrous 50 metre penalty and with his team now in the ascendancy, he kicked another to give them the lead for the 1st time. The hosts continued to press and with the half drawing to a close they went very close to scoring and with an overlap at their mercy a cynical ruck infringement by Cote prevented a certain score. Quite how a yellow card wasn’t issued is baffling but the resulted penalty did give Spartans a 9-3 half time lead.
Hucclecote started the 2nd half with renewed vigour and with some soft penalties conceded by Spartans gave Cote great field position in the hosts 22. Their attacked at pace and eventually were rewarded a penalty 5 metres out and from a quick tap Spartans flanker Luke Foran was deemed to have not got back onside and was yellow carded. The resultant penalty was kicked and the deficit halved.
Despite a man down Spartans continued to hurry their opposition into mistakes and went close to scoring soon after. However during the play, the assistant referee deemed Spartans 2nd Row Lee Martin had thrown a punch and he too was yellow carded. Down to 13 men for 7 minutes Spartans were now under real pressure but they rallied together and worked hard to not only stop Cote’s attacking efforts but also launch attacks of their own. Twice in quick succession they were awarded penalties 4 metres out and Lewis deadly boot extended the lead to 15-6.
Spartans were soon back on the attack and despite being two men down they produced the 1st try of the match. A well weighted chip from Aaron Fowke was collected by wing Paddy Knight who went over for his 31st try of the season. Another excellent kick from Lewis have the Ants a 22-6 lead however staring at a heavy defeat this seemed to kick Hucclecote into action and they began to gain better control of the ball and as they won the field position battle started to pressurise the home defence which was eventually breached after multiple phases. The easy conversion was missed but Cote were back within 11 points.
The game continued to ebb and flow but Spartans then dealt the killer blow as from a 5 metre scrum the ball popped out to replacement scrum half Shane Gardiner who scooped up possession and powered through the defence for a fine individual score.
The conversion was also successful however despite restoring their 18 point lead the accumulative effect of playing with 13 men and the overall physicality of the game was taking its toll on a visibly tiring Ants team and Hucclecote finished the much stronger. They scored an unconverted try with 5 minutes remaining and launched another attack from the restart which resulted in another score in the corner which was superbly converted to bring them back within 5 points.
This set up a grandstand finish however Spartans won a penalty from the restart and kicked to the corner to run down the clock. That should have been that, but they lost their line out and Hucclecote launched one more attack before eventually being held up in a tackle to bring the game to a close.
Many people have questions the sustainability of the Combination cup given the wide difference in teams league status’ however this game showed that the passion for the event still lives on.
North Gloucester Combination Results:
Spartans 28 Hucclecote 23
Coney Hill 15 Gordon League 13
Chosen Hill 18 Matson 16
Gloucester Old Boys 10 Old Cryptians 13
Longlevens 17 Widden Old Boys 25
Quarter Final Draw (to be played Tuesday 4th April 2017)
Old Richians V Old Centralians
Widden Old Boys V Chosen Hill
Coney Hill V Brockworth
Old Cryptians V Spartans