With second placed Long Buckby travelling with a coachload of fans sporting Christmas attire, the first problem the hosts needed to address was the lack of beer in the house. Step forward Gary Fleming to the rescue and Max Dominy and Paul Ashbridge to the bar!
Despite the strong winds again prevailing, the spectators were treated to a fine contest. The last minute score to Buckby did not reflect the struggle they had faced.
The Bulls began strongly and were quickly rewarded with a penalty, converted by Jim Robinson.
Almost immediately, Ives forwards were again driving forward. A mix up in the three quarters saw the ball go to ground. The Buckby back row swooped and the ball was transferred through quick hands and offloading for the visitors’ first score, which was converted.
As with recent weeks, Ives turned to their forward strength to batter their way downfield. A series of scrums had the visitors back peddling, the front row of outstanding tight head Josh Dear, hooker Tommy Newman and Tim Lumley-Good causing the initial damage. The referee, who had a good game, saw reason not to award a pushover or indeed penalty try after yet another collapse. But, quick thinking by Michael Wright saw him tap and crash over. Converted by Robinson.
Ives continued to apply pressure. One scrum close to the Bucky line saw Lumley-Good penalised for boring in. The quicksilver scrum half tapped and relieved the pressure with a fine run. Ives regained the ball, but again it went to ground midfield. Ives were penalised at the ruck and the penalty converted.
On the stroke of half time, Buckby scored another penalty. 10-16.
Facing the elements, Ives played well in the second half. Mixing driving forward play with judicious use of the three quarters, the match was there for the taking. Buckby were feeling the pressure and two players spent 10 minutes each on the side for offences at the breakdown. Despite driving runs by the likes of Ollie Bartlett, Duncan Williams and Matt Wood, Ives could not add to their score.
The turning point appeared to be the enforced removal of Newman with a leg injury. With Dear stepping in to hook, the Bulls forward power was dissipated. Buckby finally found secure possession on their own put in and were able to force their way back downfield.
With the game entering its final quarter, Ives still scented victory. Playing deep from their own half, the ball was unfortunately spilled, Buckby once more attacking swiftly and using an overlap to score in the corner.
Ives did not let up and fought valiantly for the score that would secure at least a bonus point. The loose nature of the last minute gave the visitors the final say however. The ball was lost by the hosts, pressure applied and despite some great defence, in particular by James Wood, a somewhat undeserved tarnish added to the result.
The Bulls must take heart from the performance that this week lasted the full 80 minutes. As the cliché says, it was a game of small margins.