Bulls pass real test of character
By Phil Brown
Revival after poor start frustrates visitors
In glorious conditions and with strong support for both sides, Ives and Harborough played out a tough encounter with the result in doubt until the very last second.
Both sides made handling errors in the first minutes, perhaps illustrating a nervousness around the importance of the result between two sides which have started the season well.
The Bulls’ pack was instantly on the front foot. After a good attack ended up just short, Harborough put the ball in on their own 5 metre line. Ives won the ball against the head and began to drive their opponents towards the line. But, the ball went loose to be collected by the visiting scrum half who sprinted clear. Good support play was eventually stopped illegally. Fortunately for the hosts the kicker missed from in front.
Shortly after, another knock on led to a Harborough scrum on half way. Even though being driven back at pace, the 9 was able to collect and darted through a gaping hole in the home defence. Despite being felled by the returning Ben Fleming
, he was able to offload to the supporting winger to open the scoring.
From the kick off, Ives offended and Harborough kicked deep into home territory. From the lineout, the visitors executed a simple and direct move which saw the second row charge through to score from way out. With both tries converted, as in their last game Ives found themselves 14 down within 15 minutes.
Applying pressure, Harborough began to offend. Latest new Dad Paul Ashbridge
, who had a fine day with the boot from hand, drilled the ball to the corner. Driving for the line, Ives conceded a penalty was conceded to lose the opportunity.
The Ives were sensing a score, though, and continued to pound the Harborough defence, with both Williams’, Duncan and Chris, again prominent with ball in hand.
The visitors defence was finally cracked after a series of phases when Chris Williams dived over to score. Converted by Ashbridge.
Harborough responded immediately with a converted penalty after an offside offence, but Ives gander was up. Prop Josh Dear
collected the ball on his own 10 metre line and had the crowd roaring as he crashed through a series of no-contest collisions. When finally felled, quickly recycled ball maintained the momentum. Ives were surging forward. Dancing feet by Chris Williams saw him past a couple of defenders, followed by an offload to skipper Ollie Bartlett
who crashed over for a deserved score.
Half time 12-17
The Ives players were calm in the half time huddle, knowing that they had already tightened up the defence after a slack start and now needed to press home the advantage they were gaining from the guys up front.
From the kick off pressure was applied, but a series of missed opportunities occurred with a little white line fever.
Patient attack led to the visitors’ defence becoming disorganised. Mickey Drake, returning from injury, spotted a gap and darted through it. He left most of the defence and his support behind him before new recruit Martin Baldwin
, on for his debut appearance gathered. Seeing the gap directly in front, he gratefully sprinted to touch down under the posts.
The game was now a tight 2-pointer. Both teams had opportunities, but final passes or kicks went astray and the score remained close. Both kickers had penalty attempts drift wide and the tension began to mount both on the pitch and the sidelines.
The Bulls kept their discipline, but the visitors’ frustration mounted as they found themselves on the wrong end of the whistle. Ashbridge was despatching the ball to the corners. Finally the pressure told as after a long time camped on the opposition line, Chris Williams made the last yard to gain his second try.
With eight minutes remaining and needing two scores to win, Market Harborough threw caution to the winds. Their replacement scrum half was enjoying himself running at a tiring Ives defence. The three quarters were in good support and it took a huge defensive effort, notably by skipper Bartlett and fellow back rower Josh Meadows to keep them out. With two minutes remaining on the clock, Ives defence was breached, but the conversion was missed.
The ball was kicked off for the last play of the match. Harborough sensed victory at the death and ran the ball well from their own half. Interventions by the likes of Greg Dale and Rick Peters
stemmed attacks out wide, Ashbridge and Henly were holding up the midfield, but Harborough got to within 10 metres of the Ives line with the clock 4 minutes into the red.
With men free and with nobody to beat outside him, the Harborough centre who had had a fine match until then, chose to go for glory himself. John Naylor
had other ideas and felled him, allowing Chris Williams to jackal and win a penalty for the hosts. It was with some relief that the ball was then booted into touch to finish a hard-fought contest.
Skipper Bartlett was a tired but jubilant man. “Once again, we gifted our opponents a start, but we showed real strength of character to come back the way we did. Games like this are the ones that will stay in the memory and give us confidence for the next.”