The mystery of the fixture arrangements meant the team furthest east in the league travelled to the furthest west for the final game of the season, the reverse having occurred way back at the start of the campaign. The distance between the two sides in the table was only one place, however, and the match was eagerly anticipated by the home and away supporters.
The crowd witnessed a finely poised contest in the first half.
Ives began the stronger with good ground made by Paul Ashbridge, Alex Henly and Ben Fleming. Having gained the territory, starting stand off John Paxton charged for the line only to be held up. An excellent scrum, in which the front row of Bradley Robinson, Tommy Newman and Josh Dear anchored possession all game, gave Ives the platform to stretch the Coalville defence. Ashbridge chose his line well and trotted through to open the scoring.
Ives’ had exited well after the kick off, but conceded possession from their own lineout. Coalville reacted with a break through a couple of weak tackles and charged upfield. Scrambling defence was not enough. Quickly recycled ball from a ruck enabled the hosts to find their own space to score close in to the posts.
With conditions underfoot firm, both sets of backs were enjoying running rugby. A quickly taken penalty by John Naylor released Paxton who broke through the defensive line. Fleming took possession and hared up the wing. Chipping the full back, the latter chose to tackle him without the ball. The arbiter immediately awarded a penalty try and brandished a yellow card at the offender.
Ives were unable to take advantage of the extra man as Coalville upped their intensity for the sinbin period. Direct running and fast recycling gained them territory. Having been under the cosh for some minutes, Ives defence finally cracked. Despite a last-ditch tackle by Newman, the centre was able to crawl the last yards to score in the corner. With the conversion missed, the score stood at 12-14 to Ives.
The last minutes of the half saw some good rugby by the Bulls. With Andrew Hutchison and Jack Hickman providing the grunt in the scrum, possession was mounting. The back row of Fin Ruddock and Ollies Bartlett and Raine were receiving the ball in space. Coalville were robust in defence and good line speed prevented further scores before half time.
The half time chat for the Bulls was simply to increase the pace of their own recycling of possession. As oft times this season, the second half then saw Ives improve their execution dramatically and the scores followed.
The first nearly came immediately as Fleming was released down the left wing. He was tackled just short and Coalville were able to stem the attack.
An incisive break by Ashbridge then split the defence. Quick ball transference via Will Nelson saw Albiee Tayedzerwa released down the right. With work to do, he put on his 7s after burners and dived for the corner, grounding the ball just before being caught by the home defender.
The Bulls’ pack dominance that was indicated towards the end of the first half became more apparent. A sweeping attack had brought Ives to within 20 metres of the line. From a lineout, Ives maul was superbly set and got over the line, only to be held up. At the ensuing scrum, Ives drove their opposite numbers back, only for a collapsed scrum to give Ives a penalty. Before skipper Bartlett had a chance to consider his options, a quick tap and dart by Naylor saw him straight through the statuesque defence for a try.
Coalville were still determined to get something from the game and applied pressure in the Ives 22. A couple of breakdown errors gave the hosts possession and territory and when another offence led to a team yellow warning, skipper Bartlett found himself a spectator for ten minutes.
Coalville took advantage and scored after tapping the penalty and breaching the Ives defence.
Ives took the game back to the hosts who attempted to exit their half with chip kicks against the wind. From one such, Ashbridge gathered and again got over the gain line. He released Henly who ran directly at and through the defensive line. With Tayedzerwa keeping the home defence honest in support, Henly went through untouched for a great score.
Again, Coalville attacked, but could find no way through the resolute Ives defence. A lineout was won keep in Ives territory and whipped across the line. The ball found its way to Nelson who illustrated his own pace as he sprinted the 60 remaining metres past all comers to score in the corner.
With the game ending soon after, Ives skipper Bartlett was delighted. “That was a fantastic performance to finish the league season. We came away to a team that regards their ground as a fortress and outplayed them in the second half. It also demonstrated the strength of our squad with a number of enforced changes over the last weeks. What a season it has been. We can be really happy with finishing third in our first season at this level and still have two cup finals to look forward to.”