It was an overcast, foggy day when league leaders, Old Grovians came to Chaffers field to face the league new comers Old Otliensians. The last time the two teams met in the division bellow Grovians came out on top.
From the outset it was clear that all involved were up for the encounter with both sides carrying hard being met by solid tackling in defence. The early exchanges went back and forth between the two 22 meter lines, with neither side managing to retain possession for too long.
A turnover on the Ensians 22 followed up by a strong drive from Blindside Flanker Lee O’Donnell created quick ball which allowed Scrum Half Rob Lofthouse to feed the back line, some strong running from Centre Luke Cowdell took the Grovians half, a neat inside ball to Winger, Declan Jackson, put him into space, however the visitors cover defence was alert to the threat and he was brought down just outside the 22. Grovians infringed at the breakdown and the home side elected to kick to corner.
Hooker, Jim Dyson threw a great ball to the tail for Ensians to set up a driving maul. Grovians disrupted well and prevented the home side pushing over. Ensians kept up the pressure but the visitors were awarded a penalty for side entry at the ruck and allowed the visitors to clear their lines.
Both teams were trying to establish a territorial advantage with kicks going back and forth. A great kick from the visitors followed up by a better chase led to a charge down. The home side fumbled the ball giving Grovians a scrum 15 meters out. The visibly larger Grovians pack exerted pressure on the home front row of Gregg Jones, Jim Dyson and Josh Dyson. The scrum wheeled and the visitors were awarded a penalty. They elected to scrum but the home side held firm, preventing the push over, and a great tackle from the Number 8’s pick from Lofthouse and turnover form Stand Off Oliver Eaves got the home side a penalty and a chance to relieve the pressure.
On 20 minutes Ensians went down to 14 men with a yellow card for an unintentional raised elbow in a tackle. The visitors really put pressure on the home defence but great tackling from Locks, Jack Smith and Ali Campbell and Open Side, Oli Cooper prevented them from making much headway through the forwards. A knock on from the home side gave Groves the put in at the scrum, the home back row disengaged prematurely and the visitors were awarded a penalty. This time they went for the uprights, the kick was successful, so on 27 minutes they were 0-3 up.
The sin bin period was over on 30 minutes, the home side relieved to be back to 15, with a full complement were able to apply pressure on the visitors. Grovians were penalised for not releasing at the break down and the home side had a shot at goal to level the score. Unfortunately it missed and the visitors held on to their narrow lead.
A string of Grovians penalties in midfield gave the home team good field position, with the line out going well were able to put pressure on the visitors line but the Grovians defence worked tirelessly to keep the home side out. On 35 minutes, Ensians were awarded another penalty at the breakdown and kicked for the corner. Again the lineout ball was clean and Ensians pack rumbled towards the visitors try line, sucking in the visitors defence, leaving space for Luke Cowdell to crash over and score. The conversion was successful by Full Back, Kristian Keinhorst and the home side took a 7-3 lead.
The visitors were roused by the home score and up the ferocity of their attack. The home sides defence again was good, with debutant Will Prest tackling hard out on his wing along with Keinhorst. This time Ensians infringed in the ruck, giving Grovians a penalty on half way, a good kick to the corner gave them the throw in the line out. The defence of the visitors rolling maul was good but their speedy scrum half spotted half a gap and sneaked in to score out wide. The conversion was missed, giving the visitors a 7-8 lead at the stroke of half time.
At the restart, prop Ross Nichols came on for Josh Dyson and Zak Stead replaced Keinhorst at full back. The second half carried on the same way as the first with both sides pressuring in attack and both defences holding firm. Handling errors were creeping in, with the ground being wet making the ball greasy, so neither side were able retain possession long enough to convert any chances. On 50 minutes the home side were penalised 5 meters from their own line for killing the ball at the ruck and Grovians elected to scrum. This time their scrum dominance showed and pushed the home side back, the scrum wheeled and their 8 picked and scored. The conversion was missed again extending their lead to 7-13.
The home side didn’t let their heads drop and were back on the attack again. Gregg manning was on in the back row for Lee O’Donnell and was straight into the action carrying hard, along with Number 8, Rob Arbuckle and Lock, Smith. Wingers, Prest and Jackson were both looking dangerous but the Grovians defence showed why they are top of the league as the home side struggled to break them down despite some great interplay by Stand Off Eaves and Centre Luke Freer. Unfortunately the home side were unable to convert the pressure into points with handling errors and penalties at the breakdown, allowing Grovians to kick back down field and maintain their lead.
Play went back and forth, with neither side being able to break the other down. The clock was running out for the home side as they were running out of time to get the score required. A loose pass went to ground and Grovians kicked down field, Ensians chased back but were deemed to be slowing the game down, the visitors were awarded a penalty, which they kicked, on the stroke of full time to extend their lead to 7-16 and deny the home side a losing bonus.
This was a great game of open rugby despite the poor weather, Grovians using their scrum dominance to edge the home side out and take a hard fought victory.