Shire Hall RFC 36 Oxford RFC 22

Last time out Shire Hall had a narrow but encouraging loss away to league leaders Littlemore, so they were looking to get back to winning ways against a much improved Oxford side.

Shire started off the game well, with some strong forward phases being complemented by some great running rugby from the backs. Shire were quick to establish dominance in the early exchanges, quickly releasing Lenny Pitt down the wing only to be stopped short by a high tackle when going over the try line. With the try inevitable, the ref awarded a penalty try (unlucky Lenny) which was promptly dispatched by returning centre Stefane Margot. A slight error off the kick off, and perhaps a touch of complacency after scoring so early on, resulted in a penalty given away at the breakdown inside the Shire 22, with Oxford slotting the penalty to reduce the score to 7-3.

This kicked Shire back into gear with Oxford seemingly incapable of matching the force up front with the Shire forwards carrying hard and gaining yards. Indiscipline at the breakdown resulted in a penalty to Shire, kicked into touch by Stephane Margot to set up a line out 15m out. Shire won the lineout and were quick to set up a maul, marshalled by no8 Tom Birch  initially before second row Neil Evans took over, marching the pack to the try line for a simple score. Unfortunately the conversion was missed this time, 12-3 to Shire.

Shire continued to impress as the first half progressed, drawing in players with strong carries by players such as openside and Captain Rich Clarke and hooker Jack Proctor and giving fly half Dave Tridgell the space to utilise a quick and talented back line. Shortly after their second score, Shire found themselves in the Oxford 22 when prop Matt ‘hips don’t lie’ Margot spotted a gap around the side of a ruck, snaking in for a cheeky touch down under the posts, with his brother Stephane adding the extras; 19-3 to Shire after 30 minutes.

Oxford were being starved of the ball, and it soon found its way back in Shire’s hands. With space to play with, the Shire backs utilised training ground favourite ‘Shark’ ball, resulting in winger Lenny Pity who, after terrorising him so far, steam rolled his opposite man yet again and touched down in the corner. A deserved try but injured in the process, he was replaced by Rhys Stewart. Conversion missed, so Shire would enter half time 24-3 up with a bonus point already in hand.

At half time Eric Murray was replaced by Dave Holmes prompting a slight reshuffle in the pack, with Neil Evans moving forwards into the front row, Ollie Homan-Green taking the vacant second row berth and Dave Holmes occupying the blindside flank. As good as the first half was for Shire, it did not start the same as Oxford came out with renewed energy and a determination to put things right.

Oxford certainly started the second half the better of the two teams with an intensity they didn’t have before, making yards and retaining the ball to allow their youthful backline so find some space to shine. It was neck and neck for a while, before Tom Birch found himself in a little bit of space ahead of the Oxford line, cutting a good angle and smashing 2 or 3 defenders out of the way to score, but with the conversion missed the score went to 29-3. However it wasn’t long before the increased tempo from Oxford led to some serious pressure on Shire, with their big second row finally stretching over the whitewash for a score. The conversion missed, the score now 29-8.

Shire seemed almost in a daze this second half, and with the bonus point already secured, could perhaps be accused of already thinking the match was won. But Oxford hadn’t read that script, and with another backline move saw their inside centre sweep round to the outside, showing great gas to finish a well worked move. The try was converted, Oxford were working their way back into the game at 29-15.

Shire attempted to regain dominance and an attempted chip through from outside centre Luke Jellicoe saw, after several deflections, his partner in crime Stephane Margot able to dot the ball down under posts. Somewhat fortuitous with the bounce but a good finish under pressure, Stewart kicked the extras to make it 36-15.

This score took the game away from Oxford with little time on the clock, but again they rallied and after some poor tackling, uncharacteristic of Shire of late, allowed their quick 10 to jink his way to the try line in the final play of the game, which he duly converted for the final score of 36-22.

This really was a game of two halves and an incredible first half from Shire papered over a lacklustre second, with the players disappointed they were unable to press on from some fine performances early on.

Special mentions go to the contributions of Rich Clarke, Matt Margot, full back Alex Webb and Luke Jellicoe who all had excellent games, but it was the presence Andrew Carson in the second row who provided ballast in all areas of the pitch. His work rate around the pitch belied his years, and was excellent in supporting and securing ball for team. A real ‘engine room’ performance that provided the foundation of a solid win for Shire. DoD Day was a tough call, but was eventually given to Tom Birch for his penalty count within quick succession!!

Selection for Saturday 26th November vs Oxford (Home – VP Day)

Opposition: Oxford
Competition: League
Venue: Home
Kick off: 2.15
Meet time at the club: 13.00
Players that arrive later than the meet time will be asked to donate £5 to the tour fund
Dress: Number 1s
Carried item: Haribo

1. Eric Murray
2. Jack Proctor
3. Matt Margot
4. Andy Carson
5. Ollie Homan-Green
6. Dave Holmes
7. Rich Clarke
8. Tom Birch
9. Chris Walker
10. Dave Tridgell
11. Lenny Pitt
12. Steph Margot
13. Luke Jellicoe
14. Rhys Thomas
15. Alex Webb

16. Neil Evans
17. Geoff O’Brien
18. Luke Barefoot
19. Rhys Stewart
20. Chris Merrick

Match Report: Littlemore 27 Shire Hall 20

Littlemore 27 – 20 Berkshire Shire Hall

On a cold and grey Saturday Shire Hall travelled up to league leaders Littlemore. Shire Hall went into the game with a three match unbeaten streak having completed some big wins both home and away. Some brilliant rugby has been played by Shire so far this season but there is still a feeling amongst the team that they had more to give if they could improve their execution.

Shire Hall boasted a strong pack, one that has terrorised opposition this season, however a few missing players in the backline saw some players in positions they weren’t used to – namely Dave Holmes (a back rower) who stepped in at 9 having never played there before.

Now to the match; Shire Hall made a strong start with big carries from the forwards. Littlemore’s back line pressed hard and a few chips over the top could have been dangerous had the ball bounced in Shire’s favour. However following a period of sustained pressure from Littlemore and a good catch and drive they ended up 5 metres out and managed to crash over for the first score of the game, they converted and it was 7-0.

Shire responded well as Littlemore knocked on from the kick off and again the forwards put pressure on the home side. Littlemore seemed to have an interesting understanding on the term ‘roll away’ (something they struggled with all day) which resulted in a Shire Hall a penalty. Rhys Stewart stepped up and bisected the posts nicely to make the score 7-3.

A good take from the kick off saw Shire put more pressure on Littlemore. A good kick from Alex Webb saw Littlemore back into their own 22 where their winger took the unprecedented decision to throw the ball out of play, much to the dismay of his team mates! The following 10 minutes saw several penalties, scrums and breakdowns all on the Littlemore 5 metre line. Shire possession ended when a cross-field kick from the fly half was collected after a few bounces by the full back who managed to get over the line. Sadly the referee deemed that the Shire Hall winger knocked the ball on before Alex Webb got his hands on the ball. From here Littlemore managed to kick the ball out of their 22 and sadly for Shire the kick was dropped and the pressure was relieved without a Shire Hall score.

With the half drawing to a close it was Littlemore’s turn to apply some pressure. Shire failed to deal with a kick over the top and ended up 10 metres off their own line. A decent take from Littlemore at the lineout and a few phases later one of their forwards made it over the line to score (even though he didn’t originally realise he was over the line due to a confusing lack of painted lines on the pitch.) The conversion was missed and Littlemore went in 12-3 up.

During the interval the message for Shire Hall was to believe in what they were capable of – they had dominated the contact area and had a real chance to make something of the game. To this end Shire Hall started positively. Big carries from the forwards saw them creep into the opposition half. Another breakdown penalty and Shire Hall were into the 22. A clean lineout and more phases of solid forward play saw the ball out to fly half Tridgell who crossed kicked to right winger Stewart. Stewart won the battle to ground the ball first and claimed more points for his personal tally and the team. He slotted the conversion making it 12-10 – game on!

Defence continued to be impressive from Shire Hall and the forwards and Dave Holmes at 9 really took it to the league leaders. There was little ball for the backs to run with which must have been frustrating at times. A few unfortunate missed tackles however and Littlemore did manage to cross the whitewash twice, possibly taking the game out of the reach of the visitors. At this point the Shire Hall of the last season would possibly have lost all confidence and allowed the opposition to rack up the points but that is not the attitude these days. Sustained pressure and big carries all over the pitch saw Shire Hall to an attacking lineout. The resulting catch and drive rumbled towards the line with a few backs joining in. Sadly it was fly half Tridgell who grounded the ball over what he thought was the line but was actually a metre or two short. He blames the lack of paint on the pitch for the error; his teammates will no doubt suggest that the place of a 10 is not at the back of a maul! The resulting scrum was won and several phases later Dave Holmes spun the ball out to his fly half who had the sizeable mass of Neil Evans on his shoulder, the pass was given and Neil crashed over. Kick converted and the score was 22-17.

Littlemore crossed once more with a long run in against the run of play realistically sealing the win. But the never say die attitude of Shire Hall again drove them into the Littlemore half. With the last kick of the game Stewart knocked over another penalty to seal a losing bonus point. The message for Shire Hall, who now sit 4th in the table must be that with their new found attitude and approach, confidence must be drawn and expectations must be heightened.

Man Of The Match: Jack Proctor (for his all round positive play)

Selection for Saturday 19th November vs Littlemore

Opposition: Littlemore
Competition: League
Venue: Away
Kick off: 2.00
Meet time at the club: 11.30
Meet time at Littlemore: 12.45
Players that arrive later than the meet time will be asked to donate £5 to the tour fund

Dress: Number 1s (with golfing attire to change into back at BCSC..)
Carried item: A Golf Glove

1. Eric Murray
2. Jack Proctor
3. Matt Margot
4. Andy Carson
5. Chris Harber
6. Dave Holmes
7. Rich Clarke
8. Dave Lloyd-Williams
9. Pat McGuigan
10. Dave Tridgell
11. Chris Merrick
12. Luke Jellicoe
13. Lenny Pitt
14. Rhys Stewart
15. Alex Webb

16. Neil Evans
17. Ollie Homan-Green
18. Tom Birch
19. Luke Barefoot