Berkshire Shire Hall welcomed Chipping Norton for the first of the play-off fixtures in a must win game if Shire Hall had any chance of finishing third. Shire Hall headed into the game on a run of four defeats but were confident of a good result building on this season’s strong home form.
Shire Hall got off to a slow start for the second week running and conceded an early try. Shire were unable to get any consistent possession in the early stages of the game and were making sloppy mistakes. Chipping Norton capitalised on the poor start and punished Shire Hall with another score.
Following a talking to from captain Richard Clarke, Shire Hall needed to rally to have any chance of saving the game. A driving 5-man line-out caught Chippy off guard and stormed 40 yards up the pitch, the ball was recycled and Matthew Margot was able to just get the ball down over the line to pull one back for the home side.
Some more poor defensive work allowed Chipping Norton to re-open the gap up to 17-5, a second dressing down was dished out. As the first half drew to a close Chris Harber went on one marauding run through the centre, slowed down looked for an offload and then stormed off again and broke several more tackles. The forwards carried the ball round the corner for several phases from the resulting break down before Tim Holmes saw an opening and dived over the line. Stephane Margot converted reducing the deficit to 17-12.
Shire Hall came out in the second half a different side, the ball retention was improved and defence more aggressive. The pressure was building and Shire Hall thought they were over the line when Jack Proctor crashed through but the ref called it short, Shire kept calm and Matthew Margot was able to crash over from the next phase of play. Rhys Stewart converted to give the home side a 19-17 lead.
It felt from here there was only one side going on to win the game, Chipping Norton were tiring and Shire Hall were playing their rugby in the opposition half. However Chipping Norton were awarded a free kick inside their own 22 and quickly swung the ball across the pitch scoring a breakaway under the post. At 24-19 Shire Hall had 10 minutes left to save the game.
In previous seasons, heads may have dropped but this bunch of players were confident of victory, Shire Hall were awarded a scrum five metres out with a couple of minutes to play. This was likely going to be the last chance to salvage the game. The forwards got a little shove on in the scrum and David Lloyd-Williams picked up from the back of the scrum, a good forward carry put Chipping Norton on the back foot and Chris Harber was then able to punch through the defence and level the match. Rhys Stewart kept calm and slotted the conversion giving Shire Hall a 26-24 lead.
Chipping Norton kicked the resulting kick off into touch and it allowed the Shire Hall forwards to kill the remaining 30 seconds on the clock securing a massive win.
Tries: Matthew Margot x2, Tim Holmes, Chris Harber
Conversion: Stephane Margot, Rhys Stewart x2