Determined Shire Hall put a dent in Littlemore’s flawless season
Berkshire Shire Hall entertained runaway league leaders Littlemore on a baking hot day at the County Sports Club in Sonning. Littlemore, who are on their way back to the BB&O Premiership, had played 19, won 19, and were looking to keep their run going. Shire Hall were coming to the game off the back of a very close win away at Harwell, and were snapping at the heels of third place Chipping Norton. The home side had a few people playing out of position, and were under no illusions – this was going to be a difficult task.
The baking sun made for an energy sapping game, and with only 2 players on the bench, Shire Hall knew they would need to put in a big shift. And they did. Shire Hall were the first to get on the scoreboard after 5 minutes of controlled pressure. MOTM Stephane Margot slotted over a penalty to open their account.
This was a springboard for Shire Hall’s confidence, and led to a very prosperous opening 30 minutes. Shire Hall’s first try came from a deft chip and gather from Fly half Dave Tridgell before kicking through into space. The centres followed up with more neat footwork before Stephane Margot dived over the try line.
Littlemore almost hit back immediately, as forward phases led to a Littlemore player crashing over Shire Hall’s try line, but the referee deemed it held up. The pressure was relieved and Shire Hall managed to clear the danger.
The set piece was working well, and the forwards controlled the tempo of the game. The next try came from good forward play, as hooker Jack Proctor scooped the ball off the floor, passing to Captain Rich Clarke who fixed his man and shipped it out to Chris Walker, who had the pace to finish in the corner. Stephane missed the conversion, but the score sat at an unlikely 15-0.
Littlemore were pushing hard, and were a constant threat when they got the ball out to the backs. Eventually, fluid Littlemore hands, a subtle dummy and pace out wide led to a score for the visiting side just before the half-time whistle. The conversion was successful and Shire Hall went into the second half with a somewhat bewildering 15-7 lead.
The second half was a weathering of the storm. Shire Hall had to work hard to preserve their lead and needed their fair share of luck to do it. On a couple of occasions, Littlemore were in good scoring positions, only to lose the ball forwards at key moments. One scoring opportunity was spoilt by the last ditch tackle of Chris Harber as a Littlemore player was about to ground the ball, ripping it from his grasp.
Shire Hall’s resistance eventually broke, and Littlemore dotted down for a second half score, going unconverted. Shire Hall were tiring and went down to 14 men after a yellow card for a high tackle. Littlemore capitalised on the 10-minute sin bin and scored another unconverted try to bring the score to 15-17.
Shire Hall dug deep and found a second wind, tightening up, keeping it simple. With sustained possession they marched up the pitch to within 10 metres of the Littlemore try line. Littlemore infringed on a resulting breakdown and Shire Hall were awarded a penalty.
Stephane Margot stepped up to take the kick with only 5 minutes left of play. The ball went sailing between the uprights and Shire Hall re-took the lead at 18-17. Shire Hall saw out the last few minutes with patience and composure. When the referee called last play and the ball was booted off the park, a huge roar went up from the home side and the gathered crowds of VPs on the touchline.
Against all the odds, and with a bit of luck, Shire Hall broke Littlemore’s unbeaten season and secure a guaranteed third place finish with the win. Topping off a great season from the Sonning outfit.
MOTM: Stephane Margot
DOTD: Sam Watkins (default option!)