South Leicester 21 Rugby Lions 28
What always looked the game of the season between the top two sides in SSE National 3 Midlands fully lived up to its billing with an incident-filled afternoon in front of a big crowd including the ever-increasing travelling Lions support, a large home attendance and other rugby followers drawn in from Leicester city.
Former Tigers team mates, head coaches’ Steve Booth of South Leicester and Lions’ Neil Back had clearly targeted this fixture and the intensity of the game was well above any other match either side had played in this season.
Rugby had a good start with Leigh Hinton’s penalty opening the scoring before a lineout move let Dan Needham cruise home for a converted try and a 0-10 lead after 11 minutes.
On 25 minutes, a scuffle broke out and referee Claire Hodnett sinbinned front rows Luke Coltman and Nick Adams. Significantly, with South having already lost prop James Stapleton to a very early injury, the scrums now became uncontested.
Post-match debate centred round whether the home side should have had to withdraw a further player under these circumstances. Lions centres Andy Vilk and Peter Wackett combined for Ben Gollings to score and give Lions a seemingly comfortable 0-15 advantage on 26 minutes.
Coming up to the half-hour mark, and with almost their first attack, South showed their handling skills for Mark Bayley to score, Mark Lord converting to peg Rugby back at 7-15.
Lions’ forwards then exerted sustained pressure after pushing South back in a scrum before driving Nigel Mukarati over the tryline, Hinton converting to restore Rugby’s decent lead at 7-22 at half time.
Hinton increased that lead after the restart with his second penalty only for South Leicester to show their resilience when prolonged possession in Lions’ 22 produced a try for second row Stu Bale, Lord converting to show this was going to be a fully competitive second half at 14-25. Nick Walton replaced the injured Adams and an attacking lineout saw Sam Raven hampered in the air for Coltman to collect a second yellow card which meant a red automatically followed and scrums became uncontested again.
But soon after, a South breakaway led to Gollings obstructing a home player chasing his own kick and the Lions fly half was sinbinned. South Leicester then put together an impressive move for Dan Holmes to score a converted try to bring his side right into the game at 21-25 with the last quarter still to play.
Lions looked stretched at times and suffered from some unusually poor tackling as South took the upper hand and both teams suffered impact injuries. This included Rugby full back Matt Mountford’s brave tackle taking him out of the game and forcing a reshuffle of Rugby’s side with 17-year-old Harry Ellis making his debut in the centre in a high-pressure situation.
A fine run by Ade Hales looked set to seal the game and four-try bonus point for Rugby but a diving tackle brought him down and the final points, on 75 minutes, came from a Hinton penalty. Still South showed real enterprise and Ellis produced two vital tackles in midfield.
Both sides had big attacks late on before Rugby’s Beau Carney ran from his own 5-metre area with turnover ball but his low kick slewed into touch and the final whistle was blown.
This game was a real credit to both sides and was refereed with calmness and clarity by Claire Hodnett, whom people from both clubs had identified as the best referee from their previous games this season.
A spectator believed to be a home supporter suffered a suspected cardiac arrest during the game and a qualified Lions fan was fortunately on hand to give immediate assistance. Everyone will be wishing the victim well for a full recovery.
Rugby Lions: Mountford, Hinton, Wackett, Vilk, Hales, Gollings, Needham, Hardy, Oselton, Adams, Bibic, Wright, Raven, Brock, Mukarati. Reps: Walton, Carney, Ellis
Report by kind permission of The Rugby Lions
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