St Neots were on the road again, this time to the beautiful Rutland’s to face Oakham, looking to translate the excellent performances to date into valuable points.
The first acts of the match put the Saints on the defensive, and though meagre yards were given, a smartly taken quick tap penalty got Oakham outside the high-pressing line who scored in the corner. From here, St Neots worked themselves back into the game, as the pace and aggression of the forward carries caused major problems across the park, punching holes through the centres with regularity. Johnny Berwick, who totalled 15 carries in the match, led the line, using great footwork to find gaps, either for himself or for Ross Hubbard or Will Burks; who both broke the line on numerous occasions. This was not just a match of brute force, but smart game management from the half-backs. Callum Austen pushed the tempo, continually driving Oakham backwards. The indiscipline of the home side was punished with a mixture of rolling mauls, and sharp ball from the top of the lineout, and soon camp was set up inside the opponents 22. Phases went left, and right, stretching the defence, until swift hands from James Larman and Lewis Hall were able to put club captain, Nick Ashford, in for a long-awaited try. He celebrated with a double-dab to the crowd. All was well.
The Saints continued to be clinical. Each subsequent visit to the red-zone brought much needed points. Two penalties from Lewis Hall eked the lead to a well-deserved 8-11. As the clocked ticked round to half-time, Oakham regained the lead with another quickly taken penalty, causing more havoc in the defensive line.
The second-half performance was more measured from St Neots, with the relentless aggression of the first half being replaced with some lethargy around the breakdown. Oakham seemed revived by the break, and began to impose themselves with a territory-based game plan. With St Neots now in siege mode, waves of attack were robustly repelled. However, the resistance was eventually broken down and Oakham crossed for three quick scores to build a lead.
Without panicking, Saints returned to the basics that had served them so well earlier in the match, and momentum began to be built. On the occasions that they threatened the line, Oakham managed to do enough to turn over the ball and prevent any further breach of the line. This was until Saints turned the ball over deep in their half, and with the clock ticking over 80 minutes, found space in a tiring defence. First, Cody Hocker found a half-gap to dance through, and threw an offload to Jake Bailey. Juggling with the ball, Bailey made a scything run and began to look for the support. He popped to scrum-half Will Smith, who immediately popped in back inside to Aiden Jordan who ran in from 50m to score under the posts.
Ultimately, this was too late to have any bearing on the game, but the overall performance and attitude of the entire squad was deserving of so much more. Coach Johnny Berwick reflected on the match; “I couldn’t be prouder of the lads today. We turned up focussed and that showed in our first half performance. The slight drop in intensity in the second half ultimately cost us, but our response was exactly what I wanted to see. We figured out a way to break them down again, and that is most pleasing”.
Saints are back at home next week (12.10.2019) to face Dunstablians in the second round of the Cup.