Top of the table clashSat 29 Oct
Spartans RFC of Sutton Coldfield were the latest visitors to Webb Ellis Road in round 6 of league action, writes Player Coach Rob Dignum. Something had to give as both sides went into the fixture undefeated, Spartans 5 league and 2 cup game winning streak made for impressive reading. To date they had amassed 420 points and conceded a mere 50; maths geeks among us will quickly deduce that on average they score 60 per game and concede just 7. Our jolly good friends from Pinley with whom we locked horns just a week ago were very quick to tell us that we would not be able to tame their bulky pack nor contain their pacey backline. Mmmmmm.
Given that this was quite literally a top of the table clash; we were somewhat unfortunate to have no less than eight players down: Bowyer and Weston missing from the backline and forwards Lockley, Devgun, Large, McLean, Fowkes and Paxton also on the physio bed. Lions faithful will recognise that the last three names are all front row, one may falsely assume alarm bells… no problem, we will just stick our 51 years young Head Coach on the bench an hour before kick off, along with backs Brooks and Williams for company.
Once over this hurdle, greasy conditions and a hugely talented and gargantuan Spartans provided the next obstacles. Spartans RFC is just 4 miles from Sutton Coldfield RFC who are currently on the demise from leagues higher, Spartans benefitting from this.
With nervous energy palpable all about a gloriously packed Webb Ellis Road the game got under way at a ferocious pace with both sides keen to set their stall out and not give an inch in what was a tense, no holds barred contest. Opening forays were relatively even with the defences on top and the game played out largely about the middle of the pitch. There was a real edge to the encounter with plenty of tempers frayed and regular bouts of handbags. If we were concerned at regular faces being absent, Captain Wood leaving the field on 10 minutes was not what anyone wanted to see; Lady Luck was now having a laugh at our expense. Happily Woody is made of brave and tough stuff and soon returned after a quick pit stop with physios Beth and Selina who endured a busy day.
The first score came on 20 minutes after good work out wide on the counter attack. Turagabeci has given us a real headache in selection as he can play well in shirts 6-15. In his fourth different position of the season it was decided we would apply his prodigious attacking strength from 15. Fielding a long kick, his quick feet took him through the first line of defence before kicking over his opposite number for wing Attenborough to gather and score under the posts, leaving Higgins the simplest of tasks in adding the extras. This I was particularly happy about as I had drawn Adam as first try scorer in the sweepstake; £10 to spend on post match medicine (cider)… excellent.
Defence was still first rate from both sides with huge hits going in all over the field, line breaks few and far between. Over the 80 minutes our defence was largely impenetrable barring one mistake out wide that saw Spartans capitalise and dive in at the corner late in the first half, Lions going in at the break 7-5 up.
The game very much up for grabs at this point, both sides were very aware that the next score would be crucial. More bad fortune when Attenborough was unable to continue due to injury, Brooks awarded his well earned debut on the wing in his place. Fate has a strange sense of humour as it was Brooks that was to grab the all important score on 45 minutes. Several phases of keep ball and good quick hands down the backline gave Brooks just enough room to dive in gazelle-like at the corner sending the large crowd into raptures, 12-5 up.
The scoreboard went untroubled for a long period of time as plenty of niggle kept the crowd on the edge of their seats. The next score came from Spartans converting a simple 3 points from in front as the penalty count began to mount against Lions.
Frustratingly, accuracy deserted us on a couple of occasions during the latter part of the game which meant we held just a 4 point lead with 3 minutes left on the clock. Penalties took Spartans downfield where they had a series of forward attacks to try and snatch the game. A scrum was set up 5m from our line and a yellow card issued to hooker Gonsalves… hold the phone, was it written in the stars; was the 51 year old really coming on to play his first game in over a decade and save the day?! Happily, all we had to do was scrummage in order to close out the game… having hooked in 354 games for Cov; one of few words Aggie can spell is scrum. The Spartans hooker’s first mistake was to smirk and call Agg, ‘Grandad.’ Well the final moments of the game saw Spartans put the ball into several reset scrums, all a couple of feet lower than anything that had gone before, a rare penalty awarded in Lions favour, kick the ball off the field, leap skyward! The old codger getting a standing ovation for 2 minutes work, unbelievable! If he had won the hearts of those on Butts and Coundon Road, he now has a few admirers on Webb Ellis Road to add to his collection. Probably just as well, if rumours are true, his trying to hide his playing from wife Lisa not having gone quite as planned… he may just need asylum!
This was a great win which sees Lions proudly at the top of the table for the first time this season, a huge success given all that has gone before. I said as much in the summer, having gained promotion for 3 consecutive seasons, we felt that this season may be a time to take stock and find our feet. Now at the top, staying there is going to be a really tough challenge indeed. This plight made more problematic with next weeks tough trip to Solihull to face Old Sills RFC who plied their trade in Mids 1 last season. Feet firmly on the ground therefore as we continue to put in the hard yakka, develop as a team and continue to get better and better.