Oakham RFC showed how far they have come this season by pushing Midlands Two East South leaders Melton Mowbray all the way in their 15-7 away loss on Saturday.
Having beaten second placed Lutterworth in their last game Oakham travelled to Melton Mowbray for the local derby in determined mood but they came up agonisingly short.
Playing up the slope in the first half Oakham started brightly and took the game to Melton showing some good attacking options but the homeside’s defence looked solid and Oaks could not find a way to penetrate in the early exchanges.
Melton used the wind and slope kicking to the corners to pin Oakham into their own 22 for long periods.
Oakham’s defence was severely tested but held firm repelling repeated Melton attacks with some excellent tackling and clearing kicks from scrum half Johnno Milnes.
Eventually the pressure told and from an infringement at the ruck Melton kicked to the corner from the penalty. Winning their own lineout they executed a catch and drive which ended with them rumbling over the Oakham line for a try. The conversion was missed to leave Oakham trailing 5-0 with 23 minutes played.
Oakham hit back with some good play from the backs which set up a ruck 20 metres from the Melton line. Some good driving play from the forwards enabled Nick Houghton to spot a gap and only a last ditch tackle from Melton prevented a try. Oakham recycled the ball and again drove towards the Melton line but the hosts held firm.
Changing tactic Oakham then spread the ball wide and were again denied in the corner by some excellent defence. Surviving the pressure Melton stole Oakham ball and launched a counter attack which stretched the Oakham defence allowing their centre to break away , Oakham wing Dave Hudson saved the day with a crunching head on tackle which stopped the Melton player in his tracks to deny what looked like a certain try.
With the wind and slope now with them Oakham began the second half on top. Melton were relieved that Oakham’s lineout was not on top form as they stole and disrupted Oakham ball to prevent the visitors retaining possession at crucial times. However, in the other set piece plays, Oakham’s scrum was getting the upper hand on their opponents and starting to put them under real pressure.
At last winning a lineout in the Melton 22 Oakham set up a series of drives before switching the ball to midfield where the backs were held up by the Melton defence. Oakham developed a rolling maul and drove towards the Melton line but were unfortunate to lose the ball as they crossed the try line. Melton were awarded a scrum under their posts, Oakham’s forwards took the ball against the head and scum half Milnes caught the Melton defence unawares as he picked up and drove over near the posts to level the score. Nick Wackwitz converted the try to give Oakham the lead 5-7 with 15 minutes to go.
But Melton showed why they were top of the table as they then launched a series of attacks but Oakham defence seemed to be holding firm, despite signs of fatigue as players went down injured. With ten minutes to go Melton worked the ball into space and their young wing showed real pace as he surged away from the Oakham defence to score an unconverted try in the corner to put Melton in the lead again 10-7.
Oakham then went back down the pitch following an incisive break from full back Will Armstrong and camped in the Melton 22, trying desperately to clinch the winning score. Having been awarded a kickable penalty Oakham rejected the chance if a draw and went instead for a kick to touch. However, once again, Melton stole the ensuing lineout and the chance of victory went with it.
As the clock ticked down Melton then kicked up-field, stole Oakham ball from the lineout and, after a couple of driving runs from their forwards and, for the second time in the half, managed to work space for their young wing to speed away to the corner for a try to deny Oakham a losing bonus point.
The home side were relieved to hear the final whistle as Oakham, having given their all in a great contest, still continued to hammer away at the Melton line deep into injury time.