Stamford Rugby secured a place in the semi-final of the NLD Shield following a late, but dominant comeback, scoring 19 unanswered points to knock Sleaford out of the cup on Saturday.
Sleaford held the lead for much of the game, but once the Stamford pack begun to dominate at the lineout with their driving game, Laurent Ross and Matt Albinson were able to bring the backline into the game where the eagerly awaiting wing partnership of Ollie Winspear and David Martin crossed for three tries between them for a 27-20 victory in extra added time.
Player coach Albinson said: “I thought we were extremely poor for 60 minutes, we let a fairly limited opposition dictate play, mainly due to us not being physical enough at the breakdown. In the end to fight back like we did just goes to show what the boys can do when they apply themselves and concentrate on their individual jobs.
“I thought that Oli Naylor at open side was excellent, he made tackle after tackle and really led our defensive efforts. Our performance up front was disjointed in open play but lineout went well once again with the return of a specialist hooker in Fergal MacNamara. To have gone over to Sleaford without several 1st XV regulars and fight back like we did was great so onwards to next week back in the league and Vipers which will be another stern test.”
Stamford were early leaders courtesy of a Thompson penalty but Sleaford took control of the scoreboard in the 8th minute when their outside centre broke through a disorganised Stamford defence to go under the posts and take a 7 – 3 lead. The following 20 minutes saw Stamford make unnecessary errors when in possession and Sleaford took the advantage of the turnover ball that was offered up by scoring another converted try and a successful penalty. With half time looming and a score line of 17 – 3 to the home side the purple, black and whites began to put phases together deep in the Sleaford half. With strong carrying from Green, Jones and Parker Stamford found themselves only yards away from the line. The ball was moved from the ruck by Ross, to Albinson who found Winspear on the right hand touchline to cross and narrow the score line to 17 – 8.
Following half-time Sleaford extended their lead to 20 – 8 courtesy of a well struck penalty. Sleaford maintained their advantage for the first 15 minutes of the second half until the ball was moved from a shortened line out into the midfield and into the hands of David Martin who split the Sleaford centres in half, rounded the full back and raced in from 35 yards to give Thompson a straight forward conversion and bring Stamford within one score at 20 – 15.
Stamford had finally woken up after 60 minutes and began to dominate territory and possession. Sleaford began to offend at the tackle area and with that penalties were conceded frequently. Ross kicked accurately to the corner and the lineout was backed to do the job. Sleaford had no answer to the Stamford drive and had it not been for some gallant defending and three attempted touch downs being held up the game may well have not gone to the wire as it did.
Stamford pressed and with the last play of the game Jack Jones scrambled over from an initial drive by Parker off the base of a five metre scrum. With the scores tied at 20 points apiece, Thompson had an opportunity to send Stamford into the semi-final and avoid 20 minutes of extra time. He struck the ball well but it was pulled across the face of the posts. The whistle was blown and it was now down to how much the boys had in tank.
Five minutes into extra time and from clean lineout ball the backline was once again used and Nick McDowall was found out wide, he straightened and fed Martin who rounded the cover defence and raced in once more under the posts. Thompson converted to make the score line 20 – 27 to the purple, black and whites. The comeback from 17 – 3 down was complete.
The remainder of extra time saw the game played out in the middle of the park until Sleaford conceded a penalty and skipper Bruce Parker took the ball and fired it into touch to leave Stamford moving on into the semi-final against West Bridgeford RFC at West Bridgeford on February 4.
Next week sees Vipers RFC visit Hambleton Road. Vipers lie at the foot of the Midlands 2 table and have not yet won a game.
Albinson expects to have Sean Gill, Austin Schwarz and Cameron Park back and available for selection following unavailability however there remain several players that are still on the long term injury list. Thomas Mutter is out with a shoulder injury, James O’Shea is recovering from a broken jaw and Gareth Ramsden is awaiting the next steps on a badly broken nose.