Bourne Rugby Club moved a step closer to promotion after a 26-19 home victory over Bedford Swifts in their Midlands 4 East (South) clash at Milking Nook Drove on Saturday.
As well as pocketing crucial points to enhance their own promotion prospects, Bourne were boosted by closest rivals Wellingborough Old Grammarians and Brackley both falling to defeats.
Having beaten Wellingborough, near neighbours Deepings jumped to third place but remain 12 points behind their local rivals.
Bourne anticipated a strong Swifts side and the game certainly proved a tight contest.
Playing with a strong wind in the first half, Bourne enjoyed early possession and, despite the conditions, demonstrated some of the skills that have seen them score some exhilirating tries this season.
The tries didn’t come as readily this time though and in the first 15 minutes Bourne failed to execute a number of opportunities.
Having had so much ball and spending so long in the Swifts 22, Bourne were eventually disappointed to come away with just a solitary penalty, courtesy of scrum-half Sam Evison.
The home side were confident though that they would soon have the opportunity to build a decent lead.
However, it was Swifts who struck next after finally getting their hands on the ball. Building some momentum they strung together some phases before attempting to ship the ball wide.
Realising his options were limited the Swifts fly-half ran back into his forwards using them to effectively evade the Bourne defence. The conversion was missed but Swifts were 5-3 up.
With yet another sublime kick, Evison regained the lead for Bourne with an awkward effort from some way out and the home side led by just a point.
Bourne began to open up at this point. The forwards secured regular possession at the set-pieces and the backs shifted the ball confidently in open play creating a number of half-gaps in the Swifts defence.
Full-back Jack Berry, having missed an earlier opportunity to open the scoring, made amends with a fantastic solo try finding his way through a crowd of opposition defenders.
Finishing just wide of the posts, Berry left Evison an easy two points which took Bourne to a 13-5 lead.
It wasn’t long before the home side crossed once again. Forcing the Swifts backline to focus their defensive efforts centrally the Bourne backs created one of their trademark efforts.
Fly-half Drew Castle fed a clever pass to centre Dave Maudsley who threw a long miss-pass to left wing Josh Lynch.
Lynch, often at the end of such moves, gave a well timed pass to right wing Rob Bentley who covered the full width of the pitch to support.
Bentley crossed in the corner as Bourne went further ahead. The lead then extended by the boot of Evison.
At 20-5 up Bourne looked in a comfortable position and, with another penalty from Evison added from long-range, the side looked to have a good enough lead to defend in the second half.
Refreshed by the half-time break and buoyed by the weather being to their advantage for the duration of the second half, Swifts started to make serious inroads through some powerful carries by their pack.
Bourne, however, have become as effective in defence as they are in attack and for the opening 20 minutes of the half Swifts were held scoreless.
Prop Chris Greenwood made a number of telling hits and lock Sam Harby continued his spell of good form.
The biggest impact though came from the back row of Sion Williams, Adam Binns and skipper Tom Dixon who worked tirelessly.
It’s a sign of Bourne’s strength in depth that as Swifts tired the home side were able to replace Binns and lock Ant Cooke with Dan Smith and George Lindley respectively, two players who immediately made an impact.
With the wind behind them, Swifts enjoyed playing much of the second half somewhere near the Bourne try line.
With such a big and strong pack, Swifts clearly favoured a rolling maul from the line-out and after a number of thwarted attempts they managed to cross the whitewash to give themselves a glimmer of hope.
With the conversion added the visitors were now 23-12 down and with plenty of time left they sensed there was much to be played for.
Bourne’s final points came once again from the boot of Evison. Having benefitted from the wind in the first half Evison was called upon to kick another penalty which, although in line with the posts, was some way out against a strong wind. As reliable as ever Evison slotted the points with relative ease.
A full two scores to get level looked too much for Swifts but they hadn’t given up hope and were spurred by scoring almost immediately from the restart.
Just 26-19 down with several minutes remaining Swifts began to throw everything at their hosts, forcing them to defend desperately.
The tension reached a peak when for the last play of the game Swifts were awarded a line-out on the Bourne 22.
Suspecting another rolling maul the Bourne pack chose not to contest the line-out and were rewarded when the Swifts forwards were penalised for obstruction.
Having kicked Bourne to an unlikely win away at Swifts earlier in the season, and for a general contribution to the game beyond his kicking, Evison was among the top performers on the day but it was Berry that took the man of the match award and was understandably pleased with the result.
Berry said: “It was a tough second half but we’re getting good at getting a result in tight games.
“We like scoring tries and by our standards two isn’t many but with Sam’s kicking ability we know we can pick up extra points and do the job.”