Three tries in the final 30 minutes sent Oakham spinning to defeat in Saturday’s Midlands 2 East (South) clash at third-placed Market Harborough.
Already fielding a side that contained nine changes from the previous week’s win over Market Bosworth, injuries and the sin-binning of Angus Collett took its toll on Oakham who had gone into the final half-hour on level terms.
With Harborough lying third in the league, it would have taken a huge effort from Oakham to come away with any points and they fell behind in the opening minute.
Oakham kicked off and the referee awarded a scrum in midfield. From the scrum Harborough fed the ball to their big centre who strolled through the visitors’ defence to score a converted try with barely one minute on the clock.
The alarm bells were ringing as Oakham struggled to get any possession with Harborough dominating the game in the early exchanges and looking threatening every time they ran the ball.
Oakham finally managed to get some ball and, with their first attack, drove at the Harborough defence before being awarded two consecutive penalties.
After two quick tap and goes, centre Will Armstrong forced his way over for an unconverted try and Oakham were back in the game at 7-5 with 10 minutes played.
There was no respite for Oakham though as Harborough again launched repeated attacks, finally breaking the Rutlanders’ resistance on 17 minutes for another converted try for a 14-5 lead.
Oakham were struggling to get any hold on the game with Harborough in almost continuous possession and only some last-ditch tackles saved what seemed, on several occasions, to be almost certain tries for the hosts.
Eventually Harborough did manage to find a way through, driving over for another try with 30 minutes gone which was unconverted and increasing the lead to 19-5.
Oakham then switched the team around with Sidwell going to his favoured position of full back, Glenn Vakalakabure moving to scrum half wich enabled Callum Crellin to move to fly half.
This change settled the team down and had an immediate effect as, from a midfield ruck, a lightening break by Glenn Vakalakabure was finally stopped deep inside the Harborough 22.
The Oaks continued to make progress towards the Harborough line before Henry Wills drove his way over for a try, which was converted by Crellin to leave Oakham trailing 19-12 as the whistle went for half-time.
Despite all the Harborough possession, Oakham were still well in this game and knew if they could get some ball in the second half an upset could be on the cards.
And so it proved as Oakham began the second half in dominant mood which forced Harborough into conceding a penalty.
Oakham kicked for the corner, won the line-out and then recycled quick ball on two occasions before centre Jimmy Rosillo was put through to score near the posts.
The conversion was made by Crellin, resulting in the scores being tied at 19-19 with 10 minutes played in the second half.
Oakham then suddenly lost their momentum as hooker Stimson went off for treatment and, with a re-jigged front row, their scrum suddenly began to wilt with Harborough driving them back at every scrum.
The referee then awarded two consecutive scrum penalties against Oakham before finally issuing a yellow card to prop Collett.
Stimson returned to the front row in obvious discomfort but battled on, however, Harborough immediately called for another scrum from the penalty and, with the Oakham scrum in full retreat, the Harborough scrum half picked the ball up and scampered over for a try.
Oakham, now with a player in the sin bin and several others struggling to cope with the pace of the game, were having to dig deep as Harborough sought to thrust home their advantage by soon creating an overlap for their winger to score another converted try to increase their lead to 31-19.
The Oaks were restored to 15 men with 10 minutes to go but, by then, it was all Harborough and, despite some late attacking flurries from Oakham, the home side managed to prevent the visitors adding to their score.
The Harborough scoring was completed by their scrum half breaking through several tackles on his way to a fine individual try, sealing the 38-19 victory.
It was a disappointed Oakham team at the end to concede so many points as they had been right in the game before injuries and the sin -bin swung the outcome back into Harborough’s favour.
The Oaks host top-of-the-table Oadby Wyggestonians at the Showground on Saturday in the final game of the season (kick-off 3pm).
With Oadby needing to win to ensure they finish top the Oaks, on their own patch and fielding a strong team, know they are well capable of causing an upset in what should be a cracking game.
The Seconds also host Oadby Wyggestonians at the Showground in their last game in what is ‘allegedly’ veteran and stalwart Brian Sampson’s final game, although there are rumours that, despite being in his seventies, he will be back next season.