Oakham defeat Bourne in a game dedicated as a memorial match for Savanaca Korobulileka
Oakham extended their lead at the top of Midlands 3 East (South) to six points with a 15-10 home success over third-placed Bourne at the Showground on Saturday.
With second-placed Stamford’s match at Bedford Queens falling foul of the bad weather, Oakham took full advantage by defying the horrendous conditions to defeat a battling Bourne side.
The game was dedicated as a memorial match for Savanaca Korobulileka and officials from both clubs felt the day was a fitting tribute to the Fijian.
Known affectionately to all at Oakham as Tu, Korobulileka tragically died while on the pitch playing for the Rutland club four years ago leaving a wife and four young children.
Both clubs had raised money, together with donations from the wider rugby community, towards a trust fund to help his family.
And the atmosphere at the pre-match lunch reflected the occasion as both sets of supporters shared memories of Tu.
Oakham were keen to avenge their loss to Bourne in the reverse fixture earlier in the season and played with the gale behind them in the first half, knowing that they had to make full use of the elements.
It was apparent from the outset that trying to play expansive rugby would be an impossible task with the wind blowing passes and kicks in any direction but the intended one.
Bourne started the more composed of the two sides, playing one out rugby and using their big pack to good effect to batter away at Oakham.
Oakham quickly grew into the game though and soon found themselves working their way upfield, but Bourne were ready for the task and threw themselves into a defensive challenge from which they knew there would be little respite.
The Bourne pack were made to work hard for long periods of time and, with a strong wind in their faces, they did an admirable job.
On the occasions that Oakham did try to move the ball wide the Bourne backs proved solid across the pitch and quickly closed any gaps the hosts thought they might find.
Just 20 minutes in the weather worsened and as it did the Oakham attacks became harder and harder to stop for the guests.
The Oaks were relieved to be awarded a penalty and, making full use of the wind, sent the ball deep into Bourne territory.
The line-out, with throwing in a complete lottery, was somehow won and Oakham drove over for James Beanland to touch down for the opening score.
The conversion was brilliantly struck by Callum Crellin deliberately striking the ball towards the corner flag before seeing it sail between the posts on the wind.
Bourne weren't phased at all though and they once again set about repelling an energised Oakham side.
With much of the rugby being played at close quarters and progress difficult for both sides there was frustration in each camp and on several occasions tempers boiled over.
Oakham, perhaps expecting to be further ahead in the first half, were particularly guilty of misdemeanors and found themselves temporarily down to 14 men as they had a player sin-binned during the second quarter.
Bourne though couldn't make anything of the numercial advantage as they struggled to make any gains playing into a considerable wind which was now exaggerated by heavy rain.
They were playing a well-structured game using their forwards and retaining possession for long periods thereby denying Oakham possession and the chance for the hosts to use the wind to pin their opponents back.
Oakham's defence was severely tested but, as in recent games, a high tackle count by all the players kept the visitors at bay.
The back row, with Nick Houghton again prominent, were leading the way in preventing a breakthrough by Bourne.
The one area of major advantage for Oakham was their scrum as time and again they shunted Bourne backwards to deny them clean possession.
The game was being played among the forwards with both sets of backs, for the most part, merely onlookers as they attempted to somehow keep themselves warm.
Oakham could not assert any kind of authority in general play and, with the conditions denying them any opportunity to play their fast off-loading game, they were forced into an arm wrestle with the bigger Bourne pack.
Both sides had their attacking moments but, with the pitch turning to mud and the ball like a piece of soap, it became a lottery as to who could retain possession the longest.
With both sides frequently losing the ball in contact Oakham held the advantage with their superior scrum.
Bourne's discipline during the first half-an-hour had been good but a mistake inside their half provided Oakham with a rare penalty.
A long kick downfield by Oakham saw the visitors try to run out of their own 22 but the chasing home backs managed to pin them close to their line.
Bourne consequently conceded a penalty for holding on which allowed Crellin to convert and make it 10-0.
Bourne hit back but were unable to turn their possession into points as the whistle blew for half-time.
Both sides looked ready for the break. While Oakham were certainly happy to be ahead Bourne were understandably pleased to be turning round just 10 points behind.
Most supporters thought the Oaks would have to play very well to defend that lead and 10-0 might not be enough in the second half when playing against the wind.
Bourne's form this year has regularly seen them score far more than 10 points and on numerous times they have come from behind to win games. With the wind in their favour they went into the second half confident the game was still theirs to win.
However, a number of mistakes by Bourne from the restart though saw them immediately on the back-foot.
Within the opening five minutes of the half they had conceded five penalties and were defending their own try line.
Their defensive efforts from the first half continued and time and time again they looked to have done enough to keep Oakham from adding to their lead.
But, with conditions worsening by the minute, it became harder and harder for Bourne to defend properly.
With Oakham realising they needed an early score, they started the second half strongly by going on the offensive, driving deep into Bourne’s 22 with a series of forward drives before being awarded a scrum five metres out.
Bourne were shunted backwards and Crellin found space to touch down for a vital score. Even against the gale-force wind Crellin astonished supporters by almost converting his own try.
Bourne regrouped from the restart and finally started to benefit from having the wind behind their backs.
Having worked their way into the Oakham 22 for the first time since the opening exchanges, Bourne began to put pressure on the home defence.
Not surprisingly it was the Bourne pack responsible for the territorial advantage. With far more possession they were able to make yards and despite an attentive Oakham defence they made their way towards the home try-line.
Sensing their opportunity the Bourne backs also got involved in the simple pick-and-go approach being utilised by their forward counterparts.
And Bourne were eventually rewarded when centre Sam Thornburn crashed over for their first points of the day.
Fly-half Sam Evison was unlucky to miss the conversion narrowly as the wind seemed to change direction and suddenly swirl across the pitch.
Bourne continued to pin Oakham into their own half, but the Oaks were providing stubborn defensive resistance to the mounting pressure.
Unable to use the wind Oakham were forced to use their forwards in short passes and pick and drives whenever they had possession.
This tactic, dictated by the deteriorating conditions, was proving effective in running the clock down without really looking likely to add to the scoreline.
Bourne's pick-and-go was met consistently and often driven back, meaning the guests had to start their attacks from scratch.
With conditions quickly deteriorating Bourne were frustrated at not being able to convert their pressure into points.
Scrum-half JJ Roberts chanced his luck with a crossfield kick which looked to have worked out well until the bounce evaded the finger-tips of wing Josh Lynch by the narrowest of margins.
Ironically it was from here that Oakham mounted their only attack during the final quarter. With Lynch having chased Roberts' kick so hard and having flung himself at the ball he was, through no fault of his own, some way behind play as the hosts took a quick 22 drop-out.
Oakham gathered the kick and made ground down the right wing where Lynch would normally have been.
To his credit though Lynch, supported by full-back Jack Berry and centre Adam McHugh, scrambled back to bring the Oakham attack to an end.
From the resulting scrum the Bourne pack took control once again. Prop Chris Greenwood, after a prolonged lay-off, had come off the bench early in the second half and was hugely influential, particularly at the set-piece.
Second row partners Sam Harby and Keir Moore continued their good run of form and carried well despite the terrible conditions and captain Tom Dixon was heavily involved in both attack and defence.
Bourne worked their way back to the Oakham try-line and once again set about closing the gap, but the Rutland side were in no mood for conceding and were resolute in their defensive efforts.
Although possession swapped sides a number of times Bourne enjoyed the greater share of the ball but this was a day when having it was almost a hindrance and too many times the difficult circumstances led to a mistake.
Bourne weren't giving up and, with time against them, player-coach Andrew Brown came on in the front row and it wasn't long before he benefitted from the endeavours of his team-mates.
Not surprisingly Brown finished his try in a similar fashion to Thornburn in the first half as he powered his way over with another pick-and-go.
Evison did his best with the conversion but it sailed just wide in the midst of another gust of wind.
From the restart Bourne immediately put the pressure back onto Oakham, but the hosts were keen not to make the same mistake twice and doubled their defensive efforts.
As the game ended shortly after the restart it looked as though Bourne had simply run out of time.
The reality was that conceding in the opening minutes of the second half had hurt them and they hadn't been able to convert enough of their possession in the final 30 minutes into points.
To their credit though they had competed against a well established side under conditions that had seen games up and down the country cancelled long before kick-off.
Back row Dan Smith and second-row Sam Harby were joint men of the match after being nominated by Bourne and Oakham respectively.
Smith said: “It was an emotional day for both clubs and under the circumstances a difficult day to play rugby.
“But both sides played a big part and nobody was willing to give an inch. While it might not have been pretty it was a fitting tribute to a young man who was a big part of both clubs.”
Player-coach Brown also felt Bourne’s display highlighted the club’s progress.
He added: “We've come a long way and to even be playing against Oakham is a big deal for us.
“But competing with the top side in this league isn't just an ambition it's something we believe we're worthy of and the result shows that.
“The reality is probably that both sides are pleased with that result - Oakham would undoubtedly expect to win and, while we believe we could have, there's certainly no disgrace in a losing bonus point against such an established side.”
The day was completed in the clubhouse after the match as both sets of players and supporters fell silent to hear the Fijian contingent sing several poignant and moving songs in tribute and memory of their former friend and player.
More by this authorJames Bedford