Yellow cards prove costly as Buckby make most of one-man advantage
Oakham Rugby Club have been relegated from Midlands 2 East (South) after losing their winner-takes-all showdown at Long Buckby on Saturday.
The Oaks went down to a 34-17 away reversal which means they will be facing derby duels with Stamford and Bourne in Midlands 3 East (South) next season.
Oakham were left to contemplate life in a lower division after ruing opportunities early in the game which may have changed things.
For the second week running, the Oaks played 20 minutes of the game with 14 men as a result of two separate yellow cards.
During that time their opponents scored three tries and that, in the final analysis, was the main difference between the two teams at the final whistle.
Buckby were sitting just above the Oaks in a group of three teams on 41 points going into the match while Oakham were lying immediately below them in the relegation zone on 37 points.
Oakham knew that only a bonus point win, gaining them five points, would be good enough to survive the drop.
The game kicked off with Oakham playing down the slope and into a stiff breeze and they went straight away on the attack from the kick off, pinning Buckby deep into their 22 with some good attacking support play.
They enjoyed plenty of possession in the first 10 minutes but, despite hammering away at the Buckby line, Oakham could not find the cutting edge to break the home defence to secure, what may have been, a vital opening score.
Buckby then broke the siege as the Oaks conceded a penalty and the chance was gone - a theme that was to continue throughout most of the game.
The Oaks were soon to pay the price for failing to score as, with their first attack of the game, Buckby broke through the Oakham defence and only a deliberate knock on by Callum Crellin prevented what would probably have been an opening score.
Crellin was duly sin-binned and Buckby kicked the penalty for a 3-0 lead with 12 minutes played.
Down to 14 men Oakham slipped into an all too familiar pattern of falling foul of the referee, being constantly penalised, and allowing Buckby to take control of the game.
With 18 minutes gone, following yet another penalty, Buckby took full advantage by kicking another penalty to the corner and then winning the line-out to drive over for a converted try.
Despite their setpiece scrum and line-out going well, the Oaks were struggling to retain possession at the breakdown.
But, on the half-hour mark, the Oaks got back into the game by working their way into the opposition 22.
With their scrum dominant Buckby conceded three scrum penalties. Oakham opted to scrum each time and then at the last scrum quickly moved the ball right for Tom Easson to force his way over for a try, converted by Crellin to make it 10-7 and the game was now finely poised.
Oakham continued to press but could not make inroads through the Buckby defence, the hosts holding on to their 10-7 lead at half-time.
The second-half started with Oakham using the wind to peg their opponents back but the referee continued to warn and penalise the visitors at the breakdown, frustrating the players and preventing continuity in their play.
With 15 minutes gone the referee’s patience eventually wore thin and John Mitchell was sent to the bin for 10 minutes.
With three consecutive penalties Buckby then worked their way upfield to a five-metre lineout. The subsequent catch and drive by their heavy pack resulting in a converted try.
Buckby then took full advantage of Oakham being a man short as they stretched their lead almost immediately, slicing through the visiting defence in the centre before scoring an unconverted try in the corner and make it 22-7.
It was now looking like an uphill task for the Oaks to win the game from this position, but they stuck to their task and still made ground when they had possession.
Buckby were to go further ahead with 15 minutes remaining to finally dash any hopes of an Oakham fightback, intercepting a pass before crossing under the posts for a converted try.
Oakham then suffered yet another injury blow as wing Ollie Moore was stretchered off with a dislocated ankle, requiring a further reshuffle of the visiting backline.
Buckby then sealed their victory as, from yet another penalty, they won a line-out 10 metres out and drove the Oakham pack over their line for an unconverted try which made it 34-7 with less than 10 minutes to go.
Oakham then gathered themselves for a last effort, determined to finish the season on a high.
Following a fine break by centre Jonno Mills, space was created for James Beanland to score an unconverted try and make it 34-12.
From the kick off Oakham again made good ground, resulting in Ben Turnbull squeezing over for a last-minute try, converted by Crellin, and making the final score 34-17.
Despite their relegation, the season has not been all doom and gloom for Oakham.
Several youngsters were introduced to first team rugby during the campaign and gained valuable experience which will stand them in good stead next season.
If the Oaks can also get back some of their long-term injured players it will give them the opportunity to regroup for next season.