Rosslyn Park lost 30-29 to Sedgley Park on Saturday but very nearly came back to win this match at the death, but any hard luck stories need to be tempered with the fact that it was they who disadvantaged themselves in the first place with some distinctly poor defending.
Even their most blindly loyal fans could not describe Sedgley Park Tigers as any better than ordinary at this level but, for whatever reason, Rosslyn Park again looked a shadow of the side who stormed to the top of the League at the turn of the year.
The visitors got in trouble from the start, dropping Tigers’ long kick-off to concede a scrum near their own line. They successfully defended that and worked the ball out of danger only to concede a penalty on their 10 metre line after 5 minutes. Home centre Matt Riley gratefully accepted the chance to put his side 3-0 ahead.
Home celebrations were short lived as play returned to their 22 and combative centre Luke Campbell created himself a fine try out of nothing, scampering a path to the posts which only he saw and using his strength to launch himself over. Ross Laidlaw converted for 3-7.
Rosslyn Park were, however, in generous mood and soon conceded a further penalty for Riley to make it 6-7.
That was the spur for a renewed period of dominance by the visitors. A good attack saw full back Nev Edwards pass wide to John Rudd but it did not stick. Campbell produced some more fine work to claim possession from a Tigers’ defensive scrum; a kick to the in-goal area saw the defender get there first, but eventually attacking endeavours brought a penalty for Laidlaw to stretch the lead to 6-10 on 12 minutes.
Rosslyn Park were now in more or less total command in terms of both possession and territory, the ball rarely leaving the Tigers’ half, but there was simply no real penetration. Rudd had several noble attempts to bludgeon his way through, while Paul Unseld – making a rare appearance on the other wing – did not receive a pass that would allow him to exploit his pace before he was substituted early in the second half. Too often possession was kicked away before it reached his wing. For all Rosslyn Park’s often excellent approach work, they simply could not make those few final metres to the line. To be absolutely fair they were not helped at all by a referee who seemed totally oblivious to players infringing from an offside position. But it seemed that an awful lot of attacking endeavour was being expended without troubling the scoreboard operator.
As so often happens in these circumstances, Park were caught unawares when Sedgley Park counter-attacked up their right and centre Fergus Owen was able to go behind the posts all but unchallenged, Riley adding the extras for a 13-10 lead, completely against the run of play.
If that was, to a degree, unlucky then there can be no such excuse for the defensive shambles that almost immediately followed, allowing the Tigers to run in again through missed tackles and absent tacklers, Riley this time bagging the try and converting it for a quite remarkable turn-around at 20-10 on 32 minutes, at least 25 of which they had spent defending.
That score remained to the interval, but the match was still eminently winnable from a Rosslyn Park point of view when they kicked off the second half. An early penalty gave the chance to reduce arrears, but Laidlaw unaccountably missed one he would expect to make nine times out of ten. Sedgley Park embarked upon an excursion into visiting territory and when scrum half Simon Parrott received the ball there looked to be no real danger. But, simply, no one laid a hand on him so he ran over and scored only 5 minutes into the half, Riley again converting to stretch the lead to 27-10. Defensively, it was beyond a shambles.
Rosslyn Park forced their way back into the match. A line-out in the home half was initially spoiled, but Park eventually gained a 5 metre scrum, which they opted to re-set when the home side offended and eventually Mike Baxter – appearing at centre – skipped over and Laidlaw converted to give a glimmer of hope at 27-17 with 20 minutes left.
That glimmer of hope looked a bit dimmer 5 minutes later when a penalty allowed Riley to extend the lead to 30-17, but Park certainly did not give it up. Some excellent work by Nev Edwards, who really ought to be able to claim Danger Money playing behind this defence, eventually led to a try for Joe Trayfoot out wide. The conversion defied even Laidlaw, but at 30-22 it was getting closer.
With not much time left another superb run by Edwards scythed through the defence and again Trayfoot did not let him down, going over for a try so that Laidlaw’s conversion brought his side within a point with little time left on the clock.
It looked as if Rosslyn Park had blown it when the home side were awarded a penalty in their own half with time effectively up. But the long kick failed to find touch, so the visitors needed to retain the ball, get into Sedgley territory and hope to at least force a penalty. Some fine passing took them into the home half, but at a tackle it came down to who the referee would ‘ping’: the attacker for not releasing or the defender for not allowing release. He was in no doubt, and the comeback was stymied.
Rosslyn Park: Edwards; Unseld (Parsons), Gower, Baxter, Rudd; Laidlaw; Barr; Marfo (Ovens), Gotting (Richmond), Ward; Lloyd-Jones (Rowland), Anderson; McKeen, Campbell, Trayfoot.
Sub not used: Shabbo
Park scorers: Trayfoot (2T), Campbell (T), Baxter (T), Laidlaw (P, 3C)