Rosslyn Park ended their National One home campaign with a 34-19 win over Birmingham & Solihull on Saturday.
The match had a real end of season feel with a team in a comfortable position playing one already relegated.
But it was sprinkled with enough good play – particularly by Park in the first period, and a dramatic come back by the ‘Bees’ at the end – to keep the crowd entertained.
With Ross Laidlaw unavailable, England U-19 fly half, Will Robinson took over the 10 shirt and stamped his presence on proceedings with skill and vision beyond his years.
Park attacked from the off and soon had a penalty, which Robinson converted for a 3-0 lead. Some good rugby saw the home side enjoy a near monopoly of the early attacking play, and they went further ahead on 7 minutes when a Robinson pass triggered a super attack through the middle which was finished off by Steve Parsons, coming in off his wing to power over close to the posts. Robinson converted for 10-0.
The fly half added a further penalty to stretch the lead to 13-0 and the Bees were on the rack. However, the visitors showed how dangerous they could be if given half a chance when, on 20 minutes, a powerful John Rudd run through the middle ended with Park losing the ball in contact, and lock David Markham broke away to score. Scrum half Mark Woodrow converted and, for all Park’s dominance, they were pegged back to 13-7.
A superb piece of play by Robinson failed to get the reward it deserved when he made a splendid run through the centre and put in a deft chip that he narrowly failed to gather as it dropped over the line. It would have been the individual try of the season. The fly half was soon on duty at the other end, where his long kick out of defence brought about the situation from which a further penalty saw him extend the lead to 16-7 on 30 minutes.
Birmingham had their first really concentrated period of pressure, but Park defended well and a great run out of defence by Nev Edwards only ended when he tripped at full speed, but he still had the skill and presence of mind to still present the ball to his back row, who were in hot pursuit. There was no escape for the Bees as Park passed the ball around to probe for a gap and eventually a great long pass from Charlie Gower found Edwards in space wide on the left and he was in for 21-7.
There was just time for a great run from Stan McKeen, but when it failed to bear fruit the half-time whistle blew.
Park started the second half as they had finished the first, with a great run up the left by Edwards almost reaching the line. The home side did not have to wait long, setting up a move that saw Rudd score in the right corner for 26-7 on 43 minutes.
With a 19 point cushion, Park’s attention shifted to the bonus point a further try would bring. Robinson banged a kickable penalty to touch, but Park were unable to capitalise until, just as it looked as if the Bees would counter-attack, Joe Trayfoot broke away on the interception to bring the bonus point at 31-7 on 56 minutes.
Birmingham looked anything but relegation fodder as they made a brave attempt to get back into the match. They found that with the departure of Laurence Ovens the home scrum looked far from secure, and tried to apply pressure. They won a penalty in front of the posts, but had to go for a try if they were to salvage anything. Eventually it was England 7s star Simon Hunt, playing full back for the Bees, who returned to haunt his old club with a superb individual try through the middle from just inside the Park half. Normally one would criticise defenders in this situation, but such was the speed and power of the run that in all probability Hadrian’s Wall would not have stopped it. Sometimes you just have to say, “Too good”.
Suddenly Birmingham believed, and they proved to be quite a handful. Straight back onto the attack, only smart awareness and a bear hug from Rudd prevented a try up the visitors’ left flank, but they were not to be so easily denied. They recycled and put immediate pressure on the Park line and, finding all avenues barred, Markham simply jumped over the pile of players to score, Woodrow’s conversion making it 31-19 with 10 minutes remaining.
Back came the Bees, and this time it was Sam Edgerley who made the crucial tackle. Birmingham won, and ran, a penalty but knocked-on. If they never actually looked like winning, they were certainly going to leave National One with their heads held high if they could not quite manage the two-fingered salute.
Eventually normal service was restored as Park broke away, forced a penalty and Robinson capped a fine personal performance by kicking Park to complete safety at 34-19. One pleasant thing for Park supporters to contemplate over summer: if he can keep this lad out of the 10 jersey, how good must Ross Laidlaw be?
Park: Edwards; Parsons, Gower (Edgerley), Baxter, Rudd; Robinson; Barr; Ovens (Marfo), Richmond (Gotting), Ward; Lloyd-Jones (Rowland), Anderson; McKeen, Campbell (Barrett), Trayfoot.
Park scorers: Parsons (T), Edwards (T), Rudd (T), Trayfoot (T), Robinson (4P, C)