Claverdon 5 Rugby Lions 21
Midlands Four West (South)
FOR the second time this season Claverdon gave champions Rugby Lions a fright but ultimately came up short of securing the victory they needed to keep realistic promotion ambitions alive, writes Charlie Byrd.
Back in December Claverdon returned from Webb Ellis Road with numerous compliments to their name from Rugby Lions, whose players proclaimed Claverdon were the toughest opponents they had faced on home soil for years.
Therefore, Claverdon were relishing the return fixture at Ossets Hole Lane where a combination of a narrow pitch, very strong defensive record and a fired-up home team meant there was the chance to make history for this small yet brilliant village club.
Vice-captain Charlie Byrd, deputising for usual skipper James Williams, called on his side to leave nothing out on the field and they did him proud with a fine performance which bodes well for a promotion push next season.
Claverdon got off to a flying start and claimed first blood after two minutes. Doz Ward took the kicking option, marching Claverdon upfield where the ball found touch on the RL 22 and the visitors won their lineout cleanly and shipped the ball wide.
What happened next was not one but two pieces of individual brilliance from Claverdon centre Seru Rokituiloma. As the ball got shipped wide the RL centre got what has become commonly known as ‘being Seru’d’ – in other words he got hit by a freight train!
This forced the knock-on in which Claverdon claimed possession and played the advantage and two phases later Rokituiloma found the ball in his hands and chipped the ball down the line, a couple of very fortuitous bounces somehow kept the ball in field and allowed Claverdon winger Paul Dawes to chase after and score in the corner, although Ward missed the extras.
The lead did not last long, however, as after some exchanges of possession RL found themselves on the scoresheet after a messy scrum from the home team near their own line. The ball shot out of the side of the scrum, allowing the visitors to gather and a simple two-on-one resulted in a try fairly near the posts from which their kicker added the extras.
Claverdon showed the defensive brilliance which has been evident throughout the season, but the visitors were dominant in the scrum.
This led to Rugby’s second try when, after Claverdon had a scrum on their own 5m line, being driven backwards Claverdon No 8 Ross Pollard somehow cleaned up the ball and charged at his opposite number.
He offloaded the ball to captain Byrd who tried to use an overlap with winger Tom Johnson, but a combination of a slightly misplaced pass and poor hands resulted in a gift for the RL winger who simply picked up the ball and scored in the corner to make it 12-5.
Things almost got worse for the hosts soon afterwards, but scrum half Mikey Jay pulled off a sensational try-saving tackle which broke not only the RL winger’s hopes of scoring a second try but the corner post as well.
The second half was a much tighter affair as neither side was really able to break through their opposition. Both defences were excellent and there were very few missed tackles.
On the whole discipline from both teams was good and it was a real war of attrition as both sides ran hard and tackled harder.
The only points of the half were scored from the boot of RL kicker, who seemed as if he could not miss regardless of where it was, although Claverdon shot themselves in the foot by giving away three penalties in their own half over the course of the second period.
What the referee deemed as a dangerous tackle and poor discipline at the ruck ended up being very costly as the hosts’ dreams of beating RL slowly faded away as three penalties were scored – two from distance.
Claverdon continued to fight until the death and, with their attack in full flow, a combination of hard running from the likes of James Barton and good offloading from Tim Westmacott and Byrd saw Claverdon suddenly making real ground and a score looking on the cards.
An alleged neck injury meant play had to be stopped just as the home team were three metres away from the try line, which allowed RL to regroup and essentially killed Claverdon’s attack.
After the match stand-in captain Byrd said: “It was a typical Claverdon performance – brave, fearless and passionate – and we would like to think we have earned the respect of a team such as Rugby Lions as a small village team with a big set of hearts.
“It was a performance that I was very proud to captain and I have no regrets about what the team could have done differently. It was a very worthy effort for a team that don’t even train.”
Barring a mathematical miracle Evesham will now finish as runners-up ahead of Claverdon, for whom a third placed finish is under threat from Kings Norton, who with a game in hand are just four points behind Claverdon ahead of Kings’ home game against Evesham on Saturday.
Claverdon will aim to end the season in winning fashion when they visit mid-table Stoke Old Boys on Saturday.