Burbage 26 Claverdon 17
Midlands Four West (South)
CLAVERDON’S promotion hopes suffered a huge blow as second-placed Burbage claimed a hard-fought victory to move eight points clear of the Lions, who dropped to fourth.
Victory for the visitors on Saturday could have taken them into second place behind leaders Old Wheatleyans but they always knew they were in for a tough test in Leicestershire and so it proved.
Claverdon, however, will continue to fight hard in their five remaining matches, the first of which is the visit of Coventrians on March 9 in front of a ladies’ VPs crowd.
Burbage started the better of the two teams after winning a midfield penalty. Opting to kick into the corner, their much bigger pack set up the maul and stormed their way over the line just five minutes into the game.
Following the early try, Claverdon soon switched on and kept play in the Burbage half. It was fine lines and penalties that kept Claverdon out and allowed Burbage to clear their lines on a number of occasions.
Working well together, Harry Nathan and Tom Johnson ran Claverdon back into the correct half to regroup. More hard running from Ross Pollard and Steve Grimsley again put Claverdon on the front foot, only to concede another penalty at a vital time.
The next score came from Burbage to increase their early lead when strong carries and missed tackles put Burbage on the front foot and a final missed tackle allowed a Burbage forward to crash over close to the posts for 12-0 with the conversion.
With Claverdon finally keeping some possession, they showed what they could do by dragging the Burbage defence around the pitch.
Hard running from Chris Glover and Pollard put Claverdon on the front foot and Sam Turrell then used his backs to spread the ball wide to find James Gibney in space. The latter used his electric pace, but bizarrely Gibney cut infield looking to get closer to the posts, only to be brought down 5m out and the Claverdon support needed to react.
First Jack Johnson tried to snipe for the line, only to be shut out by the defence. The ball was then shipped to Harvey Skinner who was also shut out before Johnson found James Barton cutting the line to carry two defenders over the line with him for 12-7.
Claverdon knew they had to keep the pressure on and keeping Burbage pinned back paid off. More hard running from Grimsley and Ali Norman kept the Claverdon momentum going, resulting in a penalty in front of the sticks. Barton gave Turrell the call and the kick was made for 12-10.
With the score so close at half-time, both teams knew this half was vital and the chat in the Claverdon huddle was to cut out the penalties and play in the Burbage half.
Early exchanges in the second half gave the spectators an end-to-end watch. However, Burbage extended their lead after being camped on the Claverdon line for some time.
Strong defensive work from James Kirby and James Williams kept several Burbage attempts out but tired defence left a hole for Burbage to crash through for 19-10.
Claverdon bagged their final score from a rushing defence forcing the knock-on from the Burbage backs. Alex Holden collected the ball and pinned his ears back.
With the covering defence closing in, Holden put boot to ball for Gibney to chase. As Gibney closed in on the ball, the ball the referee deemed he was taken without the ball and awarded the penalty try to Claverdon to make it 19-17.
With time running out and Claverdon’s hopes slipping away, it was Burbage who had the final say. Keeping hold of the ball, Burbage spread the Claverdon defence and collected their bonus point try.
Good ball retention allowed them to draw in the Claverdon pack and score through their backs in the open defence.