Sleaford 1st XV 13
Belper 1st XV 7
WITH second place and subsequent promotion from Midlands 3 East (North) to play for, Sleaford first team played host to Belper in their final league game of the season on Saturday.
The Red and Blacks went into this game in confident mood but wary of slipping up against their no-nonsense Derbyshire contemporaries.
Unfortunately for Sleaford it was certainly a day for slipping and sliding, as torrential rain turned the ground into a paddling pool and the ball into a bar of soap, inhibiting the home side’s ability to play expansive rugby.
For the first 10 minutes, Sleaford set up camp in the Belper 22 and pressed hard for the opening score. After surging runs from Matt Ashton and Shaun Fisher, Dave Davies powered his way over the line to the left of the posts for an encouraging try to give Sleaford an early 5-0 lead.
However, the home side soon discovered they were not going to have things all their own way as Belper finally got hold of the ball and began to make some headway into the Sleaford half through their forwards.
The visitors’ ferocity at the breakdown and in the tackle was to disrupt Sleaford’s possession all afternoon and hinder their attacking progress.
The Red and Black’s lineout functioned relatively smoothly thanks to Wayne Harley’s accurate throwing and. allied with a rock solid scrum, Sleaford managed to maintain a measure of control over the game and they took their slender lead into half time.
The second half began as the first had, with Sleaford patiently working their way into the Belper 22 and trying to force another score.
Despite stern resistance, Sleaford eventually broke through, with John Spencer receiving an offload from Fisher to crash over from short range for Sleaford’s second try. A difficult conversion from near the right touchline fell short but Red and Blacks now led 10-0 with half an hour left to play.
But, from the restart, the home side found themselves under considerable pressure as Belper launched a sustained assault on the Sleaford line; the visitors’ number 8 forcing his way over for a try to the left of the posts from a tap and go penalty. A successful conversion reduced Sleaford’s lead to three points - 10-7.
With the likes of Ady Hopkins, Ashton and Davies working tirelessly at the breakdown and making ground with ball in hand, Sleaford earned a penalty close to the posts, which Dan Mackie slotted over to stretch Sleaford’s lead to 13-7.
The Red and Blacks brought on Simon Farmery, Dave Hards and Dave Gunter to replace Ashton, Harry Loweth and Conor Holmes.
In the final few minutes all the pressure was on the Red and Blacks as Belper charged forward looking for the converted try that would have given them an unlikely victory
A wonderful cover tackle from Harley kept the visitors at bay before the referee’s whistle brought the game to a close, with Sleaford securing the win they so badly craved.
Soon after, it was reported that Lincoln had lost at Dronfield, which prompted scenes of jubilation in the changing room and the clubhouse afterwards as this meant Sleaford had finished the season level on points with Lincoln but had secured second spot in the league table by virtue of winning more games this season.
Sleaford are promoted and will be playing in Midlands 2 East (North) next season.
Sleaford 1st XV: D. Davies, W. Harley, M. Ashton, A. Hopkins, A. Downing, H. Loweth, A. Gunter (c), S. Fisher, C. Holmes, D. Mackie, N. Ingleton, J. Spencer, C. Stobart, H. Stevenson-Cocks, W. Cann. Subs: S. Farmery, D. Hards, D. Gunter
Scorers: Tries – Davies, Spencer; penalty - Mackie