RUGBY: Sleaford triumph over Spalding in season opener

Crouch, bind, set . . . Sleaford and Spalding engage in a scrum. J5IaK7i3a3crB6tIVQos
Crouch, bind, set . . . Sleaford and Spalding engage in a scrum. J5IaK7i3a3crB6tIVQos

Following a promising pre-season, Sleaford first XV began their 2016/17 campaign with a tough cup fixture against a strong Spalding outfit, currently plying their trade in the league above Sleaford.

Handing competitive debuts to Sheldon, Courtenay, Bodger and Bower, and far from daunted by the task at hand, Sleaford raced out of the blocks, bone-crunching hits from Stobart and Gunter setting the tone for the afternoon.

Despite Spalding’s retention of the ball for long periods of play at the beginning of the encounter, Sleaford’s resolute defence ensured that nothing came of it. When Sleaford did get hold of the ball, a number of penalties allowed them to move deep in to Spalding territory following some ferocious scrummaging, with the final one allowing Harley to nudge the first points of the game.

Sleaford continued to build on this pressure, with a number of short bursts around the fringes from Sheldon and Fisher allowing the ball to be shipped wide for Stobart to send Titmus over for a fine diving finish in the corner.

A momentary lapse in concentration from the resulting kick-off meant that Sleaford were unable to secure the ball, conceding a penalty in their attempts to eventually relieve the pressure that ensued. Quick thinking from Spalding allowed them to crash over from the tap penalty, narrowing the scoreline to 8-5 in Sleaford’s favour at half time.

Sleaford returned for the second half knowing that an even greater effort would be needed to maintain their slender lead for the remaining 40 minutes. Their defence again didn’t let them down in this sense, forcing an early penalty which allowed Harley to settle the nerves with another three points.

Moments later, hasty line speed forced an error in the Spalding midfield, allowing Wells to hack ahead and force a penalty close to the Spalding line. Batchelor showed great speed of thought to take the penalty quickly, allowing Gunter to saunter over untouched, Harley adding the extras.

Sleaford were really starting to enjoy themselves now, and didn’t allow Spalding’s score against the run of play to dampen their spirits. Holding an 18-10 lead, Sleaford sought to land the killer blow.

Following yet another dominant scrum, the backs set about producing a training ground move. Executing it perfectly, Stobart fed Spencer on an inside ball, sending him scything through the line.

Having been deprived of many opportunities throughout the game, Spencer grasped this one with both hands, barrelling over the full back to open his account for the season. Harley nudged the extras.

Far from done, Sleaford went on to produce a fine spectacle of a try, showcasing various flicks and tricks the Fijians would be proud of. Despite the slippery conditions, Sleaford went the full length (and width) of the pitch, the ball transferring through no less than 11 pairs of hands, Bodger passing to Harley to cruise over at the end of it all for a score that will not be forgotten any time soon.

Harley completed a personal haul of 20 points by kicking a penalty with the last play of the game, resulting in a 35-10 victory for the red and blacks.

Having laid down a real marker against a side in a higher league, Sleaford begin their league campaign next weekend at home to Ashby, hoping to build on this impressive start to the season.

Sleaford: Williams, Harley, Davies, Sheldon, Hards, Pocklinton, Gunter, Fisher, Batchelor, Wells, Titmus, Stobart, Bodger, Spencer, Padley. Subs: Loveday, Courtenay, Bower.