Old Leamingtonians march on after withstanding Berkswell fightback
Old Leamington remain six points clear at the summit after holding on for a maximum-points haul in a game played out in front of 90-plus patrons and guests.
The visitors gained some early territorial advantage but sound defensive play prevented any scoring opportunities.
The constant shrill of the referee’s whistle made for a stop-start game and it was 15 minutes before the first score, a penalty in front of the posts giving the visitors a three-point lead.
Berkswell & Balsall were employing a forward-driven game, while OLs adopted a 15-man approach, using the backs whenever possible.
However, it was good forward play by the home side that provided the next score.
From excellent possession and a flowing three-quarters move the OLs drove the visitors deep into the 22 from where a series of rucks and mauls allowed hooker Reece Jones to force his way over the line for a well-worked try.
The conversion was missed.
Further pressure by OLs pushed Berkswell back into their own half but when good driving mauls looked as though they would provide scoring opportunities the match official’s whistle halted proceedings, resulting in yellow cards for players from both teams and some confusion among spectators.
One infringement by the visitors resulted in a penalty converted by Henry Reynolds to give the home side an 8-3 interval lead.
The second half kicked off with Old Leamingtonians taking the game to the visitors and, with the home forwards having the better of the set-pieces the speedy OLs backs came more into the game.
One flowing move saw the ball worked along the line for centre Simon Hemming to break through and score try number two, again unconverted.
The hosts remained dominant and added their third try following an interception from centre Simon Hemming who fed the ball out to wing three-quarter Ciaran O’Connor who outpaced the defence to touch down.
The conversion from Oscar Heath made it 20-3.
Further strong forward play from the home side allowed number eight Hugh Melhuish to cross the line for the bonus-point try.
Berkswell & Balsall came back into the game in the final 15 minutes of normal time, with OLs finding themselves under pressure as the visitors forced their way deep into the home 22.
The heavier Berkswell forwards scored two tries, both converted, to move within eight points of OLs with time running out.
Further pressure created more mistakes from the home side and Berkswell & Balsall converted a penalty to reduce the deficit to five points.
However, despite the late pressure and with only 13 men on the field due to more yellow cards and several injuries, Old Leamingtonians’ defence held firm through ten minutes of added time, a result of the match official’s continual stoppages, to claim an important victory.