Shuttleworth brace just unable to get Leamington over the line
Leamington once again played their part in a thrilling game of rugby football and, in a nailbiting finish, they nearly grabbed victory.
However, they had to be content with a losing bonus point, which was the least they deserved from another quality performance from an improving squad of players.
The visitors from Coventry began the match at a high tempo and forced Leamington to defend in depth and it took some no-nonsense tackling from Kenny Kwok and Gareth Shuttleworth to prevent them from scoring.
Initially this danger was alleviated by the boot of Richard McKowen. However, with Earlsdon firing on all cylinders at this early stage, the home defence finally fell to a well-worked converted score.
This score got an immediate and very positive response from the home side with Harry Gooch and Aled Thomas exchanging quick passes on the far touchline to open up the Earlsdon defence.
Leamington continued to press the visitors and following a drive from their pack, scrum-half Patrick Northover spotted a gap and dived towards the tryline only to be held up.
This was exactly the response Leamington wanted from the earlier setback and they continued to press.
An Earlsdon lineout looked as though it would relieve the pressure for the visitors. However, a clever steal by Shuttleworth at the rear of the line provided more danger and was brought to a halt by an unfair tackle. With the line begging, Leamington skipper Craig Smith took a quick tap penalty and forced his way through the Earlsdon defenders for a fine individual score. Northover was just off target with the conversion attempt from wide out.
The match was turning into a very tight affair with both sides wanting to play open rugby. The playing surface certainly helped, with it being firm underfoot despite the recent nearby flooding.
Leamington nearly created another promising opening when the front row of Thomas, Gooch and Danny Phillips all linked up in the middle of the park with some slick inter-passing before getting the ball to winger Ross Waterhouse for a run at the visitors’ defence.
Earlsdon were also dangerous and it took a superb try-saving tackle from Richard McKowen to stop one incursion.
The visitors forced a scrum following this attack and with the ball in open play it looked as though Leamington had regained possession. However, the referee deemed otherwise and awarded the visitors a penalty. Earlsdon took a lineout and then won another scrum. Leamington fell foul of the referee again, conceding a couple of penalties before finally succumbing to a penalty try.
Shortly before the half-time whistle, McKowen nearly redeemed the situation with a stunning break but it came to nothing and Leamington went in at the interval trailing 14-5.
Leamington were first out of the blocks in the second period and soon had the visitors reeling. Northover had been in excellent form with his kicks to touch and when his side were awarded a penalty, he took the opportunity to boot the hosts deep into the Earlsdon 22 for a lineout. Tom Lane claimed the ball and allowed his forwards to drive towards the line and Shuttleworth was on hand to get the all-important touchdown.
The home side were soon attacking again following another explosive break by McKowen. His run forced the visitors to concede a penalty which Northover used to get his side into a promising vantage point. This time, however, Earlsdon were able to prevent a rolling maul being formed and the ball was eventually cleared.
With the match still a very tight affair and both sides having their fair share of possession, Earlsdon took a decisive lead following a penalty in their favour to run in a third try.
Leamington tried to counter with some more scintillating attacking play.
First team debutant Josh Jones made an immediate impact, almost finishing off a promising move down the Leamington three-quarter line before being forced into touch. The young winger then linked cleverly with centre Toby Bruce to create another threatening opening.
With time running out, the balance of play was once again swinging in Leamington’s favour and they used Northover’s astute touchline kicks to get into good attacking positions with the knowledge that the catch and drive routine was working well.
During one of these passages of play, Nick Maxwell’s pin-point throw was claimed by Lane and once again the Leamington juggernaut went into action with Shuttleworth on hand again to get the touchdown. Northover’s cleancut conversion got his side within two points of the visitors. However, the referee’s whistle brought matters to a conclusion before any further inroads could be made.