Crows go down fighting but rue a sluggish start
By Lee Gilbert
Royston never gave up on the weekend but eventually went down 31-23 after giving Tabard a 14-0 head start within 5 minutes.
After a great result on the road in Kilburn last time out, Royston were hoping to continue their uplift in form at home to Tabard. As per usual, several personnel and positional changes were made, but the 8th different centre partnership of the season in flanker Lee Gilbert and centre Chris Ellis still took to the field with optimism!
The Crows started very slowly, with possession lost from the opening kick-off and Tabard quickly turning this into a 7-0 lead after less than two minutes. This continued shortly afterwards as ill-discipline allowed Tabard to kick for the corner, where their pack further extended the lead to 14-0 with less than five minutes on the clock. Rattled, but undeterred, Royston began the fight back directly from the re-start, with an excellent kick chase from winger Dan Ritsema forcing a penalty that full back Will Dacey slotted for Royston’s first points of the day. Tabard attempted to re-stablish their foothold on the game, but in their next real spell of possession, centre Ellis intercepted Tabard ball in his own half and took it all the way to the end zone for Dacey to easily slot the extra points to reduce the score to 14-10 after fifteen minutes. Royston continued to build on this renaissance, with Dacey unlucky not to slot another three points from the half-way line but the Crows forced another pen shortly afterwards as the Tabard second row took out outside half Will Cottrell off the ball for ten minutes on the side-line and another three points from Dacey, 14-13 and Royston in the ascendancy.
However, once more the kick-off went unclaimed in the low winter sun and Tabard began to build once more. Continual charges at the Royston defence began to take their toll, with evergreen veteran Jamie Green departing injured for the even more evergreen Jason Turkington, fresh from his exerts at the Old Courthouse bar in Royston the night before. However, Tabard retained possession well and after a great break by their inside centre, continued the attack to the left-hand corner where Royston simply ran out of numbers, conversion missed but lead extended to 19-13. Once more, Royston rose to the challenge, with forwards carrying hard at their Tabard counterparts and the backs starting to create space out wide, and it was from these gains that Royston scored the try of the day. Quickly recycled ball from the pack was spread wide by scrum half Smith and Cottrell, with Gilbert holding the ball up enough to put Ritsema in space down the left. The winger beat two men easily before he was dragged down just inside the Tabard 22 but still managed to off-load to the supporting Gilbert, who in turn managed to find the supporting Ellis with a further off-load for his second score of the day. The conversion from Dacey put Royston ahead for the first time as the half neared its close. Tabard weren’t quite done and after retaining the ball, hammered away at the Royston defence continually for a full five minutes, but the Crows held fast. Big hits by hooker Ollie London, Captain Jon Brain and the entire back row of Meacham, Whittingham and Butcher repelled Tabard, until the ball was finally spilt, and possession turned over. With just a scrum to negotiate until half time, the ball was unfortunately knocked on and Tabard took full advantage, pushing over the resultant scrum for another unconverted try right on half time, Royston 24-20 behind at oranges.
At half time, Royston knew they could get the W if they just managed to retain possession and execute their chances. Discipline would be key, as well as continuing to make those crucial first up tackles. In the only half-time change, Whittingham departed injured for youngster Tom Donnellan.
Royston started the second half a lot better than the first, dominating possession and trying to get the ball wide wherever possible. Hard carries by prop Charlie Sparkes and second row Max Finney continued to get Royston on the front foot, but they just couldn’t retain possession at key times, especially at the line-out. However, Dacey did manage to slot a further penalty shortly before the sixty-minute mark to bring Royston within a single point with all to play for. To their credit, Tabard upped their game considerably shortly afterwards and started to make in-roads once again. Only desperate defence prevented them scoring from two rolling mauls, but the pressure finally told shortly after. From a scrum Tabard carried hard into the Royston line, with Cottrell and Gilbert doing well to stop their outside half just short, but the ball was quickly recycled, and they scored in the corner once more. Even more galling for the Crows was the excellent touchline conversion that followed that took them outside of losing bonus point territory whilst also needing two scores for the win. Gilbert subsequently departed injured and James O’Sullivan was introduced to the fray as the Royston looked to fight back one final time.
To their credit, Royston fought back and dominated the last ten minutes of the game. Excellent breaks by number eight Butcher and winger Ritsema went unfulfilled, with the hard carries of Finney and winger Callum Morgan-McDermott starting to take their toll on all involved, with bodies continually left strewn all over the pitch. Still, Royston pushed for any last reward the game, and this was epitomised in the very last play of the game. Ellis took an excellent inside ball within his own 22 and make yards all the way up to half-way where he found O’Sullivan in support. With several men left over to the left, the ball was unfortunately spilled once more, and the chance was gone. A tough 31-23 loss to take, but one with plenty of positives and key areas to work on in the next few weeks.
Royston continue to find their feet in this league but must start to do so quickly as crucial points go begging. The Crows are more than competitive and capable of putting wins together at this level, but this requires eighty minutes of performance and increased numbers at training, items they will look to put right in the next few weeks before their next game away to Harrow on the 1st of December.