Crows win crucial encounter with relegation rivals
By Lee Gilbert
Royston left St. Albans with 5 points in the bag on Saturday whilst extended the gap between them and Verulamians in the relegation zone to 15 points
Royston travelled to Verulamians on Saturday knowing that a positive result was a must against the leagues basement team if their London 3NW status was to be maintained. However, they also knew Verulamians would raise their game and were capable of a result themselves, after leaving the Heath with the full five points last October.
Playing down the slope in the first half, Royston began cautiously, soaking up a lot of early V’s pressure as they looked to attack from the offset. This pressure was finally relieved when winger Dan Ritsema chased a 22m drop-out and managed to hack the ball on to the V’s 5m line, where their fullback duly knocked on and gave Royston excellent field position. A couple of re-set scrums later, and Royston secured a penalty that fullback Will Dacey slotted for a 3-0 lead. From the kick-off, Royston secured good ball that allowed outside-half Will Cottrell to clear the ball to touch to just outside the V’s 22. A poor line-out was well gathered in by number eight Matthew Muirhead and he drew in three opponents before offloading to flanker Lee Gilbert to slide in at the corner, difficult conversion missed by Dacey but Royston still led 8-0 within the first ten minutes. From here, Royston simply fell out of the game for large periods of play, with V’s using their bulky pack to make in-roads in midfield before releasing their quick outside backs to useful effect. Before they knew it, Royston were 12-8 down after thirty minutes as V’s scored two well worked tries, one excellently converted from the touchline by the V’s outside half. Finally awoken from their slumber, Royston hit back immediately as an excellent re-start by Cottrell was well fielded by Gilbert and carried into the V’s 22, where another penalty was secured that Dacey slotted with ease to reduce arrears to 12-11. However, ill-discipline was creeping into the Crows play as they struggled to interpret the referee’s management of the game, with multiple penalties giving V’s excellent field position as the half neared it’s close. With one minute to go until half-time, Gilbert was sent to the sin bin after ripping the ball in contact and placing on Royston’s side of play, but the referee determined this as an offence. Luckily, the Crows held out until half-time with no further score, still behind by a point.
At half-time, the Crows were giving a deserved talking to by Coach Gallagher, as they knew they weren’t playing the game they had set out to and were making things relatively straightforward for V’s. Increased ferocity in defence was needed, as well as more wide play, and this is what they set about implementing during the second half.
From the kick-off, second row Jon Brain secured an excellent turnover penalty for holding on at the ruck and Dacey slotted the kick once again to put the Crows back in front at 14-12. However, once again Royston were guilty of giving away too many penalties and running the ball into the big V’s forwards and loosing possession on too many occasions. Only excellent try line defence by the Royston pack prevented what looked like a certain try for V’s, and Royston were back to full numbers with the return of Gilbert from the sin bin shortly after. With V’s once again in possession and going through the phases, some excellent rush defence by Muirhead forced them to drop the ball and second row Max Finney was on hand to hack the ball clear and touchdown just before the ball went out of play. Dacey converted for a 21-12 lead and Royston were starting to exert their own physicality on proceedings. With Royston beginning to dictate more of the play, an excellent miss pass towards the left touchline by Cottrell that Quade Cooper would’ve been proud of unleashed centre Euan Rees into space, where he found Ritsema in support. He managed to crash over the line with several V’s defenders in close attention, but unfortunately the referee couldn’t see the grounding and a 5m scrum to Royston was awarded instead. Undeterred, a strong scrum by the Royston pack allowed Muirhead to pick up and get within inches of the V’s line, where flanker Joe Butcher was able to crash over for the score, again converted by Dacey to extend Royston’s lead to 28-12 with about twenty minutes left to play. Several substitutions were made by Royston at this point, including hooker Jonathan Whittingham who departed for the last time in a Royston shirt as he moves back to NZ in February, a fine last game in Crows colours. To their credit, V’s upped their game once more as they tried to salvage anything from the game, and several hard carries near the Royston line allowed them to crash over for a converted score, narrowing Royston’s lead to nine points with just ten to play. Royston could’ve panicked at this stage but managed to repel further V’s attacks with some stoic defence that eventually forced a crucial turnover. The ball was quickly spread wide to winger Max Ayliffe to charge up the wing, where he found Rees in close support to go over from 70m to secure the bonus point try, Dacey adding the extra’s to secure the game at 35-19. A final flurry of V’s attacks was successfully repelled, and Royston left St. Albans with five points in the bag and none for their opponents.
Although this was a mixed performance from the Crows, securing five points could prove crucial in their bid to stay in this league, as they are now fifteen points clear of V’s in the relegation zone with just seven games left to play. After securing 12 points from a possible 15 in January, carrying through this momentum into February and beyond should see the Crows survive this season, but the hard work must continue on both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s moving forward.