Spalding RFC 21
Belgrave RFC 32
Red mist descended on the Memorial Field on Saturday as Spalding RFC were beaten by old foes Belgrave in their first game back in Midlands One East.
A costly red card dished out to Jay Harwood for lashing out at an opponent forced Town to take on the reigning Midlands Two East (North) champions with 14 men for over an hour.
Promoted through the play-offs after finishing as runners-up to Belgrave last season, Spalding had led with ten minutes to go – but the numerical disadvantage ultimately proved too tough an obstacle for them to overcome.
To make matters worse, captain Harry Sharman was forced off with a broken nose that will rule him out for a lengthy period of time.
Despite the circumstances, Sharman was happy with Saturday’s performance.
But he admitted that Harwood’s dismissal was the key moment of the match.
“Jay has apologised and knows he was out of order,” said the skipper. “But there’s no doubt that it cost us the match.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the result, but I’m chuffed with the performance. We had a lot of new lads settling in and they did very well.
“All in all I was very impressed with most of what I saw and it’s certainly encouraging for us moving forward.”
Spalding opened the scoring in the third minute with a well-taken penalty by Rob Lucas, playing at fly-half.
Although the home team’s forwards were controlling the early opening exchanges with some excellent driving thrusts, disaster struck when possession was lost as Harry Brown burst forward – and Belgrave immediately counter attacked through their speedy left wing, who touched down in the corner for the first converted try.
It was a very similar story on the quarter hour with Belgrave using their speed on the wing for an unconverted try to go 12-3 up.
Undeterred, Spalding continued their tactical ploy of keeping it tight around the breakdown area.
It soon paid dividends, as Jeremy Daley – making his debut at lock – dived over for his first try for the club.
With Lucas converting and then adding a further successful penalty Spalding edged ahead 13-12.
However, this lead did not last long in what was a highly competitive match, with Belgrave successfully converting a penalty kick.
Then came the turning point of the match on the half hour. Spalding had successfully kicked downfield, with Belgrave taking the ball into touch for a lineout to the home team.
When opposition held onto the ball and denied Town the opportunity of a quick throw, hooker Harwood had a moment of madness and was dismissed from the field for throwing a punch at a Belgrave player.
Spalding were now down to 14 players for the next 60 minutes of the match – and just before half time the visitors spun the ball wide for their left winger, who outpaced the defence to add to their lead.
With Ben Williams having to move into the front row and Sharman switching to scrum half, Spalding refused to lay down and die.
Urged on by the sizeable crowd, they took the initiative with Ash Piccaver and Cal Thomson showing how to break the Belgrave defensive line.Unfortunately, Sharman then suffered a nasty broken nose and the momentum halted somewhat.
That didn’t last for long, though, as Tom Duerden took the game to Belgrave with some outstanding bursts through the middle.
An unexpected comeback beckoned when a penalty kick allowed prop Alex Ioannou to burrow over for a converted try – and all of a sudden Spalding had a one point advantage.
However, in the last ten minutes Belgrave’s superior numbers in the scrum finally told.
Having been awarded a penalty ten metres from the try line, they elected to take a scrum and drove Spalding’s seven-man pack back to the try line to regain the lead.
Then, with the Spalding defence stretched to breaking point, the final converted try was run in by Belgrave in the final minute to deny Spalding a losing bonus point.
Spalding RFC: Harry Sharman (captain), Alex Ioannou, Jimmy Rowlands, Jay Harwood, Ash Piccaver, Jeremy Darley, Cal Thomson, Harry Brown, Ben Williams, Rob Lucas, Hamish Munro, Ryan Chappell, Sion Williams, George Brown, Adam McHugh, Pete Waudby, Tom Duerden and Josh Broome.