DERBY RFC 29 SPALDING RFC 15: TOWN pushed high-flying Derby all the way on Saturday, but were eventually put to the sword by the new Midlands One East leaders.
Harry Sharman’s side had led 10-8 at one stage in the second half as they looked to become the first side to beat Derby on their own soil, but a strong finish left Spalding with nothing to show for their efforts.
And with just two league games to play before Christmas, Town find themselves just two points clear of the relegation zone and only three ahead of basement boys Coalville.
An early 30-yard break form Harry Brown, who was returning from a month’s suspension, helped earn Town an early chance to go ahead.
But Dave Hankinson’s penalty went wide in the windy conditions.
From the restart Derby became camped in the Spalding half, but good tackling by the visitors prevented the opposition from opening their account.
The pressure finally told on 25 minutes though, as Derby kicked home a penalty of their own.
A try soon followed, as the hosts neatly kicked for touch five metres out. Derby won the ball and drove for the line to add a try to their score, although the conversion went wide.
In reply, Sharman picked on a loose ball and hacked it through the Derby defence to take the play to within ten metres of the opposition line.
Ed Duerden then linked with his captain to take play closer to the try line, before a penalty was awarded to the visitors.
This time Hankinson scored, making it 8-3 to the hosts at half time.
Derby started the second half and a good clearing kick from Hankinson took play deep in to the home side’s half. Spalding were penalised and Derby cleared but only to the 22 metre line.
From the resultant throw in the Derby three-quarters dropped the ball and Ryan Chappell was through to collect it, shrug off two tackles and crash over the line. Hankinson converted and suddenly Spalding were 10-8 ahead with 30 minutes of the match remaining.
The lead didn’t last long, though. Within minutes Derby were in the visitors’ half and the ball was moved both ways before their winger scored a converted try.
Undeterred, Town were still tackling superbly and putting together some fine phases of play.
With Hankinson kicking well for touch, Spalding dominated the lineout at the back of the line on a number of occasions, with Brown close to going over the line from one of the attacks.
However, it was from a lineout that Derby went further clear. From their own through they drove for the line to score their third try and their kicker made no mistake to take the score to 22–10.
Spalding stuck to their task though and won the ball from another lineout. Sharman led an attack, supported by Ash Anker and Andrew Branton, before being temporarily stopped.
But the ball came back on the visitors’ side and Chappell snapped it up and again to break through the defence for his second try.
Hankinson’s conversion looked good, but the wind caught the ball in the final moment and it glanced off the wrong side of the post.
Now a converted try away from sneaking a draw, Town pushed on.
But it was Derby who grabbed the final try two minutes from time, as their three-quarters broke through the defence for a converted score that sent them back to the top of the table.
Spalding RFC: Sharman (captain), Waudby, Dowse, Branton, Haighton, E Duerden, Anker, H Brown, R Lucas, Hankinson, G Brown, Chappell, S Williams, Phillips, J Williams, Rowlands, McHugh, Scotney.
• TOWN visit Lincolnshire rivals Sleaford in the quarter-final of the Lincs Cup tonight (7.30pm).
See Thursday’s Spalding Guardian to found out how they got on.
• Remaining 2011 fixtures: Saturday – Spalding v Loughborough (2.15pm); December 17 – Leighton Buzzard v Spalding (2.15pm).