Bourne Rugby Club suffered heartbreak for the second time in seven days as they fell to an agonising 16-15 defeat in Saturday’s Midlands 4 East (South) title decider at St Neots.
Having finished runners-up in the Midlands Vase final last weekend, Bourne looked on course to bounce back when they led their hosts 15-11 with just minutes remaining.
However, St Neots scored a try with their last attack to snatch the title from Bourne who, despite the defeat, can still look back with pride on a promotion-winning campaign.
There were question marks over how they would bounce back after their cup final defeat, but their performance showed just how good and resolute a side they have become.
Having convincingly beaten the league leaders at home back in December, Bourne had already shown they could better St Neots.
But with the fixture another tough one in a recent string it remained to be seen if they had it in them to repeat the feat away from home.
From the kick-off Bourne’s attention was immediately drawn to St Neots’ huge set of forwards who looked to simply run over the visitors much smaller counterparts.
Struggling to deal with the sheer size of their opponents Bourne found themselves being driven backwards with little opportunity to mount a proper defence.
For the opening ten minutes St Neots battered away persistently at the Bourne try-line and only some desperate last ditch tackling kept the home side out.
Eventually the pressure told and, having sucked a large number of the Bourne defence both forwards and backs to one side of the pitch, St Neots shipped the ball to the other side and crossed relatively untroubled.
The hosts didn’t seem phased by missing the conversion and appeared to sense an easy victory.
In times gone by Bourne might also have sensed they were heading for a loss but this is a group of players that have come a long way and after so many well-earned results they have a belief in themselves that they thoroughly deserve.
From the restart Bourne took control of the game and their own style of play quickly proved too much for the St Neots weightier pack.
Moving the ball round quickly and effectively, the St Neots forwards began to tire and Bourne were then able to make decent progress.
A string of purposeful phases were only drawn to an end when St Neots were deemed to have interjected unfairly and Sam Evison notched his first kick of the day taking Bourne just two points behind.
Bourne seemed to be adapting well by this point and despite a barrage of ball carrying by the St Neots pack they were proving solid in defence.
The Bourne pack weren’t phased by the size of the St Neots side at the setpiece and held their own at the scrum and in open play they doubled-up with their tackling and were smart at the breakdown.
It was testament to the visitors that despite dominating both possession and territory St Neots eventually opted to kick a penalty for goal rather than go for more.
Once again though Bourne lifted their game from the restart and, with the St Neots pack tiring with every minute they were forced to try and keep up with their guests in open play, Bourne started to look the much better side.
Being the more dynamic side Bourne were able to shift their attack using both the forwards and backs but it was the backs who seized the first opportunity to score and wing Rob Bentley finished a well-worked try to continue his rich vein of form.
A long way out Evison couldn’t add the extras but Bourne were pleased to reach half-time with the honours even.
Bourne’s belief they could win seemed entirely justified as they enjoyed the spoils for much of the second half.
The pack seemed buoyed by the introduction of the hard-hitting Dan Smith in the back row and after a prolonged absence centre Matt Holden made a huge impact upon his return.
Josh Lynch, one of Bourne’s key players in the first half, continued to cause St Neots all sorts of problems as they seemed incapable of dealing with him.
Not surprisingly after a decent build-up by the Bourne pack and some slick handling by the backline it was Lynch who crossed to take his side in front. Evison added a difficult conversion and Bourne had a lead of a converted try.
Much of the remainder of the second half was then an evenly matched contest with the only additional points being a penalty from St Neots taking them to 11-15 down.
St Neots though looked to finish strongly and were hindered by a number of mistakes forced upon them by the determined Bourne defence.
With just two minutes left Bourne looked to have seen out the game as they countered at a ruck on their own five metre line and won a penalty.
A decent kick from full-back Jack Berry took Bourne to their 10 metre line with the throw to their own lineout.
Sadly the line-out was lost and St Neots staged one last attack which, against the grain, saw them cross to go just one point in front with the last play of the game.
Despite appeals by Bourne for a number of apparent infringements during the build-up the try was awarded and with it the visitors’ fate sealed.
Bourne: Appleby, H Thornburn, Greenwood, Harby, Cooke, Williams, Binns, Dixon, Evison, Castle, Lynch, Maudsley, S Thornburn, Bentley, Berry, Brown, Wheeler, Smith, Charlton, Holden.