Spalding share spoils with Rushden & Higham after hard-fought 80 minutes of action
Spalding warmed up for their Midlands Senior Vase final with a hard-fought draw at mid-table Rushden & Higham.
In a rearranged fixture after Storm Ciara forced its postponement back in mid February, the Elephants travelled to Northamptonshire looking for an impressive, but injury-free performance.
The visitors started well, showing good organisation as they drove forward, setting up a series of rucks ready for the next phase of play.
Props Luke Turner and Pete Waudby carried ball effectively, supported by scrum-half Will Shields who was quick to the breakdown, while looking for runners to come onto his passes.
Spalding also had Ryan Chappell and Harry Cole in their ranks, with both of them eager to engage the opposition.
With three minutes played, Spalding recycling the ball, only for Rushden to infringe at the breakdown and give their opponents a chance to score first.
Unfortunately, Conall Mason’s penalty kick drifted wide in the swirling wind.
The game was being played in Rushden’s half, with wave after wave of Spalding pressure being held back by the hosts who also conceded a number of penalties.
Each time Spalding elected to take a quick tap kick to set up the next phase.
With at least four penalties given away in quick succession, it was surprising to see the referee choose not to penalise the home team with a yellow card.
After 20 minutes, Chappell left the field with a slight recurrence of an injury he was carrying, to be replaced by Rob Lucas at scrum-half as Will Shields moved to flanker alongside the forwards.
Finally, after half an hour, Spalding reaped their reward when a penalty kick to touch by centre Willis Ingelby landed at the five-metre line.
A driving maul was set up which Ash Anker finished off by touching down for a try.
But with half-time approaching, Spalding were penalised for hands in ruck and Rushden were successful with a penalty kick of their own, resulting in a score of 5-3 to Spalding at the break
Surprisingly, playing up a slope and against the wind in the second half, the home team stepped up their intensity and started to take the game to Spalding as their forwards found new energy.
Within the opening minutes, Spalding were penalised for offside and a successful penalty kick edged the home team in front 6-5.
The forwards' battle intensified as Spalding tried to take back control of the game and matters spilled over with Harry Sharman and Rushden’s lock both being shown yellow cards.
But Spalding grabbed their opportunity with a penalty kick given for the yellow card offences finding touch.
The line-out ball was won and worked infield where, from the breakdown, Lucas passed swiftly to Mason and through the hands of Ingleby before Jack Patrick burst forward from the full-back position to cross the line for a well-worked try and a six-point lead for the Elephants.
However, Rushden’s centre was proving difficult to contain and with Spalding’s tackling falling off his strong runs, Ash Piccaver was adjudged to have made a high tackle, resulting in a yellow card which reduced Spalding to 13 players on the pitch after Sharman's earlier sin-binning.
The home team immediately capitalised as they piled forward and, with the advantage in the scrum, their back row went over for a unconverted try.
Five minutes later another poor tackle by Spalding resulted in a successful penalty kick and a two-point advantage to Rushden.
With Spalding desperately trying to regain their shape and organisation, a further successful penalty for the home side seemed to have secured them the win, with a five-point advantage going into the last ten minutes of play.
But Spalding bounced back by playing their game as the forwards crashed the ball up, generating phase after phase of possession.
This time it was Rushden's turn to be penalised and a quick tap penalty kick finally brought rewards when the ball was moved swiftly along the back line to Ingleby who, at pace, cut through the Rushden defence before scoring out wide to level the scores.
Mason was left with a difficult kick into the wind to win the game for Spalding, a kick which was unsuccessful.
But Rushden weren't finished and when Spalding were penalised once more, a long distance penalty kick failed, with both teams claiming two points for a draw.
On Saturday at Dunstablians in the Midlands Senior Vase final, Spalding will need to play their "A" game, something they are more than capable of doing.
SPALDING: Waudby, Greaves, Turner, Piccaver, Anker, Cole, Chappell, H. Sharman, W. Shields, Mason, G. Sharman, Adams, Ingleby, B. Shields, Patrick. Subs: Lucas, da Silva, Lewis.