Bourne give themselves too much to do at leaders Oakham
Bourne's hopes of a historic league title were dented after a narrow loss at table toppers Oakham.
On a poignant afternoon when both clubs agreed for their game to be recognised as a memorial for ex-Bourne and Oakham player Savanaca "Koro" Kokoibulileka, who sadly passed away in 2016, the home side were keen to avenge their loss at Milking Nook Drove in November.
In atrocious conditions and playing against a considerable wind at The Showground, Bourne made a decent start and kept Oakham firmly inside their own half for the opening ten minutes.
But the hosts quickly grew into the game and soon worked their way upfield as their opponents were ready to throw themselves into a defensive challenge from which they knew there would be little respite.
The Bourne pack were made to work hard for long periods of time and, with a strong wind in their faces, they did an admirable job.
On the occasions when Oakham did try to move the ball wide, the Bourne backs proved solid across the pitch and quickly closed any gaps Oakham thought they might find.
Twenty minutes into the game and the weather worsened at the same time as Oakham's attacks became harder to stop.
Eventually another Oakham surge proved too powerful as they crossed over to take the lead, with a conversion putting the hosts 7-0 up.
With much of the rugby being played at close quarters and progress difficult for both sides there was frustration during the game and on several occasions tempers boiled over.
Oakham found themselves temporarily down to 14 men when a player was sin-binned during the second quarter.
But Bourne failed to make anything of the numerical advantage as they struggled to make any gains while playing into a considerable wind and heavy rain.
In fact it was Oakham who scored again when a mistake inside the Bourne half provided the hosts with a rare penalty.
Oakham opted to kick for points and extended their lead to 10-0 at half-time.
With the wind in their favour Bourne went into the second half confident that the game was still theirs to win.
But a number of mistakes from the restart saw them immediately on the back foot and within the opening five minutes, Bourne had conceded five penalties while defending their own try line.
Time and time again the visiting XV looked to have done enough to keep Oakham from adding to their lead.
But with conditions worsening by the minute it became harder and harder for Bourne to defend properly.
Ten minutes into the second half Oakham found themselves with a scrum on the Bourne five-metre line.
As their scrum struggled to get any significant footing, Oakham powered forward before going down for their second try of the game.
With the conversion going over the hosts were now 15-0 up, but Bourne regrouped and finally started to benefit from having the wind behind their backs.
Bourne began to put pressure on the Oakham defence and with far more possession being enjoyed, they were able to make yards and make their way towards the try line.
The visitors were eventually rewarded when centre Sam Thornburn crashed over for Bourne's first points of the day, although fly half Evison was unlucky to miss the conversion.
From the restart Bourne immediately put the pressure back onto Oakham as the hosts redoubled their defensive efforts.
With conditions quickly deteriorating Bourne were frustrated at not being able to convert their pressure into points.
Scrum half JJ Roberts chanced his arm with a crossfield kick which looked to have worked out well until the bounce evaded the finger-tips of wing Josh Lynch by the narrowest of margins.
Ironically it was from here that Oakham mounted their only attack during the final quarter.
With Lynch having chased Roberts' kick so hard and having flung himself at the ball he was, through no fault of his own, some way behind play as Oakham took a quick 22 drop-out.
Oakham gathered the kick and made ground down the right wing where Lynch would normally have been.
To his credit though Lynch, supported by full back Jack Berry and centre Adam McHugh, scrambled back to bring the Oakham attack to an end.
From the resulting scrum the Bourne pack took control once again and prop Chris Greenwood, after a prolonged layoff, proved hugely influential, particularly at the set-piece.
Second row partners Sam Harby and Keir Moore continued their good run of form and carried well, despite the terrible conditions, while captain Tom Dixon was heavily involved in both attack and defence.
Bourne worked their way back to the Oakham try line and once again set about closing the gap.
But Oakham were in no mood to concede,although possession swapped sides a number of times as Bourne enjoyed the greater share of the ball.
Then with time against them player-coach Andrew Brown came on in the front row and powered his way over the try line with another pick-and-go.
Evison did his best with the conversion but it sailed just wide in the midst of another gust of wind.
Back row men Dan Smith and second row Sam Harby were jointly named men of the match after they had been nominated by Bourne and Oakham respectively.
Smith said: "It was an emotional day for both clubs and under the circumstances a difficult day to play rugby.
"But both sides played a big part and nobody was willing to give an inch.
"Whilst it might not have been pretty, it was a fitting tribute to a young man who was a big part of both clubs."
Brown said: "We've come a long way and to even be playing against Oakham is a big deal for us.
"But competing with the top side in this league isn't just an ambition, it's something we believe we're worthy of and the result shows that.
"The reality is probably that both sides are pleased with that result, although Oakham would undoubtedly haveexpected to win and we believe we could have won.
"But there's certainly no disgrace in a losing bonus point against such an established side."
BOURNE: Appleby, H. Thornburn, Cowell, Harby, Moore, Smith, Binns, Dixon; Roberts, Evison, Lynch, McHugh, S. Thornburn, Warnes, Berry.
Subs: Greenwood, Brown, Charlton.
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