RUGBY UNION: Spirited effort by Spalding in defeat to league leaders
Saturday's trip to unbeaten league leaders Nottingham Casuals was always going to be a challenge but Spalding produced a very creditable performance.
They took an early lead with a penalty kick and only conceded a push over try when reduced to 14 players with five minutes of the first half remaining.
There were several changes to last week’s team which had beaten Mansfield.
Last year’s captain Richard Cooke started at openside flanker with Kev Hudson back at lock.
Making his debut in the forwards was Edward Williams who had come up through the juniors and played senior rugby last season for the Nomads.
Also making a return from Sleaford was Dan Cooper at centre alongside Tom Wilson.
In good conditions Casuals started brightly but soon found that Spalding were well organised, closing space down and tackling strongly.
The referee was quick to spot infringements with both sides being caught not releasing the ball quickly enough when tackled.
In the forwards Cooke was relishing being back in the team and his tackle count for the game was outstanding with Harry Sharman not far behind.
After eight minutes Spalding mounted some pressure deep in Casuals' territory and Willis Ingleby stepped up to convert the penalty kick for a three-point lead.
Casuals responded by starting to spread the ball out along their backs.
Gav Sharman and Ben Shields were tested out on the wings for pace but covering tackles nullified any threats.
Cooper and Wilson were closing space down effectively and tackling well.
By now the forwards were constantly challenging each other and with the scrums going with the put in, Harry Sharman drove forward.
Casuals were building momentum deep inside Spalding’s 22. The penalty count started to mount and finally Ash Piccaver took a yellow card for offside at the ruck.
The resulting scrum was on the five-metre line. With a man advantage, Casuals drove forward for a push over try but Spalding were able to see out the remaining period before the half-time whistle.
With only a two-point margin Spalding had shocked Casuals with their determination and well-structured defence.
On the resumption Casuals started to play with more freedom, offloading to support players and their tricky full-back went through the gaps created.
But Casuals were caught tackling a Spalding player off the ball and the yellow card was shown.
However this was followed fairly swiftly with Sharman also being yellow-carded for a late tackle.
With the offence being near the try line, Casuals capitalised and the scrum drove forward for a push over try which was duly converted.
The home team were played with confidence, finding room and support players. Finally they created a gap in Spalding’s defence for their third try.
Spalding dug deep and battled through.
However, with the last play Casuals had a five-metre scrum. Their scrum-half capitalised on a blind side move for their bonus point try.
This was a spirited effort against the top team in the league and with the two debutants settling in well, coach George Reid will have some challenges for next week’s selection.