Spalding Rugby Club are beaten by Melton Mowbray in Midlands 3 East (South)
Spalding produced a spirited effort before narrowly going down to a home defeat against unbeaten league leaders Melton Mowbray on Saturday.
The Elephants had been hit by issues with injuries and availabilities leading up to the Midlands 3 East (South) contest.
And that continued during the contest as, despite a battling display against the odds, they suffered their third defeat from four league games to remain in the lower reaches of the table.
Spalding fielded a young looking side with Miguel Da Silva at hooker, Will Cole at blind side flanker, Charlie Beecham as inside centre and James Luto moving to full-back.
From the kick-off Melton took the game to Spalding with their mobile forwards and backs running strongly.
The home team's defensive qualities were being put to the test and after six minutes Melton's forwards were over the try line.
However, with a Spalding hand underneath, the try was held up and turnover achieved with a kick out for the hosts under the new law variation for this season.
From the restart Melton were soon back on the attack and a penalty awarded saw the kick rebound off Spalding's posts.
With the restart safely gathered, the visitors were straight back into attack with their forwards carrying the ball effectively and Spalding were penalised at the breakdown and this time Melton’s penalty kick was successful.
The visitors continued to mount pressure but Spalding’s scrum had the slight upper hand with a solid front row of Tom Parker, Da Silva and Luke Turner, while in the lineout battle Mark Haighton was again showing his mastery.
Melton kept up their pace and pressure and Spalding's try line was under huge pressure.
The defence by Spalding was impressive but steadily the penalty count was mounting especially at the breakdown and George Brown received a yellow card.
With two further penalties kicked, a nine-point gap had opened up after 25 minutes of play.
Building on Spalding’s spirited defence, their confidence grew as they started to gain momentum and it was the turn of Melton to lose a player to a yellow card and then having to defend their line.
Shortly afterwards Da Silva took advantage with a superb run, evading the Melton defence from 20 metres out and, as the final tackle came in, had enough momentum to reach over the try line. With a successful kick by Conall Mason, the points gap had been reduced to only two.
Spalding were now on the offensive with lock Connor Lilburn and number eight Harry Cole to the front with their penetrating carries gaining yardage every time, forcing Melton to defend their line.
Turner was tackled heavily, forcing him to leave the field, and successive penalties to Spalding brought no further reward and the half-time whistle blew.
MaCauley Crane replaced Turner and Spalding were off to a flying start from the kick-off with Melton giving away a penalty and a successful kick by Mason saw the home side edge into the lead by one point.
However, the advantage only lasted five minutes, with Melton opening up Spalding’s defence on the break with a try wide on the right and, with a good conversion, the visitors' lead was restored.
For this match Will Shields had reverted to scrum half from his more normal open side flanker position but pulled up with suspected arterial ligament injury. Ben Shields moved from wing to scrum half with Lewis Adams coming off the bench.
Spalding were now hanging in with Melton's scrum on top as they encamped themselves on the home team’s five metre line.
After a number of reset penalty scrums, Melton were over for a converted try and a comfortable lead of 13 points.
But, Spalding were not finished, as they mounted a late comeback.
Left Wing Callum Lewis had a couple of good penetrating runs and centre Harry Waine was punching holes in Melton’s defence with his carries and suddenly the visitors were on the defensive.
With Haighton winning lineout possession, the forwards rumbled to the try line and, after being denied several times, Melton lost a player to a yellow card and quick thinking by Spalding caught Melton by surprise and prop Tom Parker was over for a first try for the hosts.
Next up was an inspired chip through by Mason, who was having an impressive afternoon with his effective kicking and distribution to his centres.
Adams chased the kick and just beat the Melton defenders to the touch down and, with the conversion, there was just a single point difference.
With only a few minutes remaining, further disruption to the Spalding line-up saw Mason laid flat by a tackle and he had to be replaced by Ed Williams causing a further reshuffle, with James Luto moving to fly-half.
Melton took advantage and were soon pressing deep into Spalding's 22 and, with an advantage in the scrums, were over for a converted try.
Spalding responded positively and had a failed penalty kick and try attempt in the very last couple of minutes to salvage a losing bonus point.
With all the disruptions to the Spalding line up before and during the game, this was a spirited performance against the league leaders.
Towards the end Melton were on the back foot as Spalding went for the winning score, until the injury to Mason stopped their late charge when only one point adrift.
Spalding: Tom Parker, Miguel Da Silva, Luke Turner, Connor Lilburn, Harry Cole, George Brown, Harry Cole, Will Shields, Conall Mason, Ben Shields, Charlie Beecham, Harry Waine, Callum Lewis, James Luto. Subs: Macauley Crane, Ed Williams, Lewis Adams.