Spalding 21 Belgrave 32
Tries by Jeremy Darley and Alex Ioannou were completely undone by poor handling, questionable decision-making and a costly rush of blood to the head of hooker Jay Harwood who was red-carded for throwing a punch in retaliation to being pushed into the sidelines by a Belgrave player.
The home side started well enough – so well in fact that it looked like skipper Harry Sharman and his troops had immediately picked up where they left off after last season’s promotion play-off win over Warwickshire-based Newbold-on Avon.
Fly half Rob Lucas kicked a penalty after four minutes as Town’s forwards marauded towards the Belgrave try line in the opening stages of the match.
But a dropped pass as Harry Brown burst forward triggered an immediate Belgrave counter-attack which ended with a converted try to make the score 7-3 after nine minutes.
Town were threatened with an onslaught as Belgrave scored again on 16 minutes, with a let-off for Spalding as the visitors failed to add a two-point conversion.
Sharman’s men answered an early test of character in the best way possible, though, when debutant lock Jeremy Darley dived over for his first try for the club.
Lucas added the conversion to bring Spalding within two points of Belgrave at 10-12 and Town took the lead with a Lucas penalty to make the score 13-12.
Belgrave went back in front with a penalty of their own before the match swung violently – literally – in their favour when a Spalding kick downfield was taken by their opponents and put into touch for a lineout.
After hanging onto the ball, Harwood was pushed into touch himself and responded in the worst way possible with a right hand that Northern Ireland’s new world super-bantamweight champion Carl ‘The Jackal’ Frampton would have been proud of.
The trouble was that Harwood’s only reward was a sending-off, leaving his Town team-mates to hold out for 50 minutes against an increasingly dangerous Belgrave side.
It was a task that looked possible when Belgrave missed a penalty and a chance to go 18-13 in front until, just before half-time, the visitors spun the ball wide and touched down in the corner to lead 20-13.
Adjustments made by Town coaches Andy McMahon and Richard Mardling which saw Ben Williams switched to the front row and Sharman to scrum half appeared to be game-changing as a Rob Lucas penalty and Ioannou unconverted try gave Spalding a 21-20 lead.
Despite Sharman breaking his nose and being replaced by Tom Duerden, Belgrave were rattled and in danger of losing a game they were in control of, especially when two of their men were sin-binned for ten minutes each.
But Belgrave re-grouped and made their one-man advantage count with two tries in the last ten minutes, one of them converted, to finally put the match beyond Spalding.
Sharman (captain), Ioannou,
Rowlands, Harwood, Piccaver,
Darley, Thomson, Brown, B
Williams, Lucas, Munro, Chappell,
S Williams, Brown, McHugh. Reps: Waudby, Duerden, Broome.
J Kyle (captain), Wright, Palmer, Swindin, Jackson, Deacon, Barnes, Crumble, Ord, R Kyle, Pollard, Blankley, Warren, Clarke, Curtis. Reps: Singh, Wells, Chikopa.
Spalding: Lucas (penalty, 3-0), Darley (try, 8-12), Lucas (conversion, 10-12), Lucas (penalty, 13-12), Lucas (penalty, 16-20) Ioannou (try, 21-20).
Belgrave: Tries (5), conversions (2), penalty (1).
Harwood (violent conduct).
Belgrave (two yellows).
Alex Ioannou – a crucial member of a Spalding team that should have got more out of the game than they did. The prop led from the front and when Town threatened to be overwhelmed by Belgrave, it was he who galvanised his side’s fightback in the second half that could have resulted in an unlikely, against-all-odds victory.
Bugbrooke (A) – Saturday 3pm.