Park secure loss from the jaws of victory
Rosslyn Park threw away victory as they lost 36-35 in a thrilling match at Loughborough Students on Saturday.
Neutrals would have enjoyed the spectacle but for Park fans the say was one of immense frustration as they watched their team carelessly throw away a match that they could, and should, have won at a canter.
The initial stages were all Rosslyn Park, playing down the slope but into a blustering diagonal wind. Some superb inter-passing - exceptional in the wet, muddy conditions – saw them stopped illegally for a penalty in front of the posts 30 metres out. Normally such a kick would be meat and drink to fly half Ross Laidlaw, but he missed this one.
Undeterred, Park returned to the attack with another superb slick passing movement, but the hazards of playing fast and loose were cruelly exposed as a pass went straight to Loughborough scrum half Jordan Brookes who, from inside his own 22, simply sprinted the length of the field to score under the posts, leaving fly half Andy Hall to put his side 7-0 up despite having hardly seen the ball.
Park replied with another sweeping move, full-back Ed Lewis-Pratt making a good run before releasing winger Charles Broughton who was only stopped just short of the try-line. The students were under immense pressure, which cost them a yellow card in order to stop the move. Park opted to scrummage when awarded a penalty, which was re-set when they re-offended, but Park contrived to concede a penalty to allow the students to clear.
Respite was only temporary for Loughborough, as Broughton again attacked down the right and, as the ball was swept inside and across there seemed to be any number of Park players who might have made the decisive move. When it eventually reached Hugo Ellis there was an air of “Look, lads, it really isn’t that difficult” as he touched down. Laidlaw’s conversion brought the scores back level.
Park were sweeping back on the attack with some more clever inter-passing when a careless pass glanced off the recipient’s unprepared arm, straight into those of home fly half, Hall, who simply ran out of his own half to score between the posts, giving himself an easy conversion. To concede one breakaway may be unfortunate; to concede two looks somewhat careless. The visitors then compounded their misery by conceding a penalty for Hall to increase the home advantage to 17-7.
Despite the 10-point margin, Park still enjoyed a considerable advantage in terms of possession and territory, and their pack was beginning to assert itself. An immense drive by the pack was wasted by knocking on.
Smart work by scrum half Jack Gash regained the initiative and Park won a penalty, kicked to the corner. From the lineout Park drove to the line, but such was the pile of players that the referee could not possibly see whether the ball had been fairly grounded.
Loughborough’s relief was short-lived. They simply could not cope with Park’s rampant scrum and after a couple of penalties and resets the referee awarded the inevitable penalty try, Laidlaw converting for 17-14.
However, instead of building up a head of steam to win the match, the Rosslyn Park gift store again opened its friendly doors. Loughborough centre Courtenay Morrison launched a run up the left wing which probably would not have heralded too much danger had anyone thought to tackle him. But they didn’t. He galloped round an outstretched arm from the stationary position, apparently the best effort Park could muster, and scored to increase the lead to 22-14.
Back on the attack, Park caught the home side offside to gain a penalty 30 metres out but, again, Laidlaw suffered a rare radar malfunction.
Back on the attack, Park produced another stunning passing movement and had the defence reeling under pressure for Paul Mackey to record a good try, converted by Laidlaw, to send them into the interval a single point in arrears at 22-21.
Truth be told, though, but for their own profligacy in spurning their own opportunities and gifting tries to the opposition, Park could easily have been sitting on a 20-point advantage.
Park started the second half with a superb clearance kick from Broughton that found touch deep in enemy territory. Ellis was unlucky, popping up on the left, when his grubber kick went out of play rather than beyond the try-line.
A forward drive looked very promising, but when the ball was spread Loughborough managed to turn over possession. A further chance went begging when the ball was spilt forward. Eventually, with his side camped on the line, flanker Tom Baldwin, forced the ball down to put his side ahead for the first time, Laidlaw’s conversion made it 28-22.
Park looked to have made it safe when some good work by centre Steve Parsons sent in winger Dom Shabbo, Laidlaw’s conversion bringing up 35-22 for an apparently safe position.
It was in adversity that we saw the best in Loughborough, as they gave everything to secure at least a losing bonus point. Their strong, direct running forced Park to make their tackles but with about five minutes left a 13-point cushion looked to be plenty.
However, Park unexpectedly adopted the ‘Polo’ defensive formation (the one with a hole in the middle). Loughborough’s excellent flanker, Joe Atkinson, got the ball in the centre of the field, 40 metres from the try-line and realised that there was no one in front of him, so he sprinted through to score under the posts, untouched. The conversion pegged it back to 35-29 and really lit the blue touch-paper for the students.
They threw everything at Park, who were thrown onto desperate defence. Into the final moments, centre George Eastwell nearly made the line, was tackled but managed to offload to Atkinson who went over unchallenged by the posts to set up a simple conversion for replacement kicker Craig Holland to win the match.
For the remaining seconds, there was no ‘Fancy Dan’ play for Loughborough – they held the ball tightly and hoofed it out of play as soon as time was up.
Although clearly out-gunned for much of the game, they deserved their win for their indomitable spirit and the fact that they seemed to want it more than Rosslyn Park. Park did put together some excellent passages of play, but their management of a game in which they held most of the aces was really very poor.