After a torturous season, the dark clouds over Niagara finally began to clear as the Oaks hit their stride for the first time at home against Knaresborough. Never a better time either, as this was a day when a defeat would leave either team poised for relegation at the bottom of the table.
Once again some familiar faces returned and an attacking intent was established early on by maverick fly half Lawrence Canham’s tricky footwork and delayed passes. It was some more conventional rugby that would get the Oaks ahead though, with a series of probing drives creating space for form winger Tim Barnes to score the first try of the match in the corner. Oaks kept up the pressure and had soon threatened the Knaresborough try line with a series of driving mauls, eventually leading to a neat grounding by flanker Aled Vaughan. The third try was a similar story of tempo and continuity troubling the away side, when a move featuring 4 offloads put centre Tom Everingham over after 25 minutes.
Some uncharacteristically nervy place kicking had the score at a positive, but vulnerable, 15-0 as Knaresborough finally hit their straps. The home defence held firm though, and 15 minutes of abrasive forwards play was only rewarded with a well-taken penalty to the visitors. The next score would be vital and it was the Oaks who tore through again to put centre Callum Schofield over on the stroke of half time. The kicking boots were now firmly on and all remaining scores were converted.
At 22-3 there was a lot to look forward to in the second half with a winning bonus point in sight. Some powerful scrummaging suggested that there was a way back for the visitors, and a jittery 10 minutes ended with the decisive score coming to prop Tom Green after a series of determined drives from the forwards. From this point the game opened up and played into the Oaks’ hands, with further tries from Barnes (a barnstorming turnover and gallop from his own 22) and two from scrum half Kelvin Charles (the first of which was a sublime team move featuring 8 pairs of hands and a reverse pass).
The visitors are not yet buried this season and finished positively with a deserved try to make the final score 50-10 to the Oaks. Given the tight margins at the bottom of the league, a win for Knaresborough away at Hornsea in April would make the final weekend extremely interesting. As for the Oaks themselves, this was a terrific relief and a reminder of the levels that can be achieved.
This weekend sees a 2nd XV fixture against Sheffield Engineers, with two weeks off for the firsts.