Sheffield Oaks made the long trip back to Thirsk on Saturday, after coach problems two weeks ago.
The odds seemed stacked against the travelling side as sixteen players just about made kick off. Their task seemed to grow insurmountable as number 8 Tim Mullinar was carted to hospital within the first ten minutes with a nasty looking eye injury (he’s fine, thankfully!).
Early territory was dominated by the home side as their gigantic pack pummelled against the Oaks defence. Ten minutes of manic tackling kept the damage to three points though, and the confidence visibly returned to the makeshift team.
The response was to keep the ball away from the messy breakdown and kick to the corners with great effect. With Thirsk struggling to clear their lines and a rare case of the Oaks maul misfiring, a curious stalemate was developing before centre Ben Collar took the initiative and seemed to touch down from short range. His effort was contentiously ruled out, but certainly sparked some life into proceedings.
Shortly after, a 50m breakout from Thirsk’s nippy fly-half forced a heroic last-ditch-double-tackle from wingers Ali Stedman and Melvin Codling. Eventually a penalty was conceded leaving the score on 6-0 to Thirsk at half time.
Another cagey period came at the beginning of the second half, but the Oaks were steadily regaining their belief. Suddenly they ran from everywhere and found acres of space out wide – culminating in Collar powering over again after clever play from Stedman. Cue a brilliant touchline conversion from fly half Kelvin Charles. But again Thirsk responded as they looked to spoil Oaks possession, earning themselves two breakdown penalties to make the score 12-7 with 10 to play.
There was a determination to get a positive result now, and, driven on by the buzz on the pitch, a catch and drive was dragged over the line for a heroic score. Again the referee was agonisingly unsighted though, and a scrum 5 was awarded. The Oaks scrum had struggled all day, but managed to draw a penalty that was tapped and dotted down by Charles – with some help from the ballast of an enthusiastic stand-in fullback.
The conversion made the score 12-14 with 2 minutes left and a dropped clearance kick seemed to hand Oaks the match – only for the referee to pull play back for a chaser being off-side. The Thirsk scrum half had kicked impeccably all afternoon, but dragged his kick narrowly wide with the last action of the game.
What a match and what a win – the kind that makes people fall in love with rugby all over again!