Shanners has the drop on Dings

OAs leave it late at Dings

National League 2 South

Dings Crusaders 23 Old Albanian 24

ONCE again OA’s game at Dings produced a painful sting in the tail for the home side.

In the corresponding fixture last season the North Bristol side were robbed of victory by Chris May’s interception and 80 metre dash to the line with only two minutes remaining.

Fast forward 11 months and with Saturday’s game already in injury time Dings sat on an almost identical lead (23-21) as Richard Gregg launched his penalty kick from half way in an attempt to steal the points once more. When the ball struck the crossbar and agonisingly bounced back into play the home supporters, energised by a gritty fight back by their favourites breathed a collective sigh of relief and inevitably began to relish the prospect of their first win against The Woollams Men; and with their well drilled pack happy to keep the ball ‘up their jumpers’, OAs looked to have squandered their last opportunity to hit back.

But fate had one more card to play.

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OAs won possession from nowhere and there was a split second for James Shanahan to get something on the ball sending it in a slow loop between the posts and so close out the game with seconds to go.

The three points from the drop goal were the first for the visitors in the second half after Dings had staged an impressive recovery, having previously been denied any telling possession in the wake of OAs slick passing and general mobility.

Having weathered an intense opening salvo by Dings without conceding more than an early penalty success by Harvey Skelton, OAs had slipped into a smooth rhythm playing the sort of 15-man, heads up, running rugby demanded of them by player/manager Shanahan. This was a remarkable achievement in the light of there being no fewer than nine changes, through injury and non-availability, in the squad of 20 that made their way down the M4 for the first time this season.

Into the starting line up came Charlie Hughes who battled hard throughout and Saracens Academy man, Tom Jubb, who put in a sound performance in the second row offering another option for OAs at the line out which worked well all afternoon. Also making their first starts were scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Bruzilier whose potent display of passing ability provided a steady supply of quality ball to playmaker Shanahan and James Spiers a close season signing from Luton RFC blending in remarkably with his new colleagues.

OAs’ reward came in the form of three first half tries, two of which resulted from swiftly executed moves along the line for which the home defence had no answer. Gregg was on the end of the first after 12 minutes and Chris May finished the second on the overlap four minutes later. On the half hour with Dings down to 14 and missing a prop, OA’s exploited their numerical advantage with a controlled push to the line which the consummate Andrew Daish at No.8 finished as he slid between two tacklers. Gregg convincingly converted all three scores but inexplicably missed a sitter from in front of the posts which, together with a later miss would surely have come back to haunt the accomplished kicker had Shanahan not been on target at the death.

At the other end, Skelton also missed when well placed before landing a third kick on the stroke of half time to make the scoreline 21-9 in OAs’ favour.

The Woollams’ Men were under the cosh from the restart as a revitalised Dings set about tackling the deficit. With a reputation for resilience and of producing their best in the face of adversity at their Lockleaze HQ, Dings quickly seized the initiative. Their plan to commit additional numbers to the breakdown began to work and OAs struggled to win possession. Dings’ Man of the Match Buster White, son of the ex England pace-man ‘Syd’ Lawrence, there in the crowd to support him, was prominent in the fight back and deservedly notched his sides first try with a determined burst through the visitors’ defence on 48 minutes giving Skelton an easy job of adding the points. In the period of intense pressure that followed OA’s did well to win a vitally important scrum deep inside their 22 and clear their lines but when Dings next came calling, from a similar position, they were undone by a free kick taken quickly and finished by scrum-half Waylon Gasson. The conversion saw Dings get their heads in front at 23-21 with some 20 minutes still on the clock.

The pace and intensity of the contest had already taken a steady injury toll on the home side and mid-half it was OAs’ turn to suffer as skipper Laurence White hobbled out of the action with a painful groin injury, likely to keep him out of the action for the top of the table clash with league leaders Henley next weekend. Tactical substitutions paved the way for Scott Spurling, Mike Ormesher, Nick Stevens and Simon Gregory to appear and all made valuable contributions to their side’s efforts to produce that elusive score.

With Dings both willing and able to close down the game, OAs’ frustration began to mount and a succession of good attacking positions came to nothing through anxiety or carelessness and the likelihood of either side crossing the whitewash looked increasingly remote.

Ormesher’s charge won them a precious penalty which again went begging at the end of normal time and when Gregg’s effort rattled the bar even the most optimistic OAs supporter found it difficult to picture how another last ditch victory might be fashioned until Shanahan stepped up.

This Saturday OAs entertain Henley Hawks at Woollams (KO 3pm) and relish the opportunity to test their skills against the Oxfordshire side who are already being tipped by some as possible title contenders.

OAs: Gregg, May, Spiers, Lombaard, Evans, Shanahan, Bruzulier, Hughes, Cope, Cecere, Comb, Jubb, Cooper-Miller, White �, Daish.

Replacements (all used): Spurling, Ormesher, Stevens, Gregory.