Oundle and Oakham served up a treat in Rutland this afternoon as Oakham’s Doncaster Close played host to a thrillingly tense game of rugby.
The 24-10 scoreline in Oundle’s favour masks what was actually an incredibly tight game, with it really looking like it could go right to the wire. Only in the final few minutes did Oundle turn a 14-10 lead into that more commanding looking 24-10 final score.
From early on Oundle looked like the more likely side to secure the victory but Oakham displayed a doggedness that could not be breached for long periods. At least twice they were stuck on their line but crucial turnovers saw them escape, whilst the tactical brilliance of Josh Lewis at fly half and Matt Riddington at inside centre helped them to get the ball in the right areas as a tight second half drew tighter.
If there were two players who defined this game though, it was Oundle’s twins, the Curry brothers. Tom at number 8 and Ben and openside. They were simply immense. Watching them is like looking at a throwback to the international back rows of the early nineties, or to any South African back row. It is abrasive and all action back row play. Neither is afraid to let a fly half know they are there, and they are always there, every breakdown, every play, every chargedown, they are always there.
Tom shaded it today, perhaps playing at number 8 with the extra ball-carrying that it entails means one catches the eye more. However between the pair, they dominated just about every facet of the game.
It is to Oakham’s credit then, that in the face of that they could remain so much in the game.
Oundle opened up an 8-0 lead in the opening quarter of an hour after a Ben Curry try at the tail of an Oundle maul and a penalty from wing Angus McRae.
For a while it seemed like they might pull away, however Oakham came right back into it through a try from their own openside, vice captain George Bagshaw, who hung wide as the play went the other way following a five metre line out of their own and then found himself in space when the ball came back. A brilliant touchline conversion from Lewis saw Oakham close it to just a point.
McRae pegged back a penalty though to give Oundle an 11-7 half time lead. Both sides had reason to be positive, Oundle had looked the better side on balance but Oakham had ridden the storm and seemed to be in the hunt again.
A huge second half seemed on the cards, and so it was. What followed was a brilliant, intense, rugged half of rugby from both sides. It probably was not the prettiest, but that really was not the point. This was school rugby doing what school rugby does, producing intensity that you can feel as a spectator.
Oundle gained the first points of the half, another McRae penalty, to go 14-7 ahead. Bagshaw was then sin binned for Oakham after over enthusiastically moving a player away at the maul, and there was a sense that with a man advantage and a seven point lead, this was Oundle’s moment.
Certainly they tried, Curry was right up in Riddington’s face as he started to use his boot more, while the breakdown was becoming like trench warfare, yet Oakham would not yield.
That tenaciousness paid off and, with just over ten minutes left and back up to fifteen men, Lewis landed a penalty to close it to 14-10. All of a sudden the game was anyone’s to win, and with the players from the earlier kick offs now surrounding the pitch, raising the atmosphere, the intensity seemed to lift another notch, impossibly.
Oundle had the running of it and began to really bang at the Oakham door. Captain George Chatterton at scrum half was showing good composure to keep his side playing the way they wanted, but still Oakham would not let them through.
Broken field seemed the best bet, kick returns and grubbers through seemed to be looking promising for Oundle, as did turnover ball, and it was through one such broken field set of play that they eventually got the breakthrough with barely over a minute left to play as they swept over to the right hand side of the field to score a dramatic late try. It was heart breaking for Oakham, and a further blow to the chest as McRae landed a brilliant touchline conversion to make it 21-10 with a minute left.
Straight from the kick off Oundle were back on Oakham’s 22, and when the home side conceded a penalty, Tom Curry’s natural instinct to get the game done and dusted kicked in. Straight away he put the ball down, forcing the referee to give the penalty and then pointing straight at the posts before Chatterton could raise an objection. As competitive a beast as there is.
McRae of course obliged, giving Oundle the 24-10 victory. It was a brilliant game, for which both sides deserve immense credit. The second half was a brutal and intense affair that neither side’s bodies will forget in a hurry.
Oundle deserved their win, and look set to cause real problems to teams all year, Oakham though will, and should, take great heart from such a dogged performance.
Full Time: Oakham 10-24 Oundle
You can see photos from today game in our Gallery, where you will also find links to even more photos of the match. Just click here: Oakham v Oundle photos.