A vital win on the road for Hykeham.
Hykeham made the trip into Nottinghamshire to face rivals East Leake. There was no doubt of the importance of Hykeham winning this fixture if they wanted to start any kind of progress through the Midlands 5 table and do their abilities justice. Hykeham travelled with a strong side, having had 34 players available for selection and a noticeably a physical, dynamic pack, skipper Andy Rush and Steve Beaumont making it clear to the younger charges that there could be no excuses for anything less than a win!
Despite some early penalties for off-side, Hykeham began with dominance, soon isolating Leake to their own 22, repeated line-out and scrummage possession was put into phases. But to Leake's credit their defence in the last 10 was solid and thwarted several try scoring opportunities, which Hykeham should have converted. A superb rolling maul from the line out, where Beaumont was as controlled as always found the Leake defence totally sucked in and with fast-ball through hands Hykeham's backs should have put the visitors ahead but the lack of clinical finishing reared it's head again. In earlier games this would have dented Hykeham's confidence for the remainder of the game, but this side is maturing to league rugby and continued to be relentless in their territorial rugby and patience prevailed. A scrum penalty allowed Bunny to offload to Rush, setting up a ruck under the posts where Leake had to kill the ball, the subsequent Penalty was converted by Quinlan to give Hykeham a meager 3 points for their total dominance, but again this is a patience that the side is having to learn. Hykeham saw another chance go begging before the half was out, a superb break by the in-form Tom Kellysaw him evade several defenders to switch with Jamie Smith who charged to the corner, but the covering fullback made an outstanding tackle to narrowly force Smith into touch. At the half-time turnaround Hykeham lead by the slender 3 points as Stark and Brown were introduced.
With Hykeham playing up the hill in the second-half, Leake started brightly and increased their aggression in all facets of the game. This would prove to be the sternest test for Hykeham if they were to see out the win. This challenge was met, the back line came forward dangerously quick, but made their tackles, constantly forcing Leake back and allowing man-of-the match Andy McClelland, to lead his back-row in persistently turning over possession and forcing mistakes. From such a turn-over, Quinlan hoisted a huge 'garryowen' onto the Leake try line, Leake's fullback played very well all game, but failed to deal with the kick and was surprised by the pace of Barker, who raced through to touch down the loose ball, converted by Quinlan.
Hykeham's scrum has rightly come in for criticism and is getting used to playing as the smaller pack, but this tight 5 concentrated on their job throughout and matched the much bigger opponents with good technique. Securing scrum possession and pressurising Leake's. This allowed Stark to give solid ball to the backs, who are starting to form consistent partnerships, but most importantly the lines of running from centres Kelly and Dandy were hard and straight, subsequently less handling errors and more yardage for Hykeham's pack to continue the phases. On 65 minutes Hykeham's fast defence again forced an error from the Leake back's, Munton emerged with the ball and stepped 2 defenders to score from 40 yards out, again converted by Quinlan for a 0-17 lead!
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Hykeham seemed to briefly, but disappointingly loose concentration with this cushioning score. Allowing the dangerous Leake runners space and territory they had not had all game! There was one missed tackle by Hykeham in the whole match which saw Leake go within 5 metres, but the defence recovered and Leake's driving pack were twice held up and turned-over. Hykeham regained possession and edged up field to eventually see the game out and take a treasured 4 points away from Memorial Fields, most impressive was the win to Nil!
There are a great many positives and improvements in this Hykeham performance, stand-out performances from Andy McClelland and Josh Barker, the front 5 scrummaging solidly again, improved running lines from the back-line, 100% goal-kicking from Quinlan, dominant forwards in set-piece and breakdown which gave Hykeham plentiful possession and territory and in keeping with last weeks 2nd XV outstanding defence and tackling. However, all that being said; when the excitement (and relief) of the win fades, again a lack clinical and ruthless finishing stopped this being a much bigger win than the hard earned 17 points! Hykeham must find this last piece of the puzzle to genuinely challenge the stronger teams in the league and punish the weaker ones! Ideally by next week, when league leaders Leesbrook visit Memorial Fields, 2:15 KO.