Rosslyn Park let a 12-point lead slip as they drew 19-19 with Coventry on Saturday.
Earlier in the season these two sides fought out a thrilling match that finished 30-29 to Coventry. The only similarity with this dull, error-strewn encounter was the close score.
Coventry arrived with a side beset by injuries to key players, and Park simply played a stinker.
A strong wind, in Coventry’s favour in the first half, may have played some part but there were too many handling errors on both sides, but particularly by the visitors who seemed quite unable to piece any sort of move together in the early stages.
The one player who did stand out early on was young Sam Edgerley for Park, given his first start in the scrum half jersey, he showed great confidence on the ball and his elusive runs always looked dangerous. There are still some rough edges to work on, but he was a bright spot in a dreary match.
Park dominated play paying frequent visits to the visitors’ 22, but lacking the decisive edge to capitalise until 14 minutes in, when a good attack saw the ball switched quickly from right to left, Nev Edwards, in good support from the full-back position might have got over himself, but passed on to Miles Mantella who scooted in at the corner. Fly half Ross Laidlaw went very close with a conversion that – with angle and wind – was as close to impossible as they come.
There was good reason to hope that, having broken through for a 5-0 lead the floodgates might open. Park were certainly the livelier, more creative side but all things are relative and play was becoming a catalogue of errors.
Park had no trouble in establishing good field position, but simply could not capitalise on it.
Until, that is, a piece of genius from Laidlaw on 33 minutes. The fly half received the ball at the back of the Coventry 22, in front of the posts and with defenders in front of him, by not much more than a straight run and feinting by dropping his shoulders one way then the other he got through and dived full length for a superb try. He converted it himself for 12-0.
Unless your reporter missed something, Coventry only played their way into the Park 22 once in the first half, an achievement they celebrated by promptly losing the ball. A kind critic would probably have said that Park had done enough to show they would pull away when playing with the conditions in the second half. A sterner one would have said they should have picked up the bonus point already.
The second half got off to the worst possible start when Dan Richmond got himself sin-binned for foul play. Against 14 men Coventry had their best chance, which increased when John Rudd was laid out and play continued while he received treatment. It was the player Rudd would have been marking, winger Jeff Gregson, who got over to reduce arrears to seven points.
Restored in numbers, Park looked the better side, but ‘Cov’ were playing with considerably more cohesion and confidence than they had shown earlier. A brilliant run by Will Robinson set up a try for Harry Rowland in the right corner, to which Laidlaw added an outstanding touchline conversion for 19-7 with 24 minutes left.
Coventry were by now managing significant periods of denying possession to Park, and the old adage that you can’t play rugby without the ball came into force.
Coventry put together an impressive raid up the left, but when the ball was whipped across they again contrived to knock on in front of the posts.
It now became clear that the visitors were stronger in the scrum. Park were penalised, Cov opted to re-set the scrum and Park offended again, the referee spoke to skipper Mark Lock, but as the Park scrum was again forced backwards across their own line, a boot kicked the ball away and the penalty try was awarded, converted by Khrist Kopetsky.
With 11 minutes left, the match was summed up when Park kicked off and Coventry dropped the ball inside their own 22, only for Park then to get themselves penalised when the line beckoned. Play returned to midfield, Ben Gotting hit an opponent with a clattering tackle which left the player dazed and the hooker looking at a yellow card, forcing Park to face the final seven minutes a man short.
Coventry kicked the penalty to touch, but messed up a short throw routine to let Park off the hook.
However, when Coventry gained a scrummage to the right of the posts, Park were obliged to withdraw a player to allow Richmond to return at hooker and surprisingly withdrew a forward, Harry Rowland. The Park scrum went backwards over their own line and it was all down to a straightforward conversion which Kopetzky nearly – but not quite – muffed.
There was only time to kick off and Park had to settle for a draw. It was a poor result and a poor performance. The players will be as aware of that as anyone, and the test will be how they pick themselves up before the visit to lowly Stourbridge next week.
Park: Edwards; Mantella, Parsons, Gower, Rudd; Laidlaw; Edgerley (Baxter); Marfo, Richmond (Gotting), Ward; McKeen, Anderson; Trayfoot, Rowland, Lock.
Park scorers: Laidlaw (T, 2C), Mantella (T), Rowland (T).