Richmond’s trip to Shelford was another potential banana skin on a testing run in to the end of the league season.
Shelford have been unbeaten in 2012, but a commanding first half performance by Richmond laid the foundations for a convincing 23-9 victory, and some magnificent defence ensured that a powerful Shelford side had no chance to extend their victorious record.
With Henley and Hartpury both losing, the promotion race now looks a three team race, with third placed Worthing visitors to the Athletic Ground next week.
Richmond made five changes from the Westcombe Park game with James Brooks and Toby Henry restored at half back, Danny Parkinson stepping in for Kyle Sinckler, away on England Under 20 duty, and Robin O’Sullivan, ex London Irish, making his debut on the open side.
Despite a gloomy forecast, the afternoon was sunny with a slight breeze and Richmond kicked off with the elements largely in their favour.
A superb kick off from Brooks enabled his team to gain the all important first possession and establish early domination.
Both sides conceded penalties in the opening exchanges, Shelford for a high tackle and Richmond frustratingly for obstruction, as a rolling maul gained momentum.
The visitors’ defence was up very fast and forced Shelford errors as they tried to escape their 22. In the fifth minute, the ball was knocked out of Shelford hands and kicked through, forcing a scrum five.
Retaining possession well, Richmond pounded the Shelford line, gradually pulling in defenders to establish an overlap.
Finally a beautifully judged pass from fly half Brooks allowed winger James Greenwood to cut in for his ninth try of the season and Tom Platt added the conversion.
It was a well worked team try and fair reward for a rousing opening seven minutes.
Unfortunately the gloss of the first score was slightly tarnished by the penalty, promptly conceded at the kick off for not rolling away, and Shelford’s Harry Owens made no mistake to take the score to 3-7.
Nevertheless Richmond now resumed full concentration and their power and pace provided little respite for Shelford.
Two more penalties were thoroughly deserved as the constant pressure created inevitable mistakes and the sure footed Platt added six points to take the score to 3-13 after twenty minutes.
Quick hands from the half backs ensured that Richmond hit the defensive line at pace and Brooks mixed up his kicking to good effect.
Owens had one more penalty opportunity, which slid past the posts, but generally Richmond were the only side who looked like scoring.
The forwards had begun to look stronger and stronger in the scrums and it was no surprise when the next score came from a tight scrum, five metres out. Referee Robert Warburton pinged Shelford for slipping the bind as the home eight were shunted backwards, but when it happened again, he marched decisively to the posts to indicate a penalty try. Nobody quibbled at the decision and Platt added the conversion.
With half time imminent at 3-20, the only clouds on Richmond’s horizons were knocks to Brooks and Parkinson, both of whom were then replaced at half time, Platt moving to fly half.
If Richmond’s first half kick off went very well, the same did not apply to the second half, the visitors dropping the ball and giving Shelford possession on the 22.
The forwards appeared to make full amends, winning the ball back against the head, but a further error promptly returned the ball to Shelford and this time Richmond’s defensive line strayed offside in their efforts to keep the opposition out.
Owens took the score to 6-20 to give his side a glimmer of hope.
However, Richmond were in no mood to undo the excellent work of the first half and Ali Lyon’s arrival at tight head did nothing to diminish the power of the Richmond scrum.
The second half was more even territorially and Shelford worked hard to find space for their strong running Fijian backs Pecell Nacamavuto and Peniasi Seru, but Richmond closed them down very effectively to deny momentum and, on the rare occasions they made any progress, the tackling was brave and efficient, Will Browne prominent and Toby Henry covering well.
Richmond’s best chances in the open came from two Tom Chesters breaks from deep, the support just proving unable to finish off the opportunities.
The similarity of the shirts possibly caused some confusion at critical moments.
Tom Platt almost scored, following up his own grubber but had to settle for a penalty, matched shortly afterwards by Owens when a Richmond defensive kick was charged down.
With twenty minutes to go, the Richmond scrum again drove Shelford back to their line and seemed bound to score.
But somehow Shelford escaped without penalty and Richmond knocked on in the follow up.
As the visitors chased the extra bonus point, the game opened up and Shelford had opportunities.
However, the Richmond defence remained resolute, the tackling efficient and aggressive and the cover totally reliable.
In the last ten minutes, Richmond settled for four very good points and the forwards, who had dominated the game, closed a strong Shelford side out of the match.