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Shelford keep London League 1N title chase in their hands with hard-fought win over Southend



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Shelford Rugby Club held on to top spot in the league following a hard-fought win against fellow title-chasers Southend.

The 27-21 victory left the Peacocks on 97 points in London League 1N, one clear of Sudbury, who kept up the pressure with victory over Amersham & Chiltern on Saturday. Shelford visit Sudbury next, on March 26.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451361)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451361)

Saturday’s win for the Peacocks was a fitting way to mark Matt Gregerson's 200th appearance.

“He's a club stalwart who has been with the club since his youth days,” said director of rugby Will Cotterill. “He played at the club when they were riding high and also strapped the jersey on when they were losing week in, week out, on the way back down to London 1, so he's been a very loyal Peacock.

“He's a great front-rower. He leads by example and gets a lot of respect from his teammates and we were all really glad that we could get the win for him at the weekend. He did a really good job on the day and played some good rugby.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451343)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451343)

“Probably the most pleasing thing for him was our scrum was dominant and I think from the prop's point of view you've done a good job if the scrum's going our way.”

The Peacocks had got off to a dreadful start, with the Saxons scoring a try inside a minute, which they converted. The visitors were 10-0 up following a penalty decision in the 19th minute and stretched the lead to 13-0 soon after after Shelford lost possession following a line-out.

“We had a bit of a slow start, which is something we've done a lot this season,” said Will Cotterill. “But the boys always looked composed - that was one of the things we spoke about before the game. We knew it was going to be a game that would ebb and flow and momentum would change hands a few times, and it did.”

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451345)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451345)

Will was not unduly concerned.

“I knew we'd been there before in a few games, and I know that Southend were living off our scraps,” he said.

“We were making too many mistakes, giving away the ball too many times - probably trying to play a little bit too much rugby early on in the game, so I knew when things started to click we'd work our way back into the game.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451349)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451349)

Shelford finally got some points on the board in the 31st minute as Miles touched down following a penalty on the five-metre line. A conversion took the score at 13-7 and before long the pacey Jack Biard dived over the line to close the gap to 13-12, although a challenging conversion was missed.

Then came an outstanding moment of play, in the 38th minute, as Shelford’s Will Tyrell carried the ball over the line following a move which began in their own half. Biard offloaded to Tyrell who could not be stopped. The conversion was missed, leaving the score at 17-13 to Shelford.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451353)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451353)

On the stroke of half time, Shelford were reduced to 14 men as Mike Gillick was sent off for 10 minutes. Taking advantage of the extra man, Southend scored after a line-out on the five-metre line. A missed conversion meant the visitors were 18-17 up at the break.

“To ride that initial wave from Southend and then score three lovely tries before half time was real credit to them,” noted Will.

Shelford retook the lead in the 52nd minute thanks to Gillick, who had only been back on the pitch for a few minutes. He finished off a move started by Dunnett's decisive break. The try was successfully converted, taking the score to 24-18.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451365)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451365)

A Shelford try was ruled out in the 60th and some unruly scenes followed that left both sides a man down.

Will said: “That's often something that does happen when it comes to important games. There was a lot riding on the game for us - staying top of the table - and there was a lot riding on the game for Southend.

“Southend had only beaten Sudbury a couple of weeks ago. When they lost momentum of the game in the second half and we scored a lovely try under the posts, from their point of view you could feel the game slipping away from them - and a punch-up is a bit of a leveller.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451369)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451369)

“We'd spoken about it before the game. We were prepared for the game to bubble over a little bit.”

But while it disrupted the game, Shelford kept their nerve amid the tense atmosphere. Biard stepped up to take a penalty in front of the posts, slotting it over to make the score 27-18 to Shelford.

Southend were awarded a couple of penalties in quick succession, but a final penalty to the Peacocks secured their 27-21 victory.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451363)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451363)

Will said: “I think when we were able to get the ball out wide, we caused Southend a lot of problems. I think Southend's ability to score against us was limited by our solid defence.

“We maintained our defensive organisation really well and our defensive discipline and that closed the game out.”

It means the Peacocks approach their nearest title rivals in confident mood.

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451375)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451375)

“The last time we played Sudbury we let them play a lot more than we were willing to play ourselves. So I think we need to be confident now. It’s 15 games or so on the bounce now without a loss this year, so I think we've got to back ourselves.

“We've been working towards playing our best rugby in the pack and defence over the past couple of months, and if it clicks I've got no doubt we'll win that game.”

Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451377)
Shelford v Southend Saxons. Picture: Michael Harris (55451377)

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