Shelford show defence is the best form of attack in win over Harpenden
A lesson in patience and defence was delivered by Shelford in a nail-biting 13-10 win over Harpenden in London League 1N.
After opening the season with two wins in a row, and scoring 40 points or more in both, it was expected that the challenge from the Hertfordshire side would require them to step up to the next level at the Davey Field.
The hosts did just that in an enthralling game at the Davey Field that was so delicately poised and could have gone either way until the very end.
It was a classic, but not in a running-rugby sense, more a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in sense.
Harpenden looked an impressive outfit, with a powerful pack, anchored by loose-head prop Jevaughan Warren and tight-head prop Ben Campion, and were very strong at the set piece.
That dominance meant Shelford were starved of the possession that they would have hoped to get in order to release a backs division that has been so strong at the start of the campaign.
If you do not have the ball, then you have to do all you can to mitigate what your opponents’ are able to do with it, and Will Cotterill’s side delivered a textbook demonstration in that regard.
It was not a case of one or two stepping up to the mark, each of the 18 involved played their part and it was the discipline and patience that was particularly to the fore.
They maintained a high level of concentration, with no-one rushing out of the line in an eagerness to make a tackle that would have allowed them to be exploited, and when contact was made, it was invariably low enough to take the Harpenden players to the floor.
If the visitors were able to make yardage gains, then you could almost predict that there would be a flying Peacock ready in wait and among those whose one-on-one takedowns caught the eye were Shingai Chiwanga, Doug Finlayson, Tom James and Harry Rogerson.
You could get a sense of the efforts exerted by the Shelford players by the way in which they left the pitch at the end of the game, with a shattered and exhausted air - albeit a jubilant one as well.
The ferocity of the defence was such that it was forcing handling errors from Harpenden, with the thick blue line up in their faces at speed as soon as they attempted to move the ball along the line.
It was such an approach that ultimately led to the winning try, although we will come to that a bit later, as that was the final scoring action of the game.
Harpenden had shown their hand in the opening exchanges as a booming kick from full-back Tom Sweeney earned them a line-out on 5m to set up an attacking period of play.
They eventually went through multiple phases to force their way over the line in the fifth minute through Alex Bloisi, with Sweeney converting.
However, that was to be the last time they were to breach the Shelford line.
After Lewis Cracknell had missed a 12th minute penalty to the right of the posts, he made amends two minutes later to get Shelford up and running to make it 7-3.
It was a full-on encounter as the sides traded blows.
Dan Barber was sin-binned for Shelford after Sweeney had missed a penalty chance for Harpenden, who then had Obinna Nkwocha shown a yellow card.
The half ended with Shelford trailing by four points, after Cracknell had a penalty hit an upright and bounce to safety.
There was an intoxicating feeling about the match as the second half wore on, with it feeling like a flash of brilliance or a lapse in defence would be ultimately decisive.
Sweeney and Cracknell traded penalties to make it 10-6, but then that moment arrived in the 69th minute.
Shelford’s defence forced an error from Harpenden inside the Peacocks’ half.
Jack Biard, who had sustained a dead leg inside the first 10 minutes, picked up possession and started to grind through the gears.
Clearly looking for support on the wing but with none around, he got his head down and sprinted half the length of the pitch to score under the posts, with Cracknell converting to make it 13-10.
In the closing stages, Shelford dug even deeper to keep Harpenden at bay.
Miles Huppatz produced a brilliant turnover in the 22 in the 75th minute from an attacking Harpenden line-out, which had been their most powerful weapon all game.
They then literally put bodies on the line to deny Harpenden as they crossed the whitewash and, with the new rules this season, it gave Shelford a drop out to restart the game.
There was a celebratory feel when the final whistle went from the Shelford bench, which perhaps symbolized that, in this instance, defence was definitely the best form of attack as they made it three wins out of three.
Shelford: Chiwanga; Long, Biard, James, Long; Cracknell, Duffy; Mukonoweshuro, Huppatz, Barber, Brooks, Clark, Finlayson, Rogerson, Dunnett.
Replacements: Anderson, Holmes, Mepham.
Harpenden: Sweeney; Birch, Barber, Spiers, Deane; Sherwood, Gulliford; Warren, Bloisi, Campion, Nkwocha, Lacey, Goode, Attfield, Preston.
Replacements: Howard, Pearce-Paul, McLoughlin.
Scorers: 5min Bloisi try - Sweeney con (0-7), 14 Cracknell pen (3-7), 54 Sweeney pen (3-10), 63 Cracknell pen (6-10), 69 Biard try - Cracknell con (13-10).