RUGBY: St Ives survive late scare to book place in Midlands Senior Vase showpiece - then swiftly turn their attention to top-of-the-table clash

Four players who helped St Ives into the Midlands Senior Vase final are, from the left, Duncan Willi

Four players who helped St Ives into the Midlands Senior Vase final are, from the left, Duncan Williams, Josh Meadows, Josh Dear and Ollie Bartlett. - Credit: Archant

St Ives reached the Midlands Senior Vase final for the first time – after passing their toughest test yet.

The Bulls’ brilliant season continued last Saturday with a 10-8 triumph at Midlands Division One East (South) rivals Leicester side Vipers in a tense semi-final tussle.

Their 18th successive victory was by far the most hard-earned and nerve-wracking yet with the home side missing a late conversion which would have brought them level.

But it was the Bulls who prevailed to set-up a mouth-watering showpiece against another set of table-toppers – Midlands Division One East (North) outfit Long Eaton – later in the season.

Player-coach John Naylor said: “Vipers were much improved from the last time we faced them. The importance of the occasion and the tough conditions made it a leveller.

“The game became a forward battle and it was a case of playing in the right areas of the pitch. It was a nervy finish, but we managed to come through it and we’re all delighted to have reached a final.”

St Ives found themselves behind at the break to a Vipers penalty after drawing a blank in the opening 40 minutes.

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The normally reliable boot of Paul Ashbridge couldn’t take advantage of penalties early in the second half, so the Bulls turned the attention to the try line.

And man-of-the-match Dan Hyde soon powered after collecting a short pass from Naylor to complete a move which stemmed from a line out and featured an effective driving maul.

That was the cue to for St Ives to pile on the pressure and a sustained spell in Vipers territory led to a second score as big Duncan Williams was driven over the line by the pack.

But the hosts weren’t about to wave the white flag as they pummelled the St Ives defence and eventually went over for a try in the corner.

The resulting conversion – which could have put them level with only a couple of minutes remaining – was missed and St Ives held firm in the closing minutes to advance.

Final opponents Long Eaton beat Northampton Casuals – who are the Bulls’ closest league challengers – 31-22 in the other last-four clash.

St Ives will have home advantage in the final which is to be staged at Somersham Road later in the season. The exact date is still to be finalised.

The Bulls now travel to Casuals this Saturday for a top-of-the-table league showdown which is likely to have a big bearing on the destination of the title.

Naylor added: “We’re obviously really pleased with how the season is going, but we’re well aware that we haven’t won silverware yet.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge against Casuals, but we seem to raise our game against better teams and hopefully that will happen again.

Leaders St Neots entertain Thorney in Midlands Division Four East (South) this Saturday.