St Neots eyeing up St Ives’ third place

ST Neots rugby captain Rhodri Howcroft is delighted with his team’s 2012 form after a shaky pre-Christmas slump saw them drop away in the Midlands Four East South table.

Some difficult games in the run-up to the festive period against the top three teams Old Newtonians, Northampton Mens Own and St Ives meant St Neots entered 2012 in midtable – but the Saints have now won four games in the trot, beating Thorney 55-0, Stamford College Old Boys 47-0, Wellingborough 26-11 and, on Saturday, Corby 32-0.

That is an impressive run of results in anybody’s book – and now, says Howcroft, they are gunning for St Ives, who comprehensively beat them at The Chicken Shack at the end of last year.

Currently in fourth, St Neots are just one place and nine points behind the Bulls – and the two teams will meet again on March 10. On Saturday they leapfrogged Oundle to close in on St Ives after their neighbours did them a favour by beating Oundle 20-0.

“In all fairness we had some hard games before Christmas,” said Howcroft.

“But since then we have played well and we have a new technical skills coach Dan Hill who has made a big impact.”

Hill is an ex-St Neots player who has returned to the club after a stint in the army – and another new edition is also making a difference, said the captain. “We have a new fly half, Dan Glover, who is a very creative player.”

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With a full squad, the Saints will travel to Leicestershire for a rearranged match against Aylestone Athletic. “We are feeling very positive,” said Howcroft.

Saturday’s game at Aylestone is a 12.30pm kick-off. The Bulls are at home to Corby on Saturday and St Neots will then go to Oundle on March 3 while St Ives travel to Westwood.

Then it’s the big one: the Saints v Bulls derby at The Common.

That is when the St Neots may feel they can catch up with their neighbours.

St Neots 32 Corby 0

ST Neots won their fourth game on the trot when they beat Corby 32-0 on Saturday.

The team’s form has picked up since the Christmas break and once again it was a lion-hearted defensive display that separated the two sides.

St Neots are now fourth in the Midland Four East South table while Corby remain firmly stuck at the bottom.

Dan Glover made it 3-0 after 10 minutes with a well-struck penalty and skipper Rhod Howcroft scored from a pick and go after a solid scrum from the Saints pack to make it 8-0.

Conditions improved massively after the break with the rain stopping and the sun coming out. This suited St Neots’ counter-attacking game and Phil Sandling scored two tries in quick succession from extremely close range, one of which came from Adam Porter’s excellent running of the line.

Lewis Hall scored a brace of breakaway tries after St Neots had been put under the kosh by the physical tactics of the Corby pack. In a 10-minute period of sustained pressure St Neots only conceded 20 metres, finally turning the ball over and spreading it wide to Hall for 32-0.

Saints have a rearranged fixture with Aylestone Athletic on Saturday.

St Ives 20 Oundle 0

ST Ives kept up their chase of the top two in the Midlands Four East South table on Saturday when they beat Oundle at a wet and windy Chicken Shack 20-0.

Conditions were tricky following a sudden downpour and though both teams tried to play positive rugby, that sometimes wasn’t possible.

But, by keeping hold of the ball, the Bulls started to grow in confidence and began to get in behind their visitors. Following some hard work by the forwards, there was a break and the ball ended up in Jack Blackley’s hands. The St Ives player won a sprint and despite a late tackle managed to cross the line for the first try – or so he thought, but the referee cut his celebrations short and disallowed it.

With the rain driving into the players’ faces, handling was difficult and even the shortest of passes were getting knocked on. A chance went begging when Ollie Bartlett failed to grab the ball from a scrum just five yards from Oundle’s line – and from another good position, St Ives fumbled yet another chance. Oundle were expecting a short pass and a drive from the centres but Mickey Drake spotted an overlap and the ball was passed well down the line. Unfortunately, the final pass went behind the winger.

St Ives finally got their try after pressuring Oundle with the forwards up quick and forcing errors. The ball was spilled and the first man on hand was scrum half Paul Ashbridge who collected it and went in under the posts. Max Dominy converted the try for 7-0.

The rain and wind died down in the second half leaving St Ives unable to take advantage of long kicks for territory – but the backs could now run their moves and open up Oundle in midfield.

Drake at fly half started demanding the ball from Ashbridge and controlled the game beautifully. One move saw the ball spread wide right and Blackley had Jim Hunter outside him with just the opposite winger to beat. Blackley drew the defender and passed to Hunter who dived over but the referee again called play back, this time for a forward pass.

More pressure from St Ives resulted in two penalties in quick succession. Dominy fancied a shot at goal and was successful with both attempts.

Good work from the St Ives back row disrupted Oundle’s possession further and Luke Slade was able to hack thorough and again Ashbridge was on hand to touch down for his second try which Dominy also converted.

St Ives were looking assured in defence now and went chasing more tries. They got in behind Oundle and, following a good break, Drake fed Manu Hovette who took contact from the last defender and off-loaded to Jim Robinson.

The St Ives captain raced away but the referee blew his whistle for a forward pass.

“It was definitely a day to be a forward,” said Robinson. “Games with Oundle are always entertaining and hard-fought encounters and this was no different. Once again our defence was magnificent as we handled everything Oundle threw at us. The only negative was that we didn’t get a try scoring bonus point.”