The resurrected NLD Senior XV made the trip to Oxfordshire last Saturday for their opening match in the Sir Bill Beaumont County Championships. The match was played at Oxford Harlequins on a brand new, state of the art artificial pitch.
Both squads had had minimal preparation ahead of the fixture, but the home squad consisted of a lot of players who’d played in previous campaigns and collectively played at one or two levels higher than NLD who’s squad was made up of players from Derby, Paviors, Glossop, Nottingham Uni, Trent Uni and Sheffield Tigers, with the latter players originating from NLD and playing for younger age groups in their youth.
Apart from snow, the day was challenging weather wise with wind, hail and rain accompanying the occasional glimpse of sun, which did not favour NLD who looked to exert forward dominance at every opportunity. It was the visitors who opened the scoring when a very solid scrum allowed captain, and number 8, Phil Eggleshaw to pick from the base, draw the defender and give Paviors team mate Jonty Green the easiest of walk ins to open the scoring. The conversion was missed in to a stiff breeze.
Oxfordshire had a very different game plan looking to offload at every opportunity, a tactic that brought a lot of scrums with the weather making handling difficult but occasionally saw them make some telling breaks that stretched the NLD defence. They equalled the score with a smartly taken try and converted to take a 2 point lead extending it almost immediately when the NLD restart didn’t go 10, allowing a smart break from the scrum to be passed through the hands seeing a score in the corner.
This was a real test of character for NLD who bounced back fantastically getting some phases together and making Oxfordshire scramble hard in defence. With the visitors upping their tempo the home side’s penalty count began to rise and, from one offence, fly half Castledine found a great touch line kick giving NLD a line out in a strong position. A smart catch allowed the visiting pack to set up a strong maul taking the home side back over 10 metres before flanker and NLD man of the match Ollie Collingham broke to score a well taken try. Castledine’s conversion brought the scores level at 12 all.
Oxfordshire made a series of subs to try and gain some parity up front, and a better scrum gave their lively backs a better platform to play off. To their credit they regained the lead with a third try late in the half with a smartly taken conversion in difficult conditions. I’m not sure at this point anyone would have bet on this being the final score of what was proving to be a lively game, high in pace and ambition, but the second half ended up scoreless with both teams frustrated by the constantly changing conditions, a few questionable decisions and without doubt some great defence from both teams.
With a bit more composure NLD should have at least shared the points, and left frustrated at what could have been achieved. However, given the preparation we’d had, it was a great effort in our first game and a team full of relative strangers.