Injury-hit Cornish All Blacks lose out to Shelford
An injury-hit Cornish All Blacks were unlucky not to have snatched victory in this National League Two South clash at the Davy Field which Shelford won by the narrowest of margins, 16-15.
It was an abrasive, confrontational match with two strong packs and on the balance of play the All Blacks were the better team, despite being short of a number of key men and having to put their middle-aged coach on the bench.
Nevertherless, their new players on the day really stepped up to the plate superbly.
They outscored the Cambridgeshire club in tries, 3-2, were ahead 10-8 at the break, and, if the usually laser-accurate boot of full-back Kieron Lewitt had landed just one of three difficult conversions, the Cornish might well have come home with four points in the bag instead of just one.
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To give credit to Shelford – one rung above their visitors in fifth place in the table and who had won the first leg at Polson in September, 29-13 – they starved the All Blacks of ball from the re-start and their defence was solid.
It was a 15-man game from the off. The All Blacks had points on the board by the fifth minute.
Shelford had launched a handling move in the backs, but from a line-out and a maul, visiting centre Lewis Paterson pounced at the base of the scrum and crossed wide out.
The hosts soon narrowed the gap with a penalty in front of the posts kicked by centre Rory Hutchinson after the All Blacks had killed the ball.
For the next 20 minutes possession was even with play largely in midfield and each side occasionally threatening the other's 22.
Then on the half-hour the Cornish struck again. Mounting some slick handling moves in the backs with good offloading, which sucked in the defence, they worked upfield, prominent new lock David Parish charged down a kick, and from the ensuing scrum No.8 Josh Lord picked up and forced his way over from five metres out to make it 10-3 to the All Blacks.
Back came Shelford with their No.8 Aki Lea charging upfield. He was tackled but offloaded to lock Edward Mills who hacked on.
The ball went loose in-goal and Mills, somewhat dubiously, was adjudged to have got the touchdown to leave the half-time scores 10-8 in favour of the All Blacks.
The Cambridge men went ahead for the first time in the 45th minute. They charged down a Lewitt kick and reached the visitors' line.
All Black wing Sam Chapman kicked the ball dead but from the five-metre scrum Lea crossed for an unconverted try.
Their lead was stretched to 16-10 soon after by a simple second Hutchinson penalty for handling in a ruck. The All Blacks – with fly-half Jake Murphy, Paterson, Chapman, scrum-half Richard Friend, and Parish all prominent – now attacked relentlessly from all angles with Shelford desperately hanging on.
They surged into the home 22, kept possession, and after several mauls their pack drove powerfully to the line and Paterson popped up, picked up and dived over the ruck to score.
But in the last 15 minutes the Cambridge men were on the attack again. There was no further score and Shelford completed the league double by the narrowest of margins.
All Blacks skipper, flanker Tom Rawlings, was far from disappointed. He said: "Despite losing I was really happy with our performance.
"At Lydney last week we really didn't play well. At Shelford we almost won, perhaps should have won. But we played for the full 80 minutes and we did get a bonus point.
"Of the new players Dave Parish played well, and wings Sam Chapman and Martin Kneebone too.
"We might be considered to have been a little hard done byin a number of ways: Shelford's first try was rather dubious and their second was a very scrambled affair, courtesy of our error."