Spalding Rugby Club beat Oakham Rugby Club in Counties 1 Midlands East (South)
Spalding secured a dramatic win in the final stages of their Counties 1 Midlands East (South) clash at Oakham on Saturday.
Gav Sharman scored a match-clinching try in the dying minutes of the contest as the Elephants ran out 22-25 winners.
The victory ensured a league double over their Rutland hosts in Spalding's first match back since the festive break.
Waterlogged pitches had prevented Spalding from training over the Christmas and New Year period and they travelled over to Oakham slightly under-cooked for a game that they would have targeted as a potential away win.
Captain Luke Turner was delighted to see Oakham's pitch looking good and firm and, from the kick-off, Spalding took the game to the opposition.
A penalty kick to touch saw Will Shields win the line-out ball and a swift flowing move along the backs drew a high tackle that was penalised by the referee and Conall Mason stepped up to put Spalding three points in the lead.
The home team upped their game and Spalding's backs were caught offside at a scrum.
Pressure was mounting as Oakham moved the ball wide and a knock on from Sharman drew a yellow card.
Oakham kicked the penalty to touch on the five metre line and, with the ball secured, the home team's forwards broke Spalding's defence and with a conversion took the lead by four points.
Spalding's scrums were going well and the players' discipline at the breakdown was also good throughout the game, cutting down penalties and territory that had been given away in games before Christmas.
Another plus for Spalding was the improved clearance kicking by fly half Willis Ingleby.
From one such kick, Spalding's backs chased down and centre Jack Patrick's tackle on Oakham's five metre line resulted in a scrum penalty. The ball was moved to the right wing for Ben Shields to score in the corner.
The attacking momentum was maintained, pinning Oakham back in their 22, with forwards with Sam Cowell and Miguel Da Silva breaking the first tackle with good carries.
With Oakham on the back foot, scrum half Adam Sutcliffe's pass from the breakdown found the backs in space and Conall Mason with a long pass set wing Sharman free to score out wide.
With an excellent conversion by Mason, Spalding had built an eight point advantage at half-time.
From the restart, the home team immediately put pressure on Spalding with a kick to touch.
With line-out possession won, Spalding's defence held firm as Oakham tried to force their way through but a good tackle by Fergus McKerracher forced a knock on and pressure was released.
But it was not long before the home team drew a penalty for a Spalding player not rolling away at the ruck and a simple kick lifted the hosts.
The home team were now on top and a kick from Ingleby gave possession away in Spalding's half.
The ball was moved swiftly along their backs and the forwards in support were over the try line.
Within a few minutes Oakham had exposed Spalding’s defence to score a try down the wing and, with a good conversion, they had a seven point lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Spalding upped their game and started to play with more conviction.
Lock Macaulay Crane and captain Turner established field position with big carries and a kick chase down the right wing saw an Oakham defender fumble the ball and James Luto was over the try line in a flash.
Time was nearly up, but Spalding were again on the attack with the forwards making gains while Oakham were desperately defending and leaving space out wide.
Ingleby saw Sharman on the left wing and put in a delightful kick which was gathered by Sharman who evaded Oakham's defenders to score in the corner.
Although Mason's conversion kick just fell short, the referee immediately blew for full time and Spalding had recorded a thrilling last-gasp victory.
They now face a tough test on Saturday when league leaders Daventry are the visitors to Centenary Park (2.15pm).
Last season, when both teams were promoted from Counties 2 Midlands East (South), Spalding were the only team to take a point off Daventry.
Spalding: Tom Parker, George Brown, Luke Turner, Miguel Da Silva, Macaulay Crane, Fergus McKerracher, Will Shields, Sam Cowell, Adam Sutcliffe, Willis Ingleby, Ben Shields, Conall Mason, Jack Patrick, Gav Sharman, Ryan Firth. Subs: Alex Worth, Taylor Crowson, James Luto.
Spalding's second team were in NLD Merit League action on Saturday at Horncastle.
Although Spalding had a dominant scrum, once Horncastle were able to release their backs they came out winners by 50-19.
The Colts team played away on Friday evening at Kesteven.
These are two of the best Colts teams in NLD area but, on this occasion, Kesteven came out on top with a narrow 10-9 win with James Holland converting three penalties for Spalding.