UTTOXETER beat Market Drayton to climb up to fourth spot in Midlands Three West (North).
The Town recorded their second away win of a fledgling season and got over their disappointing 15-11 home defeat to Handsworth.
Drayton, promoted along with Uttoxeter and still without a league win so far, will have surely targeted the game as a chance to get off the mark, knowing how close the two fixtures last season had been.
But they were to be sorely disappointed in a high-intensity match in which neither side backed off in the contact area.
Mike Davies was one such player, the back row forward suffering a dislocated knee midway through the first half as he again put his body on the line for Uttoxeter.
But despite the loss of their stand-out back row, Town held on to take the win.
The sides were in a state of deadlock for much of the first half as Drayton enjoyed marginally better territory.
The hosts looked most dangerous when they made breaks through the midfield and supported the ball carrier well, stretching Uttoxeter into a scramble defence that reacted quickly. Arguably, Town’s backs looked more dangerous than Drayton’s, with a number of probing runs from Lewis Bain and Ben Gallimore putting the hosts under pressure.
The pack scrummaged exceptionally well, turning the scrum on several occasions and driving the hosts back.
This kept the pressure on as Drayton’s scrum-half was forced to make some hasty clearance kicks.
In contrast to the scrum, Uttoxeter’s line-outs were inconsistent and this meant that the visitors were unable to exert any pressure on Market Drayton in their 22.
The referee was also – rightly – intolerant of any mouth from the players. Uttoxeter’s Tom Sherrat saw yellow and had 10 minutes in the bin for back chat, while Drayton had a player binned for repeat offences at the ruck.
After Davies’ injury shocker, with Laurence Paull coming on in his place, the closest either side got to scoring was through the boot of Paul Milward, but the Uttoxeter scrum-half was unlucky to hit the post with a penalty in the last play of the half.
Town had raised their tempo as the first half progressed and came out in the second with all cylinders firing.
Tim Carr broke through the midfield and created fast ball. Dan Meads and Rob Armett carried on and Uttoxeter began to attack with a more established pattern of play.
Milward picked from the base of the ruck and popped blind to Bain, who released winger James Gill. He was bundled into touch just a few metres short of the line.
Town were able to turn the ball over in the line-out and sent the ball out wide, with Sherrat and James Williams linking well to take the ball on in the midfield.
Milward popped to Jake Batista-Cabrera, who took the ball on again for a quick phase. Bruce Mustard was on hand to ruck out.
With the defenders sucked in, Milward changed the direction of attack and the ball went through swift hands where Uttoxeter had the overlap and flanker Pete Allen cruised over the line to open the scoring.
Aaron Lakin then replaced the injured Gill on the wing and made an immediate impact. He chased down a Milward kick and then won a penalty for Uttoxeter as he attempted to rip the ball from the Drayton defender.
On the hour mark Drayton drew Level. The hosts moved the ball out wide and despite the efforts of Andy Pooley and Mustard they had too many men in support and were able to touch down for an unconverted try.
Ten minutes later and the Town were back in front. They were awarded a scrum inside Drayton’s 22 and the pack marched forward, with Allen controlling the ball at the back. As Uttoxeter edged towards the line, the scrum collapsed. The referee awarded them a penalty try, which was arguably a harsh call for a first offence but it did look as though they would have scored.
The Town got on the attack again. Williams chipped over the Drayton backs and charged through, only to be dragged back by the shirt off the ball. Williams appealed but got a harsh yellow card as his appeal was deemed over enthusiastic by the referee.
Drayton continued to attack until the end. They kicked a penalty deep into Uttoxeter’s 22 and set up a driving maul from the line-out.
Town drove them back and turned over the ball, with Milward ending the match with a kick into touch.