Oakham have dramatically turned the corner after a poor start to the season and on Saturday they won another tight game in the Midlands Two South Division.
Oakham beat struggling Rushden and Higham 14-12 in the pouring rain which helped extinguish the Oaks’ natural fast attacking and offloading game.
So it proved in the early exchanges with both teams finding the torrential rain and strong wind making it difficult to hold onto the ball. The result being a spate of dropped passes leading to endless scrums from which Oakham were unable to get any kind of momentum or controlled ball as Rushden dominated them from the start in this area of the game.
The game was not much of a spectacle for the supporters who had braved the conditions as the game gradually descended into a series of handling errors and scrums interspersed with good tackling .Neither were able to get any pattern to their game then with 23 minutes played Oakham were awarded a penalty to break the deadlock which was converted by Nick Wackwitz for a 3-0 lead.
Oakham then started to get some sustained possession but from a promising position they spilled the ball which was seized on by Rushden who hacked it up-field. Will Armstrong gathered near his own line and from the resulting ruck Callum Crellin appeared to have cleared the danger as he kicked up-field. The Oakham defence did not chase the kick and were caught flat footed as the Rushden full back launched a counter attack and passed to his wing who rounded the Oakham defence for a converted try, 3-7, against the run of play after 33 minutes played.
Oakham were stung into action and after concerted pressure inside the Rushden 22 were awarded a penalty which Wackwitz converted to close the score to 6-7.
Oakham were settling into a good passage of play as they started to play the conditions. Henry Hives made a good midfield break and Rushden were reduced to 14 men as a player was sin binned for slowing the ball at the ruck. Oakham took advantage of the half time break to get back into the changing rooms, warm up and receive a pep talk from coach Tim Andrews.
From the outset Oakham went on the offensive in the second half and were soon awarded a penalty kick which was missed. From the ensuing drop out James Beanland caught the ball on the run and surged past three defenders, then the full back, as he crossed near the corner for a fine individual try. Wackwitz narrowly missed the conversion but Oakham were now ahead 11-7 after six minutes played in the second half.
Oakham were starting to play well and with 57 minutes gone launched an attack down the left, Mark Woodward kicked ahead, Hives appeared to have picked up the loose ball and was on his way unopposed to the try-line but was inexplicably brought back by the referee and a scrum was awarded to Oakham.
Oakham were looking more comfortable as they sought to increase their lead launching a series of attacks on the Rushden line but were denied by a combination of good defence from Rushden and over ambitious play in the wet conditions.
Rushden were becoming wise to Oakham’s kicking game and dropped their full back deeper who was then able to gather kicks and launch counter attacks to put Oakham back under pressure. However from one breakout Oakham managed to keep the ball in hand and made good ground deep into Rushden’s half. Rushden were then penalised and from 30 metres out Wackwitz struck the ball through the posts to put Oakham 14-7 up.
Rushden, sensing Oakham were tiring, dominated the final stages of the game with the Oaks unable to secure any possession as their defence was tested again and again as Rushden battered away at their line.
The pressure finally told and despite a prolonged period of last ditch tackling the Oakham defence was finally breached and Rushden crossed for a deserved try, 14-12.
The conversion looked a formality but the conditions had the final say as the Rushden kicker slipped as he was about to strike the ball and sent the conversion wide giving Oakham a very narrow hard fought win.
The result takes Oakham up to fifth in the league. They travel to Belgrave on Saturday when they will hope try to make it five wins in a row.