On Saturday afternoon, Hykeham RUFC made their way to Nottinghamshire to play Meden Vale in their first away fixture in Midlands East (North) 5. Hykeham travelled with a very strong squad, and were looking forward to what they fully anticipated to be a tough game in all areas across the pitch.
In the opening minutes Meden Vale started brightly, and the game got underway with some commited rucking on both sides with the referee appearing, in the early stages at least, to be tolerant of aggressive counter-rucking. It is becoming increasingly evident that the first ten minutes of games really dictate the Hykeham performance for the duration of the match. In this fixture it was clear that Hykeham's forwads were in for a hard day at the office. After a flurry of knock-ons from both sides, the early stages of the game were dominated by relentless scrummaging; which clearly suited Hykeham's opponents who were making their weight and experience count. Nevertheless, Hykeham were still making good breaks and threatening the try-line. Of particular note, was a well worked move in the 22 that was agonisingly dropped 5 yards out after appearing a try was imminent. Although Hykeham put the opportunity out of their minds quickly, it is evident that in such physical, tight games, more than ever, converting chances is paramount.
Somewhat against the run of play Hykeham took the lead. The lively Steve Beaumont rose to steal a lineout ball, and tipped towards hooker Andy Rush who reacted superbly to blast his way down the touchline and bundle through the remaining defenders for the score. Unfortunately, the lead was short lived as Hykeham made several errors to forgo territory, leading to Meden Vale mauling a 5 yard lineout over the try line. Hykeham may have had scope to feel hard done by as Meden Vale, unknown to the unsighted referee, knocked-on one yard before the line. However, if being honest, it was no more than Meden Vale deserved. Meden Vale's fly half, who put on a kicking masterclass for the entirety of game, converted from the touchline from a seemingly unforgiving angle. At the interval, the home team held a narrow lead at 7-5.
At the break, Hykeham questioned their attitude and sought to really amp up their performance level for the second period. Although, Hykeham clearly stepped up in the second half, Meden Vale continued to break the gain line, particuly with some well worked moves from their back row at resets. As the game wore on, the scrums became more competive, with the fresh legs from the substitutes really making a difference. Ten minutes after the restart, Shaun Maye entered the fray and made a substantial impact on proceedings, getting stuck into everything, earning the man of the match nomination.
Meden Vale increased their lead to 13-5 with two penalty kicks, which was enough to see themselves home with an impressive win. It is fair to say that Hykeham were taught a lesson today about life back in the RFU leagues. Essentially, there is minimal margin for error in any capacity, as opponents will seek to capitalise on any lapse, physical or mental. Matches at this level appear to swing quite dramatically on some seemingly innocuous mistakes. Meden Vale were victorious today based solely on discipline, organisation and punishing Hykeham's mistakes. This first season back in the league was always going to be a steep learning curve but, as always, the team remain in a positive frame of mind knowing that reducing simple errors, and impoving concentration for every 80 minutes, would see the team remain competitive for the rest of campaign.
Hykeham will put league business aside momentarily, as the team travel to deepest Lincolnshire to play Stamford College in the opening round of this season's NLD vase.