Cheltenham Saracens RFC 38
Cheltenham North RFC 14
On what had started as a great day, had turned into a bit of a storm as Saracens and North took to the field to contest the Cheltenham Combination Senior Cup.
North started the better of the two sides as they piled on the pressure in the early going, aiming to test the champions and were eventually rewarded through a tap penalty to which Saracens didn’t react. The try was converted, to give the visitors a seven-point lead.
Saracens reacted strongly and put their forwards to work, stringing patient phases together, testing out the North defence. These phases eventually presented North with their second try, with just over five minutes on the clock as an intercepted pass allowed the North centre to storm his way down the field and score under the posts. The kick was converted and North had dimmed the home crowd’s buzz with their 14-0 lead.
Following the restart, the match developed into a battle for possession in the midfield, with Saracens seeing the lion’s share of possession before a strong run saw prop Kierran White burst through the tackles before giving the Saracens some quick ball at the ruck which allowed strong centre, Jonah Manu, to crash through after shrugging off a tackler. Fly-half James Butler kept his cool and slotted the kick which despite dipping at the last minute, had enough on it to get over.
Saracens’ discipline gave the visitors a chance to extend their lead, but the kick for posts was not accurate enough. Less than ten minutes later, as the rain started to come down, Saracens exploited this get-out-of-jail-free-card as a penalty of their own was put into touch by Butler and captain, James McMahon, orchestrated the line-out and maul, which saw Saracens smash their way over the whitewash. Butler dispatched his kick with ease and equaled the scores as the midfield battle remained for the rest of the half.
Half Time: Saracens 14-14 North
With the heavens opening again at the start of the second half, Saracens picked up where they left off, maintaining the majority of possession and piling the pressure on right from the restart. They made the early momentum count, as they took the lead for the first time following a well worked move. Butler kept his kicking record and made it 21-14.
Shortly after Saracens put their forwards to work again, with the rampant driving maul doing the business against the visitors, as the pack stormed down the field and barging over the line in the atrocious conditions. Butler’s kick was on target again, extending Saracens lead to 28-14.
Saracens found themselves deep in the North half again, and encouraged by their supporters, added to their lead through another strong maul. Due to the extreme angle, Butler was unable to convert the kick but Saracens extended their lead into a commanding position, 33-14, as cheers and songs rang out from the greatly partisan crowd.
North tried to find a way back in, putting phases together and banging on the home side’s door but the well drilled Saracens defence held strong with locks Gareth Rogers and Ashley Cresswell putting in some big tackles. The final try saw Saracens feed off the supporters’ energy and after being awarded a penalty chose go to the maul from the line- out and bulldoze their way over just left of the posts, despite North putting 13 people into the counter-maul. Despite Butler’s kick being waved wide, “There’s Only One Team In Cheltenham” rang out around King George V from the Saracens’ balcony.
The final moments saw North piling on the pressure deep in the Saracens half, making sure the Saracens worked hard. A knock-on just before the Saracens’ line gave the hosts a scrum. Scrum-half Matt Mudway picked the ball out of the back of the scrum and grounded the ball behind the Saracens’ line, killing the clock and ensuring that Saracens kept hold of the Senior Cup for the third year running.
Newspaper report here