League Rugby returned to Tewkesbury Road after 18 months with a hard fought local derby against Tewkesbury RFC.
The early exchanges saw Service dominant, their forwards driving into the Tewkesbury defence building pressure in the visitors 22. This pressure failed to result in the home side putting points on the board, due to both dogged defence and, on occasion, poor handling and decision making from the home side.The scrum was proving to be a dominant weapon for Service. So dominant in fact that within the first 10 minutes, the visitors had to replace their loosehead prop with an ankle injury following a powerful drive on the visitors own feed.
It was Tewkesbury however that scored the first points, against the run of play, with the powerful centre bursting through a few tackles following a tap penalty. Try converted. Tewkesbury taking a 0-7 lead.The game struggled to settle into any rhythm, with handling errors and lack of continuity from both sides, during which Service were guilty of a high penalty count for multiple offences. These resulted in a continued loss in territory as Tewkesbury kicked well to touch.
The Tewkesbury scrum and lineout continued to be put under pressure by Service’s dominant set piece. Following a further injury the visitors were unable to compete at scrum time and the referee had no option but to announce uncontested scrums, for the remaining 60 mins of the game subsequently giving the visitors guaranteed possession from their scrum ball. This clearly disrupted the home side.
Cheltenham at last started to put some decent possession together going through the phases and starting to build pressure on the visitors defence that subsequently saw gaps develop that the impressive Jack Gascoyne (on league Debut) exploit and make a clean break, well supported by flanker Sam Eastoe for a score under the posts. Converted by Jon Stickler, scores level at 7 -7.
The sides went into the half time break with all to play for in this tight encounter.The local derby was living up to its billing with big, edging on illegal, tackles from both sides and it was only a matter of time before a card was going to be shown.
It was physical, at times right on the edge, and following a swinging arm from Gascoyne the referee decided enough was enough which saw him issue a yellow card for the Cheltenham centre.
Service regrouped and started to play a more controlled and structured game, maintaining possession and driving into the heart of the Tewkesbury defence. Although a man down it resulted in gaps appearing in the visitor’s defence and following an excellent constructive multi phased attack, captain Ross Ruck, fed by his brother at 9, put debutant Jacob Hennessy in unopposed in the corner. A sweetly struck conversion from Jon Stickler – Service took the lead 14-7.
Tewkesbury threw everything at the home side and got their reward with a try in the corner, unconverted, making for a nervous last 15 mins. A second yellow card for the home side (No 8 Ollie Wilton) for another high tackle. Tewkesbury tested the home sides defensive resilience to the full. Superbly led by Captain Ross Ruck, who led from the front in tackle count and breakdown clearance, the home side dug deep and soaked up a lot of pressure in their 22.
The last few minutes saw Service manage territory very well and could have, maybe should have with a little more composure, make the game safe but gave away a penalty in stoppage time. Tewkesbury ran the ball from deep in an attempt to save the game. Real character was shown, demonstrated no better than by a truly dominant tackle from Joey Jones driving his opposite number into touch to end the game.
A real hard fought, niggly, local derby.It wasn’t pretty, but it was great to be back playing league rugby and even nicer to get the big W!