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Brave Malvern in narrow Lions loss
7:10pm Friday 24th February 2012 in Rugby
RUNAWAY leaders Rugby Lions came to Spring Lane as odds-on favourites, having only dropped one bonus point all season, but were made to battle all the way by a resilient Malvern for their narrow victory in National Three Midlands.
Lions, coached by former England World Cup winner Neil Back (pictured), have won all their games mainly because of their incisive back division, so Malvern set out from the start to make sure the Warwickshire speed merchants saw little good ball.
To do this the Malvern tackling had to be spot-on.
As Lions tried to work their way out of defence, Malvern harried them into fumbling the ball, which was hacked on and killed by the visitors for Adam Dixon to put over a sixth minute penalty for the opening score.
Malvern were looking the sharper of the two sides and a penalty took the home side deep into Lions territory.
The ball was whipped quickly across to Ryan Watkins, who shook off tackles and burst through the middle to score an excellent try with Dixon converting.
This proved a wake-up call for Rugby, who won a penalty after the restart and put in a series of driving mauls, ending with prop Ben Nuttall going over for a try, Leigh Hinton converting.
From Malvern’s restart, Lions went over the top of a ruck and Dixon’s long-range penalty went over off the bar for a 13-7 lead.
As Malvern’s in-the-face play continued to frustrate Lions they managed to keep the game in the visitors’ half for long periods, but Rugby threw off the shackles to get into home territory.
Winning a penalty, Hinton made no mistake to bring the score back to 13- 10 in the 25th minute. After the interval, Lions brought on England Sevens star Ben Gollings.
However, Malvern continued undaunted, even though most of the play was taking place in the home half and, the visitors had the wind advantage.
Malvern continued to repel the Rugby threat but Lions had to turn to the boot of Hinton, the division’s top points-scorer, who levelled the scores with a 62nd-minute effort.
It was looking as though an unlikely upset was still on the cards.
But a 73rd-minute penalty saw Hinton unerringly put the ball through the uprights to give Rugby the lead for the first time and one they would not relinquish.