Never was the old cliché of ‘a game of two halves’ more appropriate than for this one. Rosslyn Park went into the interval with a comfortable 24-3 lead over the only side in the League still on maximum points, only to go on to require a sensational last minute conversion by Ross Laidlaw to scramble a 36-36 draw. Thrilling stuff indeed – unless, of course, you’re a coach.

Park dominated the early stages, and with only 6 minutes gone, drove the formidable Cinderford pack back over their own line for Hugo Ellis to touch down, fly half Laidlaw adding an excellent conversion from out wide for 7-0.

Cinderford showed why they were top of the League, mauling Park backwards to earn a penalty out wide, excellently slotted over by Mark Davies for 7-3. This was a good period for the visitors;Davies then muffed a far easier penalty, and a further penalty was hammered to the Park 22 but the throw was too long.

The home side replied with a superb combination of passes through midfield and wrested a degree of control over proceedings, going further ahead when the ball was quickly worked wide and winger Nev Edwards flew up the left to score in the corner. Another superb conversion by Laidlaw put his team 14-3 ahead on 25 minutes.

Play was far from one-sided, but Park still had the upper-hand. Three minutes before half time Cinderford conceded a penalty and up stepped Laidlaw to make it 17-3. A battle of long kicks was resolved in Park’s favour when a Cinderford kick failed to cross half way and, following the set-piece, scrum half Matt Hicks danced through the defence to score for Park right under the crossbar, Laidlaw’s conversion bringing the interval at 24-3.

The second half saw the Gloucestershire side dig deep to try to claw back the deficit, but Park seemed to be holding out easily enough until their marking broke down under pressure and then Stapleton was, albeit accidentally, tripped on his way through to score. The referee indicated a penalty try, but as Jack Adams scored between the posts anyway how the 5 points are allocated is important only to statisticians. Davies added a simple conversion for 24 -10.

Things began to look a bit dodgy for Park when they failed to catch the ball, which bounced in their own 22, and it bobbed up neatly for the visitors, who worked it wide for speedy winger Stapleton to score near the corner, Davies adding an excellent conversion for 24-17.

The home side made the best possible reply, forcing a couple of penalties and Laidlaw spurning a pretty certain 3 points to propel the ball to touch deep in the visitors’ 22. Park drove to the line and a massive surge saw hooker Joe Clark touch down out wide for 29-17, bringing up Park’s 4-try bonus point. The angle of the conversion defeated even Laidlaw’s conversion attempt.

With a 12-point cushion inside the last quarter, Park conspired to turned what looked like being a hard earned victory into a panic for survival with a series of errors. Firstly, Hugo Ellis got himself yellow-carded after Park had tried the referee’s patience once too often; their reduced numbers were slow to re-organise and react at a set piece and flanker Adam Nicholls dashed over for 29-22.

Calamity struck for Park when the normally rock-solid full-back Ed Lewis-Pratt had one of those “if-only-the-ground-would-swallow-me-up” moments. A long clearance kick was fielded on the wing and passed inside to the full-back, who was under no real pressure, ran a few strides and promptly kicked it straight into the up-stretched hands of the only opponent trying to close him down. A quick pass and Jack Adams had his second try of the match, Davies’ conversion tying the scores at 29-29.

Cinderford now had their tails up and went all out for the win; Park looked shell-shocked and calamity seemed to have turned to catastrophe only five minutes later when they were penalised on 10 metres, Cinderford kicked to the 22 and from the lineout winger Nev Codlin eventually got over, Davies adding a good conversion to put his side in the lead for the first time at 29-36 with less than five minutes left.

Rosslyn Park launched into desperate attack mode, soon gaining a sound footing inside the 22. They gained a penalty with the referee telling players there was a minute left. Laidlaw went for the corner. From the lineout the forwards made an immense surge and Ellis bagged his second try of the match, but right in the corner, giving Laidlaw a kick that would have been “impossible” in normal circumstances, let alone with the whole result depending upon it. But Laidlaw specialises in making the impossible look routine and – with an eerie silence turned to cheers of relief – spared his side’s blushes as the ball sailed between the uprights.

Park got out of jail but, taken over the whole 80 minutes, they earned their remission and a draw was the only fair result.

Cinderford: Stefan Hawley, Nev Codlin, Jack Adams, Rob Winchle, Lloyd Stapleton, Mark Davies, Sam Arnott, James Brooks, Tom Bozzard, Nick Selway, Ben West, Dave McKee, Adam Nicholls, Will Foden (Capt.), Joe Garner.
Replacements; Leigh Green, Stuart Bailey, George Evans, Sam Caven, Alex Frame

Report courtesy of Rosslyn park,