Oakham RFC sit fourth in the Midlands 2 East (South) following a 32-19 victory at basement side Vipers.
On a cold crisp day, with little wind and conditions ideal for rugby, Vipers kicked off against an Oakham side determined not to fall into their recent habit of giving away early points.
Unfortunately for Oakham, this determination was short lived as they conceded a penalty in front of their posts 30m out, converted by Vipers in the first minute.
Oakham made some good ground in the early exchanges with Will Armstrong breaking the line on a couple of occasions, but the moves fizzled out as Oakham could not convert their possession into points.
Oakham lost the chance to level the scores when the usually reliable Callum Crellin missed a kickable penalty.
This was quickly followed by an option to kick to touch and then failing to secure lineout possession when, perhaps, there was an easy three points on offer.
Vipers then showed Oakham how to finish with a strong midfield break from their centre, followed up by good support play and quick recycling of the ball finally resulting in a try in the corner.
The conversion was missed to leave Oakham 8-0 down with 18 minutes played - and once again having to come from behind.
Vipers, who were playing much better than their lowly league position suggested, continued to thwart Oakham’s somewhat laboured attacks until finally, after a series of drives, Johnno Milnes managed to get over the line to narrow the scores 8-5 after 25 minutes.
Then, within a few minutes, Oakham levelled the scores after being awarded a penalty.
This time Crellin stroked it over to level at 8-8.
Oakham were having a good spell of possession but Vipers were reading Oakham’s rather one dimensional attacking play and defending well.
Oakham then fell foul of the referee at the breakdown in a rare visit by Vipers to the Oakham 22, and Vipers gratefully accepted the three points.
Oakham soon levelled again with a penalty of their own.
With virtually the last play of the first half Oakham at last broke free of their ponderous play and a slick backs move saw Sam Woods racing to the corner to dive over the line, despite the attention of a strong tackle.
The referee considered the tackle on Woods to have been high and awarded a penalty try to Oakham, converted by Crellin from in front of the posts to make it 11-18 as the whistle blew for half time.
With the second half barely underway Vipers, spurred on by what they perceived as the injustice of the penalty try, forced Oakham to concede yet another penalty and further reduced Oakham’s lead to 14-18.
After defending Vipers early flourish Oakham then settled into their game and began to dominate, forcing Vipers into touch near their own line.
From the ensuing lineout Oakham attempted several drives before moving the ball wide only to see an overlap spurned.
Recycling the ball, Oakham then moved the opposite way before Stee Vukinavanua eventually crashed over near the posts.
Crellin converted eight minutes into the second half for 14-25.
Oakham were now playing well and 12 minutes into the second half had stretched their lead further with a try by Phil Gant, the lock forward lurking around in his new found position on the wing to get his second try in two weeks, converted by Crellin.
It seemed only a matter of time before Oakham stretched their lead further but despite a lot of possession and creating numerous try scoring opportunities somehow, with a mixture of Vipers determined defence and Oakham’s blinkered vision, overlaps were ignored and chances went begging.
Oakham had put so much effort in their attempt to extend their lead that they began to tire.
Vipers started to gain control in the last quarter with their scrum dominating and their rolling maul giving Oakham problems.
It was Oakham’s turn to defend, when in truth the game should have been out of sight.
As the game drew to an end Vipers made one last effort to post another score, finally getting their reward as they crashed over wide out against a tired looking Oakham side then narrowly missing the conversion as the referee blew for full time.
In the end it was a good bonus point win for Oakham, but they know that they had made hard work of a game that should have been out of sight had they played a little more heads up rugby and taken more of the many chances they had created.