Two tries in the final 20 minutes secured a 24-12 victory for Oakham on Saturday in their eagerly-anticipated Midlands 2 East (South) derby with Stamford.
It was another close affair between the two local rivals who were both determined to reverse heavy defeats in their opening league fixtures.
Winning the toss Oakham chose to play up the slope and against the wind in the first half, having learned a lesson from last year and realising the slope could be worth as much as a ten point advantage in the second half.
The early exchanges saw both defences difficult to break down and some excellent tackling from both sides snuffing out attacks and forcing turnovers and errors.
Both sides created scoring opportunities but denied by the defences as Stamford were cleverly pinning Oakham into their own 22 with kicks to the corner.
With 20 minutes gone, Oakham defended a five-metre scrum on their own line but some great midfield aggressive tackling finally forced a turnover and the visitors managed to clear their lines.
Oakham then experienced a period of possession as Matt Lamin forced his way upfield. Stamford conceded a penalty at the breakdown and Oakham launched the kick deep into their opponents’ 22, forcing a lineout 10 metres out.
A fine catch and drive saw Stee Vukinavanua latch onto the ball to crash over for an unconverted try after 25 minutes.
Stamford were stung into action and from the kick off launched a series of drives pinning Oakham into their 22.
Despite defending for their lives, the sustained Stamford pressure eventually told and Ben Turnbull was sent to the sin bin for hands in the ruck just metres from the Oakham line preventing a score for the home side.
From the ensuing penalty, Stamford drove again at the Oakham defence and forced their way over to level the scores with an unconverted try on the stroke of half-time.
Despite being a man down, Oakham were confident going into the second half that the longer the game went on the effect of the slope and wind would eventually give them an edge.
Stamford started the second half by taking advantage of their extra man, driving Oakham back in the scrums and forcing them onto the back foot.
Somehow Oakham managed to keep the home side at bay when a score looked inevitable and, with Turnbull now restored to the ranks, the visitors scrum began to dominate which resulted in being awarded a penalty which Callum Crellin sent deep into Stamford’s 22.
Another catch and drive from the lineout saw Vukinavanua repeat his earlier efforts to force his way over for his second try which converted by Crellin to make it 5-12 five minutes into the second half.
Stamford responded again, retaining the ball for long periods as they hammered away at the Oakham defence before eventually forcing their way over to level the scores with a converted try with 20 minutes to go and it was all to play for.
It was Oakham who then broke the deadlock as Charlie Mays put in a clever kick to the corner which forced the home side to carry over their own line to prevent an Oakham score.
From the five-metre scrum Oakham set up a series of forward attacks before switching the ball to the backs.
Left wing Glenn Vakalalabure found himself in some space and then cut back inside to beat several defenders before touching down to restore Oakham’s lead.
Stamford were still not finished yet and proceeded to threw everything at Oakham to try to force another equalising score.
From a scrum deep inside Oakham’s 22, Stamford worked the ball right and looked to have an overlap before a huge crash tackle by centre Charlie McKee stopped an almost certain try.
This forced Stamford to lose possession and Crellin seized on the loose ball and kicked downfield. With Will Armstrong and Vakalalabure in hot pursuit, they harassed the home defenders into losing control of the bouncing ball.
Armstrong then hacked the ball forward and won the race to touch down close to the posts. The try was then converted by Crellin to stretch the Oakham lead to 12-24.
Stamford again tried desperately to get on terms in the closing stages but, with a two-score advantage, Oakham saw the game out to gain a vital bonus point win and the local bragging rights until the teams meet again in the reverse fixture later in the season.