Banbury Bulls go into 2016 as Midlands Two West South leaders but their advantage has been cut to two points.
A 7-6 defeat at Pinley in Saturday’s fixture saw Bulls lose only their second game of the season which allowed Earlsdon the opportunity to close the gap on the leaders.
In heavy conditions, Bulls kicked-off and the early encounters were tetchy with the referee soon awarding the visitors a penalty but skipper Ed Phillips was off target.
The boot of fly-half Sam Stoop kept Pinley back in their own half for much of the time and the Bulls set-pieces worked well. It wasn’t long before a Pinley player was given a yellow card and this time Phillips kicked the ensuing penalty.
In the latter stages of the first half Bulls managed to get their backs more involved with Jed Boyle and Robin Cooke having runs down both wide channels. But Bulls lacked accuracy in the 22 metres, making too many errors while the Pinley defence missed very few tackles.
Bulls attempted a quick tap-penalty on the edge of the Pinley 22 but it was rather craftily interfered with, the Pinley winger spending the next ten minutes as a spectator for his troubles.
Good line-out ball from Bulls, with hooker Ian Isham regularly hitting his throwing targets, set up chances for the Banbury pack to drive over the Pinley line. Simon Brand came the closest with a ferocious hand-off but again the Pinley defence held firm until the break.
The second half got underway with rapidly dimming light which made it difficult for the referee to recognise the respective forwards, with even the backs covered in mud.
Pinley made good use of the strong wind from the restart to keep Bulls pegged in their own half. A line-out produced a scrum just ten metres from the Banbury line and the Pinley fly-half ducked the defensive tackles and dot down between the posts for a converted try.
Bulls came back strongly and won a penalty and Phillips kicked his side to within one point of the hosts. Pinley were happy to keep kicking the ball back to Banbury, as the conditions made it difficult for Bulls to break out. Centres Matt Goode and James Heywood both had more of the ball this half, but the cover tackles always held firm.
With replacement forwards Nick Pratt and Seamus O’Dwyer on for Ken Kay and Sam Carr-Archer, Bulls had one more ten minute period of sustained pressure in the Pinley 22 but just could not find an opening.