ONE CONVERSION and a penalty settled Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash between Burton and hosts Lichfield.
In a hard-fought affair – with the result in doubt until final whistle – both sides scored two tries apiece, but the Lichfield kicks found their mark as Burton’s advantage over third-placed Hereford was cut to four points.
The Crofters began brightly and took the game to the league leaders from the off.
Good early pressure resulted in a Burton penalty after just two minutes, but Darryl Banton pushed his effort narrowly wide.
Lichfield regrouped and showed good handling, but the Burton backline defended well.
Much of the play was centred between the 22-metre lines, with both teams trying to find gaps in the opposition defence. Burton made a strong statement in the scrum, pushing the Lichfield eight back on the first set play of the day.
A good breakout from Sam Benjamin, who linked up with Laurence Betty, looked promising until the last pass went astray in the swirling wind – a common feature of the day.
Lichfield weathered the storm and with some good link-up play scored a well taken try on 16 minutes, although the hint of a forward pass was missed. The conversion attempt sailed wide.
The story of the half continued with Burton dominating the scrums and destroying the Lichfield pack – but getting no change from the referee.
The Crofters also dominated territory, but the last pass either failed to go to hand or Burton conceded a penalty at the crucial moment.
Burton were dealt a severe blow on 21 minutes when captain Josh Cartwright had to leave the field with a damaged ankle, to be replaced by Will Brooks.
Three minutes later, at his first line-out take, Brooks fed Craig Dutton who passed along the backline.
Ian Gilmour kicked through and Dave Archer cut a strong line though the Lichfield defence to pick up and score just left of the posts.
The conversion was missed just to the right of the upright.
For the remainder of the half Burton dominated territory and the scrum, but Lichfield defended well while the visitors conceded too many penalties when in the ascendancy.
Surging runs from forwards Liam Hucknall, Dutton, Tivey, Banton and Gilmour, who linked up with the backs of Betty, Archer, Titley and Benjamin resulted in yet another penalty just before half-time for offside.
But the Crofters were unable to take advantage as the half finished all square.
The weather deteriorated further in the second period with torrential rainfall, but both teams, to their credit, tried to keep playing rugby.
Burton’s pack were still pushing Lichfield backwards, but despite the hosts’ collapsing, were penalised for pushing early.
From the resulting Lichfield line-out and driving maul Burton gave away a penalty which Lichfield converted to open up a three-point lead.
Moinutes later Lichfield pressed again. Great defence by Benjamin cleared the line temporarily and although another great tackle from Benjamin out wide followed, Lichfield drove on which resulted in a converted try seven minutes into the half.
Burton continued to press with a great tackle in midfield. The visitors were penalised for going over the top but the hosts missed their three-point attempt.
Lichfield began to achieve some parity in the scrum as Burton’s first-half efforts began to take their toll.
But the Crofters backs were beginning to find some holes in the Lichfield defence and began to make inroads.
Betty and Titley both broke through several times.
On the half hour Burton came back strongly and the pressure finally paid off with some fantastic interplay.
Benjamin started the move which involved Hucknall, Archer and Betty before coming back to the ever-available Benjamin who scored with eight minutes remaining.
In the day’s recurring theme Burton missed the kick, but a bonus point had been gained with the score 15-10 in Lichfield’s favour.
The Crofters made ground in a bid to find the elusive winning score. Nicholls, who came on for Banton, produced some good line-kicking, but the Burton line-out was not functioning well by that time.
With seven minutes to go repeated infringements from the Lichfield number seven led to a yellow card.
With the numerical advantage Betty and Archer produced some surging runs through midfield, but the elusive score failed to arrive.