TRAVELLING to the outskirts of Walsall for this Intermediate Cup third round tie, Malvern were aware that Handsworth would be no pushover.


Playing two levels below Malvern, this was Handsworth's Cup Final, and they played out of their skins, disrupting Malvern repeatedly and defending like demons. Although Malvern were camped out in the home half for the first 20 minutes the Handsworth cover and tackling were such that Malvern repeatedly broke down in attack, passes going astray or being knocked on. It was left to starting scrum half Daniel Sparrey to open the scoring, cheekily stealing the ball and running half the pitch to touch down.

After a long period of scrappy play, during which Mark Humphreys was replaced by Andy Longley after an ankle injury, the Malvern skipper increased the lead with a 35th minute penalty. From the restart, Malvern's forwards went on the rampage upfield, showing beautiful handling skills as their interpassing allowed the silky Steve Cooper to score. Longley's conversion gave Malvern a 15 point cushion and an apparent comfort zone.

However, Handsworth had other ideas and came out for the second half with all guns blazing, forcing Malvern onto the back foot and making them concede a string of penalties, ending with a try for Ashley Dubberley. The conversion took the home side to eight points in deficit and they were playing with sufficient nerve to make Malvern step up a gear. They drove to the Handsworth line and gained a penalty, which Longley slotted. Paul Jenkin, back after injury, made a trademark break for his captain to glide through and score, the conversion giving an 18 point gap and put the game safe.

With all the Malvern replacements now on the field, Blakeway urged his forwards on relentlessly, popping the ball out to Ben Hughes, who ended a scoring drought by bravely forcing his way over in the corner.

The cream was finally added to the Malvern cake when the juggernaut number eight, Mark Gaubert, outstripped a tiring defence in a 50 metre dash, after two earlier efforts had been disallowed.

Longley's conversion brought proceedings to an end, the plucky Handsworth players beaten but unbowed after a thoroughly clean and well-contested cup tie.

Malvern's Director of Rugby, David Robins, was fulsome in his praise. "Full credit to Handsworth. Their defensive tackling was as good as any we have met in our league. They managed to put us off our game for long stretches. However, our fitness told in the end, and we learned a lot from players in a much-changed side. Paul Jenkins made a welcome return in his 75th game to earn his first team tie, Bo Kristoffersen returned from international duty and Andy Logan started at hooker.

"With four of the first XV regulars turning out for the seconds today, our strength in depth has been outlined. We have now gone 11 games without defeat, but cannot rest on our laurels, with Saturday's visitors Sutton Coldfield followed by two matches against Bromsgrove and a home clash with unbeaten Hinckley all to come before Christmas."

MALVERN have been drawn away to Lutterworth in the next round of the NPI Intermediate Cup on Saturday, December 2. Their opponents languish at the bottom of Midlands Three East (South).