Rosslyn Park kept within touching distance of Ealing Trailfinders at the top of National League One after a comfortable 36-19 win over Old Albanians.
Park now face two tough games with a trip to third-placed Blaydon followed sharply by the visit of Ealing.
Both Park and OAs had key players injured – including both skippers – but Park coped better, while ambitious Old Albanians were a tad disappointing for a team coming off five successive wins, including an away victory at Ealing.
Almost from kick off, Park forced a penalty for fly half Sam Katz to kick them into a 3-0 lead, but before they could build on the lead they were themselves pinged for not rolling away and full-back Richard Greg levelled the scores at 3-3 after five minutes.
Park resumed the attack and soon gained a further penalty, catching OAs offside and Katz was again on target for 6-3. The home side began to exert a measure of control and a kick to touch inside the OA 22 saw them set up the ball up for the pack to drive over with hooker Dan Richmond claiming the try. Katz added a difficult conversion for 13-3 on 15 minutes.
From the kick off, Park conceded a penalty which fly half Rayner smacked into the 22 and his team were able to force a penalty for Gregg to pull it back to 13-6.
That did not last long as the game risked descending into a sort of penalty ping-pong as the hosts were almost immediately awarded one for Katz to take matters to 16-6.
All looked to be going well for Park until a small uncharacteristic error from Katz set off a chain of events that might have changed the game completely.
The fly half’s clearance attempt lacked the trajectory to clear his nearest opponent and ricocheted into dangerous territory.
OAs pounced and, with the defence at sixes and sevens, Laurence Ovens was sent to the sin bin for deliberately slowing down the game in front of his own posts. Gregg kicked the penalty for 16-9.
OAs had their tails up and soon launched a searing attack through the middle against 14-man Park.
The attack was halted, but not before the referee had concluded that Park number eight Hugo Ellis had committed a similar offence to his departed comrade. He was dispatched to join him.
Now facing 13 men, OAs opted to scrummage close to the posts. Park could easily have crumbled, but their depleted scrum held firm and it was their opponents who blinked first, conceding a free-kick.
Park needed desperately to keep possession but instead soon kicked it away. However, they defended magnificently and ended their period of reduced numbers on the attack.
If their plight was self-inflicted, then their reaction to it was superb with every single player making Herculean efforts. The half ended with Park on the attack, with Nev Edwards forced into touch close to the line.
The second half started similarly to the first, with an early penalty to Park. OAs argued the point, inviting the referee to march them back 10 metres to within kicking range. Katz gratefully accepted the invitation to make it 19-9.
The home side looked to have an edge at the set pieces and gained a further penalty for Katz to make it 22-9.
Just as it looked as if the game was wrapped up, OA number eight Matt Chambers made a brilliant run out of defence and inside two passes his side were attacking inside the 22 and gained a penalty, from which Gregg made it 22-12.
Back on the attack Park gained a penalty on the OAs 10-metre line but Katz unluckily hit the crossbar.
OAs came back with an attack that saw the final pass tantalisingly knocked on at full stretch. OA were again penalised at a scrum, again argued, and the extra 10 metres allowed Katz to pick his spot inside the 22.
From the throw, fresh legs told in the form of Jack Gash who, on the field for less than a minute, scampered round to score. Katz’ conversion made it 29-12 with 15 minutes left.
It was now OAs turn for a penalty. With time running down they kicked to touch. From the throw, the OA pack, which had thus far looked out-gunned, sent Park into rapid reverse gear to power over, Oliver Cooper-Miller claiming the try.
There has to be some suspicion that but for the two earlier sin-bins Park could easily have pulled it down. Gregg’s conversion gave his side hope at 29-19.
Park deservedly put the match beyond doubt when the visiting scrum was again penalised, the ball was hoofed into the 22 and a quick pass from Gash put away centre Steve Hamilton to set up a well-taken try by Charles Broughton.
A conversion kick that would have challenged Laidlaw saw Katz seal the match at 36-19.