Loughborough Students may have claimed the victory but it was Sheffield Tigers who earned the plaundits.
The National 2 North leaders arrived at Dore Moor for their first ever match 22 points clear at the top and with just three defeats. They duly went away with a 22-16 win that sealed the championship and promotion but they were forced to share their glory day with the die-hards from Sheffield who gained a losing bonus point.
While Tigers were quick to acknowledge the quality of the opposition, Loughborough were equally magnanimous in their praise for Andy Barnes’ men.
“Their coach said it was the hardest game they had had all season, which is a tremendous compliment to the lads,” said Director of Rugby Richard Senior.
“Loughborough have a young and very talented squad of players but again we showed that we can compete with any team in the league even with first team regulars missing.
“They resorted to kicking due to our defence being so strong and pressurising them and at the end of a very even contest the six points difference was down to just two extra penalties,” he added.
Tigers welcomed back Barnes in the back row, Peter Swatkins on the wing and Mark Chivers at prop but with John Buchanan unavailable and Tom Outram still injured, Callum Mackenzie and Jamie Broadley formed a new centre partnership.
Alex Drage returned to the starting line up at scrum half.
Loughborough took just two minutes to open their account after Tigers conceded a penalty at a ruck but Jonny West levelled it up five minutes later. The visitors added another three points from the restart and West then missed his kick before Tigers went ahead with a stunning try. It started in their own half, Swatkins was released down the left and his inside pass found Nick ‘Biffo’ Pearson who handed off an attempted tackle as he raced in from 30 metres. West added the conversion and it was 10-6 after just 13 minutes.
Despite being reduced to 14 men, Loughborough piled on the pressure and it paid off with a converted try to give them a three point lead going into the half time break.
They added a further three points early in the second half but West replied a few minutes later to cut the deficit once again.
Richard Joel entered the fray as replacement for Frank Wragg and shortly after West levelled it up. Both teams strove to break the deadlock and with 10 minutes left Loughborough bagged a penalty followed by another four minutes from time.
Team: Cone, Thomson (Gidlow), Chivers (Ross), Smyth, Hayter, Pearson N, Wragg (Joel), Barnes, Drage (Holmes), West, Swatkins, Mackenzie, Broadley, Wallace, Graham. Replacement not used: Feeley.
Man of the Match: Will Smyth – tremendous work rate and 100 per cent commitment.
Tigers travel to play-off contenders Caldy on Saturday.