Saturday 4th. October
Cheshire Vase Final
Wilmslow 37 – 0 Crewe & Nantwich
A fantastic win, enthused a jubilant Rick Jones back in the sanctuary of the Wilmslow clubhouse. If we played like that every week, nobody would ever beat us, he added. A wee tad of an over statement but it summed up the euphoria of the moment. This six try demolition job of Crewe & Nantwich without reply was every bit as emphatic as the score line suggests. Jones picked out the half backs, Nick Barker and Ollie Wilkinson, as his men of the match, recognising the huge strides each of them have made in their play during the season. In truth though, he could just as easily selected from a whole clutch of others, whose progress from untried rookies to seasoned performers has been a feature of the Wolves season.
Ironically, Crewe & Nantwich had arrived at this final marginally ahead of the Wolves in the Level 6 rankings, fourth in Midlands 1 West to Wilmslow's fifth in North 1 West. Reports had it that their strength lay in a large powerful pack, which would be capable of strangling the life out of the Wolves. Man for man, they were most certainly bigger but only in their driving play from the lineout were they able to cause the lighter Wolves forwards any regular inconvenience. Even when Wilmslow were twice yellow carded in the front row, they were unable to make the advantage in the set piece count, quite to the contrary in fact, and when they broke from both scrum and lineout, the Wolves' marauders were in their faces to stifle them.
They had their moments, of course, particularly for ten minutes or so at the start of the second half but not once did they make a clean line break. The sneaking feeling that the Northern League was overall stronger than its Midlands counterpart was reinforced by the difference in intensity that the two sides were able to play at. No doubt, this Crewe & Nantwich side have the players who would learn to cope if they were exposed to it week in and week out but they looked shell shocked long before the end of this match.
There was a slightly edgy first few minutes to the game as both sides set out to test the relative strengths of their opponents. The C & N forwards tried to batter their way up the field from around the fringes, whilst the Wolves immediately set about releasing their dangerous back division. Once the Wolves found that they were at the very least competitive in scrum and lineout, they started to take the initiative.
After 10 minutes, a Lawrence James penalty set up a lineout position close to the C & N line from where the Wolves worked one of their favourite moves to put Adam Hewitt in for their opening try. In the next five minutes C & N forward drives were twice disrupted and one of Wilkinson's less convincing clearing kicks was some how misfielded to catch C & N offside in their own half. Difficult to do that. From the ensuing lineout a typical piece of Wolves back play stretched the defence on its right and when the ball was recycled, Mike Black timed his pass to James perfectly for the full back to cut inside for the second try under the posts. Try number three emerged after a typical bullocking run in midfield from prop Adam Taher opened up space for Ms Stobart and Day to release James once again. This time he and Ed Stobart were both stopped just short of the line but from the ruck, scrum half Barker burrowed over.
Before half time two great opportunities were spurned when Sam Cutts just didn't have the gas to go all the way and then Day frustratingly took his eyes off the ball just when he had a whole bevy of unmarked men outside him. C & N had a solitary penalty chance just before the break which went wide of the posts.
The second half got underway with C & N having their best period of the game. The Wolves found themselves conceding a bucketful of penalties for all the normal reasons and it was hardly a surprise when Robert Taylor got yellow carded for an offence on the floor. C & N couldn't make anything of their man advantage and when the seven man Wolves scrum heaved them backwards at pace from a scrum five yards out, they got into a muddle and conceded a penalty. Wilmslow supporters roared their approval as much for the Wolves defensive effort as for the restoration in their faith of the Merseyside referee's impartiality. James banged the ball into touch down field and it seemed that C & N had shot their bolt. Taylor's time in the bin was hardly up when they were harassed into dropping the ball in midfield, conveniently for Barker to stick his hoof on it for a long chase. C & N's full back failed to gather the loose ball cleanly, it was taken by the chasing pack and passed to Ian Culligan for try number four.
There was still the final quarter to play but there was only one side who was going to win it and everybody, players and spectators alike, knew which one it was going to be. The Wolves now took one against the head for Black to break from the scrum before Wilkinson off loaded to Jack Walmsley, making a short cameo, to score under the posts. It was a shame that a few minutes later Walmsley should find himself the recipient of a Yellow Card. No matter, the fun continued. James decided on the option of taking a penalty pot at goal for 32-0. C & N were by now virtually bereft of ideas, any attempts to break out were comfortably picked off by the Wolves. Legin Hotham was caught just short after one such turnover and when Wilkinson fielded an indeterminate kick up field, the Wolves were away again down the narrow left side, this time for the galloping Hewitt to earn his corn with the final try.
Jones now has to get his squad to forget about all this and to become properly motivated for a difficult trip to Penrith next weekend. Penrith in fourth place received a cuffing when they visited The Memorial Ground in January and the Wolves can be certain that they will want to run a studded borderers' gauntlet vigorously all over them, with added interest. From their perspective it will be unthinkable to suffer only a second home defeat this season and thereby to allow the Wolves a realistic opportunity to sneak past them into fourth place. Heaven forbid such an outcome!!!
Match report by David Pike.
Photo: Sam Cutts on the Wilmslow left wing.