Saturday 24th. October 2015
North 1 West
Wilmslow 32 – 12 Rochdale
Wilmslow's winning streak continued as their five tries gave them maximum league points in what was a scrappy and messy affair. It was their seventh win in eight league outings and took them up to third place in the North West 1 league. Serious examinations of their credentials against the front runners are still three matches away but are now looming up on the horizon and on the evidence of this game against a nuggety street wise Rochdale side, there is still work to be done.Rochdale's losses this season have all been against the leading bunch and they looked a good enough outfit to advance to the top half of the league against less demanding opposition.
Heavy overnight rain, which didn't clear away until well into the afternoon, had left The Memorial Ground pitch a rich green sward, which in the opinion of groundsman Maurice Minns and others, resembled, against the back drop of the Styal wood's autumnal gold and bronze, a thing of great beauty in England's green and pleasant land. It also meant a wet and slippery ball which both sides had difficulty holding on to in hand, leading to a surfeit of dropped passes, loose balls and set pieces.
Rochdale also knew how to disrupt the supply line of quick accurate ball upon which Wilmslow's brand of fast flowing running rugby depends. Throughout the game, they had the nudge in the set piece, just enough to slow down the Wolves possession from the base of the scrum, where scrum half Andy Walker and No. 8 Alex Taylor were continually hounded by Rochdale's energetic scrum half A Tweedale. 'Messing' is a term used in Irish rugby to describe the art of getting a hand in here and an arm in there to deflect a pass, to force a loose ball and to generally be a nuisance. It soon became clear that Rochdale had exponents, who knew exactly how to do this. Without their back five of Ed Stobart (three tries), Legin Hotham, Nick Barker, Harry Patch (two tries) and Sam Cutts, making the most of the opportunities which came their way, the Wolves could easily have been in trouble. Ultimately, Rochdale just had no answer to Stobart's pace, Patch's power, Barker's and Hotham's trickery.
We were never fully in control of the game, said coach Rick Jones afterwards, and although we improved in the third quarter to win the game, we just weren't allowed to play the way that we had wanted to play.
In turn, Rochdale had their fair share of decent first phase possession and were able to conduct much of their business, especially in the first half, in Wilmslow territory but the Wolves have an obdurate defence, which prevented any line break until the last play of the game, and when they decided to have a go at the aerial route, they soon found themselves in trouble from Barker, Patch and Cutts, running it back to them.
The pattern of the game was established from the outset. Wilmslow were lucky not to go behind from a penalty after just one minute, they were then shunted back in the scrum and a pair of weak clearing kicks just opened up the way for Rochdale to attack. The Wolves' defence was good though and when they broke out after seven minutes, Rochdale collapsed a scrum and Villi Tuipulotu, allocated kicking duties for the day, calmly slotted the penalty. Minutes later, the Wolves managed to put together some crisp handling from a Rochdale kick ahead and released Patch on the right wing for a long run in and opening try.
The next twenty minutes or so consisted of pretty undistinguished play from both sides. Rochdale had more of the territory and should have made more of several lineouts and scrums in good attacking positions but they kept knocking on and so did the Wolves when they had their chances to clear their lines. Ollie Coldman then missed a half decent penalty chance on the half hour for the visitors.
And then in the last play of the half another Rochdale attack broke down and the Wolves countered with a series of crisp passing interchanges down the left touchline, which let Stobart in for the first of his tries. Villi converted and against the run of play, the Wolves had a fifteen point lead at the break.
The second period wasn't long underway when Barker fielded a kick ahead in his own half and released Patch, who powered on up the field before off loading to his support, which included Stobart racing away for his second score. The Wolves were looking the more likely now until a very flat pass from Ollie Wilkinson, intended to send his mid field backs on their way again, was intercepted by Rochdale centre Jon Mair for a clear run in under the posts. From the restart, the Wolves stole a lineout against the throw on about half way, Hotham made the initial break before timing a perfect pass to Stobart and his sheer pace did the rest for his third try. Barker then took the restart and swerving down the right at pace, he off loaded to Patch, who after juggling with the ball, was away for his second and the Wolves fifth try, converted by Villi. Three tries in the third quarter had stretched the Wolves to 32-7.
It would be a long haul back for Rochdale but they stuck at it without being particularly threatening. Adam Hewitt got yellow carded for illegally halting a Rochdale catch and drive but the defence held firm until the final play, when Josh Schofield looped round to create an overlap on the left wing, catching his marker out of position, and scooted in for a late consolation. It was nothing more than they deserved.
The Wolves success wasn't greeted by either the players or supporters with the euphoria that would have been the case not so long ago. A measure, perhaps, of how much expectations have changed.
Let's just say that Rochdale, as expected, proved to be awkward opponents and that a slightly off colour Wilmslow side found itself frustrated and not altogether convincing in its play. Next week, there's a week off before the season resumes on 7th. November at Widnes.
Harry Patch has hooker Josh Whiteley to support him as he attacks the Rochdale defence.
22 Ed Stobart on his way for his first try, Whiteley again trying to keep up.
25 Adam Hewitt is held aloft to take the lineout by Jordan Ayrey and Alex Taylor.
Match report by David Pike.