Saturday 21st. November 2015
North 1 West
Penrith 0 – 34 Wilmslow
Wilmslow's rich vein of form continued with this emphatic win at Penrith. To win at Winters Park is one thing, to 'nil' the home team on its own turf and to score five tries in the process is quite another. As the season has advanced from late summer, through the autumn, to the fringes of winter so has this Wilmslow side just steadily got better and this display arguably turned into the best seen so far.
Fault lines earlier on in the season just seem to have been tightened up. The restart, for example, where too often the ball was allowed to bounce about, is now, far more often than not, taken cleanly on the full as it should be. The set piece has become far more solid, capable of making a critical contribution at important moments. And probably most important of all, the number of unforced errors has been hugely reduced. None of this is to say that everything is perfect for all of the time, far from it, but the overall improvement has made this side much more difficult to beat.
This match at Penrith had been seen as a real test of the Wolves potential. The Wolves knew from their visit in April, that they would be up against a good, tough, well drilled and coached young side. Only Kirkby Lonsdale had downed them at home this season and the previous week they had ended Altrincham Kersal's eighteen month unbeaten home record. They had also got to within one point of winning at Kendal, so a soft touch they were most certainly not.
The first signs of winter lay all around, snow on the hill tops, patches on the pitch itself and a cold frosty wind accompanied by a bright wintery sun, as the match got underway. The home side were immediately on the attack and in the early stages looked the quicker and more eager of the two teams. They had a kickable penalty chance, which went wide after seven minutes and then from Bob MacCallum's long drop out five minutes later, they were on the attack again, breaking the Wolves defensive line only to drop the ball almost in the act of scoring. You tend to pay at some stage later on, if you don't take your chances and that was seven points they had missed.
The Wolves got going soon after with full back Ed Stobart collecting a kick ahead, running out of defence and then off loading to his support. The Wolves were starting to probe for any chinks in the Penrith defence and, it has to be said, the Wolves were helped by a regular flow of 'offside and not releasing' decisions in their favour. In the space of ten minutes, MacCallum knocked over three chances out of four to edge the Wolves 9-0 ahead. As half time approached, yet another offside decision enabled MacCallum to find touch five metres from the Penrith line. Quick ball off the top from Adam Hewitt was moved to the other side of the field, where Stobart was on hand to break the Penrith line. The cover though managed to get across to stop him but not before he passed inside to Harry Patch, who was clear for the first try.
Briefly, there was a response from the home side at the start of the second half, when a perfect hanging restart enabled them to gain possession and to test the Wolves defence in its own twenty two. Their forwards were driving purposely towards the Wolves line when the referee stopped play to award them a penalty. So much for any advantage they might have enjoyed as they lost the throw at the ensuing lineout and the Wolves were able to clear. And that was really the end of any pretensions they may have had.
A couple of minutes later, the Wolves were scrummaging on the Penrith line and as they went for a pushover, the scrum skewed but not sufficiently to prevent Vili from picking up at the base and making the three or four hard yards for the touchdown. More was soon to follow, despite two yellow cards for Penrith and one for Wilmslow's Adam Hewitt. Vili took quick lineout ball, the forwards gathered round, drove forward as a unit and recycled several times before releasing their backs who put Stobart in on the right wing for try number three. It was brilliant and clinical rugby, which must have had coach Jones purring contentedly like the proverbial tabby cat.
The Wolves continued to keep Penrith mostly penned back in their own territory. In frustration, they offended again, enabling MacCallum to find the corner from where the Wolves worked their front of the lineout move, which had Hewitt sauntering in for the bonus point try.
The game was now out of sight but the finale was still to come. Penrith tried to break the shackles with a speculative kick ahead, which was collected by Nick Barker, who set Stobart off again. He was tackled but quick recycling gave MacCallum the chance to kick ahead, Hotham was first up, Penrith were penalised for not releasing and from the lineout a sumptuous backs move put Patch in for the fifth try.
The game was over soon after. The Wilmslow players looked pretty pleased with themselves and they had every right to. There's no match next weekend, but on 5th December they face the major challenge of Kendal at The Memorial Ground. That should be some match.
Photo: Max Harvey takes on the Penrith defence.
Match report by David Pike.