Saturday 23rd. January 2015
North 1 West
Wilmslow 40 – 15 Blackburn
This was a game of two very different halves. A strangely limp and almost comatosed Wilmslow team struggled to get in to it for most of the first half. They didn't manage to get their hands on the ball for the first twenty minutes by which time Blackburn were 10-0 ahead and even when they did manage to get on to the scoreboard, just before half time, Blackburn still finished the half deep in the Wolves' twenty two. Whatever Wilmslow coach Richard Jones said to his men during the interval won't have been for the faint hearted but it had the desired effect of rousing his side from its inertia to produce a second half of compelling rugby, producing three tries to kill off the game by the end of the third quarter and another two shortly after.
From the Blackburn perspective, it will have been a traumatic experience. They had dared to believe and really should have had at least another ten points on the board by half time to have left the Wolves with a mountain to climb. 10-7 though, as Bob MacCallum said afterwards was a manageable deficit to make up.
Blackburn's players must have thought that if they continued as they were doing, they had a good chance of getting something from the game. What they couldn't have expected and couldn't cope with was the ferocity of the Wolves, fangs bared, as they produced thirty minutes of rugby, totally unrecognisable from the putrid fare they served up in the first half. In rugby, there are times when you have to dig in to weather the storm. Eccles did that here a month ago and held out to take the spoils. Blackburn were unable to do just that.
It took Leon Fifield, Blackburn's kicker and centre, less than five minutes to land a straight forward penalty. A good break from midfield found Wilmslow's defence lacking on the quarter hour and only a misplaced pass to left winger Cameron Boulter prevented the opening try. No matter, moments later Wilmslow obliged by kicking away possession in their own twenty two badly. It was fielded in midfield with plenty of space and a neat little kick ahead through the defence opened the way for No. 8 Jordan Pearson to take the bouncing ball for a try, converted by Fifield.
In their enthusiasm for the contest, they then took out Wilmslow's Mike Clifford as he went for the high ball. MacCallum's penalty set up a good position, the Wolves caught and drove before releasing their backs for centre Ed Stobart to break the Blackburn line and score. But that still didn't settle the Wolves. No 8 Pearson found the Wolves defence awol and after a good run, he only had to time his pass to winger Dan Birkett for a second try. It was ruled forward by the referee. Another fluffed clearance direct to touch gave them a final opportunity to extend their lead before half time but they were unable to make anything of it.
The second half started with the Wolves stealing the ball and setting up MacCallum who was stopped just short. From the scrum No. 8 Alex Taylor broke but was also held up. Blackburn were forced to kick for touch where Adam Hewitt took a clean catch, setting up his backs with quick ball which enabled the forty year old veteran centre Rick Hughes to break the line and hold off the defence to score.
Just five minutes of the second period had been played. Coach Jones made some tactical changes, bringing on Josh Whiteley and Max Harvey for Alex Donaldson and Matt Shufflebottom. He was rewarded when full back Ben Day took and returned a hopeful high kick with interest, which bounced conveniently for the chasing Stobart, who put right winger Harry Patch away for the critical try, which put the Wolves two scores ahead.
The whole intensity of the Wolves play had risen several notches, the scrum was now delivering decent usable ball on the front foot, lineouts were clean, from the breakdowns there was a steady supply of second and third phase possession and almost immediately, Blackburn were forced under pressure to kick away possession to Ben Day. This time he set up Patch, who showed his power and strength by taking on what seemed to be half the Blackburn side. When he was eventually hauled down, there were gaps all over the field. MacCallum, Hughes and Clifford took the ball to the Blackburn line, where it popped out for Harvey to gather and score.
With twenty minutes still to go, the game was now pretty well out of sight. Everybody wanted to score. Day was next when he intruded the line and the field just opened up for him. Coach Jones, now thinking ahead, decided to experiment by putting Barker on at nine, moving Andy Walker to the centre and calling off Stobart in order to rest his 'hamstring'. Patch had another go for glory when he had at least two men unmarked outside him but they do that in the premiership as well. A loose ball was then flicked on to MacCallum, who to cheers and banter in equal measure from the crowd on the club house terrace out stripped the defence for try number six.
The job had long since been done so as often happens the final minutes became scrappy and in just about the last play of the game, Blackburn prop Paul Gregson got his side a final consolation.
Coach Jones was both relieved and satisfied with the final outcome. He hadn't been at all pleased with the first half showing but in the second period he singled out an outstanding performance from Rick Hughes as his man of the match and significant contributions from Bob MacCallum and Mike Clifford, both experienced players. Harry Patch too was conspicuous for his efforts.
Next week, it's away to Leigh. There's a blank date on 6th. February and then the Wolves entertain Vale of Lune.
Photo: Richard Hughes on his way to scoring Wilmslow's second try.
Match report by David Pike.