Saturday 20th. February 2016
North 1 West
Rochdale 5 – 12 Wilmslow
Two well taken tries by left winger Max Harvey either side of half time, one converted by Bob MacCallum, were sufficient to take the points at Rochdale. It was a gutsy and pragmatic performance from the Wolves on a day when any thoughts of cavalier, pacey, running and passing rugby had to be consigned to the changing room.
There were herculean performances from Wilmslow's two second row forwards. Adam Hewitt absolutely dominated the lineout throughout and his partner Matthew Shufflebottom put in an unstinting shift in the close quarter stuff and also took a share of the lineout. When Shufflebottom drove forward into the tackle with ball in hand and regularly crossed the gain line, the whole Wolves pack went forward with him. It was a day for simple uncomplicated rugby, the eradication of unnecessary errors and once in possession of the ball to keep it.
This enabled the Wolves to dominate much of the critical second period and in the end to deservedly get the win. Both their tries had their origins, as did Rochdale's, in the probing kick and it could be argued that the Wolves might have used this tactic a bit more against a Rochdale back three who clearly didn't relish a sodden ball swirling around in the rain descending upon them
Rochdale's Moorgate Avenue ground is open on its northern side from where Saturday's relentless near freezing rain was blown in off the Pennines. That the pitch had been able to absorb so much rain and still be playable was remarkable, even though the cheery fellow on the gate said 'if it carries on like this, there won't be any rugby tomorrow'. Only a handful of Wilmslow's hardiest had ventured round the M60 to support the Wolves in this N1W league match.
There's a fine clubhouse to welcome you on arrival but no covered stands around the touchlines, the most sheltered spot being at the far end of the ground where a garden boundary fence and a handful of conifers provide some protection. Otherwise, you're exposed on the touchline to the full fury of the storm. No wonder, much of the support for both sides stayed in the clubhouse or on the balcony.
The players emerged from the changing rooms at 2.15pm. precisely and took up their field positions quickly for referee Mark Hiney to get proceedings underway without delay. Scrum half Andy Walker soon had a kick to put the Wolves down on the Rochdale line from where clean lineout ball, taken by Hewitt, of course, produced a couple of drives up the middle before the ball was recycled along the line for Harvey to touch down. MacCallum hit a magnificent conversion from the touchline and only four minutes had been played.
Rochdale are a competent mid table side and from the restart they forced Wilmslow into conceding a penalty after a promising breakout and from a lineout, they too produced a telling cross kick behind the Wolves defence which centre Josh Schofield pounced on for their score. For the remainder of the half, about 30 minutes, much of the game was conducted in the area between halfway and the Wilmslow twenty two with Rochdale dominating possession but never really threatening much. It was good committed defence by the Wolves. Stobart made what looked like a try scoring break but was called back for a forward pass and Harry Patch had a couple of moments which might have led to more.
The Wolves then lost Walker, who was stretchered off with a badly injured ankle. We all wish him a speedy recovery but it probably marks the end of his season. His place was taken by Ollie Wilkinson, who had a good fifty five minutes. Before half time, they then lost Ben Stern to be replaced by Jack Masters. Strength on the bench can make all the difference. You can see why rugby at level 6 is now considered an eighteen man game as opposed to fifteen men and three subs.
Neither side were able to create many clear cut scoring opportunities but such as there were tended to fall to the Wolves in the third quarter. The Rochdale line had a couple of fortunate escapes before a weak clearing kick was taken by Nick Barker, playing at fullback, and returned with interest. To say that the fielding Rochdale back three player made a 'horlicks' of it would be an under statement as the ball bounced around for the rapidly approaching Harvey to stick his toe on it, to then collect it at his leisure without knocking on and to run round for the score. MacCallum then missed a gettable but not easy penalty shot and the skipper Mike Black should really have been able to put Harry Patch away if his pass had gone anywhere close to hand.
The home side then raised the siege in the last ten minutes with some forward based pick and drive stuff but without really threatening the Wolves line or creating any real chances. In their eagerness to salvage a match saving score, they offended too often and yet another authoritative Hewitt take at the lineout enabled Wilkinson to kick the ball out of play for No Side.
The Wolves had shown that they can adapt their game to suit the conditions if their mind takes them to do so – needs must!
They now have a break next weekend before reconvening to play Widnes on 5th. March at home.
Photo: Matthew Shufflebottom takes the lineout.
Match report by David Pike.