Saturday 10th. September 2016
North 1 West
Altrincham Kersal 20-21 Wilmslow
The Wolves held out for the narrowest of wins in a good well contested match that could have gone either way.
For fifty minutes or so they were in the box seat and when Richard Hughes crossed for their second try soon after the interval, they looked good value for their 18-10 lead. Indeed it could and should have been more as several first half opportunities were missed. 'Butchered', said David Barker, a person whom you would expect to know. Such profligacy tends to catch up with you and the Wolves very, very nearly paid the price.
AK's response was an extremely well placed and teasing restart, which enabled them to get possession. The whole tempo of the game changed and for twenty minutes, it was played in or around the Wolves twenty two. The AK forwards had obviously been reminded at half time that the Wilmslow pack was suspect to the driving maul, launched from the lineout, and this tactic soon started to pay dividends. The Wolves were driven back, denied any possession and only resolute defence held the line, until the Wolves lost the ball in close quarters as they tried to break the stranglehold. It was regathered by AK's pack and moved swiftly along the line for left winger Jack Wise to scamper in for his third try of the afternoon. There was now a spring in the home side's step and they followed their try up with two bits of good play which yielded them a penalty to go 20-18 ahead.
The Wolves were now losing, not only on the scoreboard, but all over the park as well. They still had enough though in the tank to get down the field again, where AK offended at the breakdown and MacCallum took due retribution. In the few minutes left, play oscillated from one end to the other. Both sides had late chances until the exchange referee from Leicestershire, George Richardson, brought proceedings to a close. Relief all round on the Wilmslow side and a feeling on the AK side that after two or three years rebuilding, they now have a much improved team which could soon start to impose itself.
For players and supporters alike, it had been an excellent match with some good play from both sides, a piece of feisty skirmishing amongst the forwards, quickly defused by referee Richardson, who despatched two of the worst protagonists, one from each side, to the sin bin for ten minutes before things got out of hand and with it, being Level 6 rugby in early September, a fair amount of loose play, where the players' ambitions exceeded their ability to deliver.
AK were first off the mark after just three minutes when they wheeled a scrum that the Wolves pack looked initially to have won well. The ball though squirted out awkwardly, was snaffled by Callum Yates for AK, a counter launched down the narrow side, recycled and swiftly moved to Wise on the left who had the space to run in for the opener.
Wilmslow's response was not long coming and for thirty minutes, there was purpose to their play. They were just quicker around the field, in moving the ball, in getting to the breakdown and exerting pressure on the AK defence in places where it would hurt. AK were forced into conceding chances for Bob MacCallum, who landed a pair of penalties in the fifth and twelfth minutes. Cutts on the left wing was ruled to have knocked on as he tried to touch down. In truth, for all his attributes, he doesn't quite have the turn of pace or elusiveness to finish everything off but five minutes later he did after MacCallum had found the right hand corner with a penalty from around halfway.
Hooker Alex Donaldson, back in from injury, found his man in the lineout, as he did all afternoon, Adam Taher and Jordan Ayrey both had a thrust at the line, sucking in the defence and when it was moved this time along the line to Cutts, he made no mistake. The Wolves were still in the ascendency but two penalties were just beyond MacCallum's range, Cutts missed a third chance by cutting inside and a fourth went begging when Donaldson found himself the last man in open space on the left wing. It was just too much to expect from the stubby hooker. He gave it his best shot but was hauled down comfortably short of the line and then, hardest of all, penalised for holding on. It can be like that sometimes.
AK had been on the back foot for most of the half but as the interval approached, Yates went down the narrow side and crisp passing released Wise for his second try. It was 13-10 at half time and the match was definitely on.
Wilmslow soon stole an AK throw at the lineout and launched an attack down the left. At the untidy breakdown there was a hint of a knock on by young Jonny Evans, on as a sub in the front row, but he carried on to pick up the ball, take a few strides and then, probably surprised that his initial transgression had been missed, laid it back and this time the Wolves found the space on the right for Hughes to score. Ah, well! You win some and you lose some but Evans didn't mind at all as he took the plaudits from his team mates and went on to have a decent half hour in the close quarter stuff.
Kersal's come back had its origins in the restart, now a critical part of the game in getting back possession if you can get it right. They took the game to the Wolves and when Wilmslow replacement flanker, Tom Bull, got yellow carded for over zealous play at the breakdown, they made the extra man count. Cutts was up to take the restart but couldn't get to ground and from the scrum AK soon had the chance which put them briefly in front, only for MacCallum to have the final word.
From a Wilmslow point of view it had been a much improved performance from the previous week, albeit on a perfect late summer afternoon. Rick Jones was pleased that his side had shown the character to dig in when they had to and had been able to rescue what had looked like becoming a losing cause but he also knew that it had blown far too many scoring opportunities earlier on and that you won't always be able to get out of jail.
Next week, the Wolves are at home to face the early pacesetter Birkenhead Park in a clash that has the potential to be another heart throb of an affair.
Photo: Wolves No. 8, Alex Taylor leads the attack.
Match report by David Pike.