Saturday 24th. September 2016
North 1 West
Wilmslow 25 – 15 West Park (St. Helens)
The Wolves had been expected to win against a newly promoted West Park side still struggling to adapt to the pace and physicality of Level 6 rugby and duly took four of the five league points on offer, it should have been five, to take their third scalp in four outings. Nobody though, players, coaches and supporters alike, was satisfied with their showing. If it hadn't have been for No. 8 Alex Taylor, scoring two tries and creating a third in an outstanding personal performance, the Wolves would have been sunk.
Their captain Bob MacCallum, his goal kicking apart, had an afternoon he will want to forget. He has won so many matches for the Wolves over the last fourteen years that an occasional off day can be excused but when your captain and chief playmaker is in the doldrums, then others have to step forward to take responsibility. Four games into the league season, this side is still well short of where it needs to be if it wants to retain its top four status. The players need to become harder on themselves and each other and to be less tolerant of their sloppy play across the whole side and in every aspect of the game. 'We're better than that', an inwardly fuming coach Rick Jones told his players afterwards.
In a harbinger of what was to come, the Wolves lost the first scrum of the game after about two minutes and went on to lose several more on their own head during the game. If their front row was being pushed all over the place then that would have been understandable but that wasn't the case. The props, Robert Taylor, Jordan Ayrey and Adam Taher, when he came on, were all as solid as rocks, frequently causing the visitors eight all sorts of problems.
The Wolves were soon on the attack and after nine minutes earned a penalty under the West Park posts, which MacCallum put away without any fuss. The next bit of play then showed the side at its most naïve as they took the restart and tried to run the ball out of defence. They were immediately penalised at the breakdown in front of their own posts, enabling West Park fullback John Pape to say 'Thank you very much', as he stepped forward to tie things up again. Five minutes later, growing in confidence they drove from a lineout to half way, where scrum half Adam Smith threaded a delightful little cross kick into 'the debateable land'. The Wolves hesitated and stood off and the ball ricocheted backwards into West Park hands to give right winger Lee Rosney a lengthy but easy run in to score.
Three minutes later, MacCallum reduced the deficit with a second penalty from 35 metres and then on the half hour, the Wolves scored from an indirect penalty. The play was scrappy but the ball always went backwards if not to hand and eventually Alex Taylor took a short pass from close to the line and barged over. A second try followed from a Wilmslow scrum which initially was lost but recovered when the pack drove the West Park scrum off it. Taylor picked at the base of the scrum and made twenty metres towards the posts before being brought to ground, the ball was then recycled twice to the left before full back Callum Westaway stretched out an arm to score.
18-8 to the Wolves at half time looked a decent platform on which to build but it was soon to become 18-15. There looked to be no danger as Westaway took a high kick on the Wolves ten metre line proficiently enough and the ball quickly went to MacCallum, whose field kick was charged down by West Park lock Lewis Harris. He gathered the rebound and triumphantly ran in under the posts.
There was now a sense of unease on the pitch and all around the ground. Wilmslow were clearly the more likely of the two sides but it wasn't reflected on the scoreboard and the way they were playing suggested anything could happen. Most of the traffic for the rest of the game was in the direction of the West Park line but the visitors weren't out of it and if they'd had just a bit more composure to retain control of the ball in promising situations, an upset could easily have been on the cards. As it was, the Wolves spent a lot of time in and around the West Park twenty two but a catalogue of handling errors in both backs and forwards, lost scrums and lineouts, all symptomatic of impatience, anxiety and waning confidence, prevented a calming score arriving. 'White line fever' bawled out a frustrated Rick Jones from the touchline, as yet another thrust at the West Park line broke down.
It took until the seventieth minute for Alex Taylor to eventually make the pressure count from the last of several lineouts on the West Park line, a try which the enigmatic MacCallum converted with an imperious kick from the touchline.
That settled the matter. The game petered out rather like a damp squib on fireworks night which fizzes around without ever properly taking off. Jones just shook his head afterwards, keeping his own counsel, MacCallum, being the man he is, nominated himself for 'the player's fool of the day' award and everyone else just shrugged their shoulders, relieved by the win but hoping for something better at Blackburn next weekend. You can put money on Jones having the whip out at training next week and it will bring tears to the eyes of anyone watching!
Photo: Max Harvey with the ball.
Match report by David Pike.