Saturday 12th. November 2016
North 1 West
Wilmslow 20 – 14 Burnage
This game between the fourth and fifth placed sides in the N1W league always had the hallmarks of a closely contested affair which would be hard to call. Burnage's three losses this season had all been against the three leaders at the top, two of which Wilmslow have yet to play. And so it proved to be with the result in doubt until the final play had been concluded.
The Wolves scored three first half tries to lead by 20 – 6 at half time but when the tide turned shortly after half time, as it always does in an equal contest, they showed sufficient resilience in defence to concede only a penalty and try in the middle of the period. Both sets of supporters will claim that their side had missed opportunities that could have changed the outcome but in outscoring their opponents by three tries to one, a neutral would probably think that the Wolves had done enough to deserve the spoils.
Rhys Evans, Burnage's No. 10, had the Wolves fumbling the ball with a well placed kick to start the game and when they got penalised as the ball bounced around, he planted it in the corner to set up an excellent early attacking position for his side. Burnage though also fumbled the slippy ball and the Wolves were able to soon work their way down the field. A series of penalties in their favour as Burnage repeatedly offended at the breakdown led to referee Daniel Taylor showing Yellow to a Burnage prop. Wilmslow's attempted catch and drive though was halted but referee Taylor was doing Burnage no favours when he awarded their readjusted scrum the put in. They were heaved off the ball and Wolves No. 8 Alex Taylor will never have an easier touchdown.
Once again, Evans had the Wolves catchers failing to gather in the restart as his team took the game into Wilmslow territory. Both sides though were making relatively unforced handling errors until the Wolves were penalised twice in quick succession, enabling Evans to pot a simple penalty.
It was now Burnage's turn to foul up the restart, the Wolves pilfered the ball, forced themselves into the Burnage twenty two, knocked on and then regained possession before earning a penalty shot at goal from the twenty two, which Bob MacCallum duly put away. Burnage soon offended again and this time MacCallum set up a catch and drive position. The Wolves forwards tried to drive over but when this was held up, a quick pass by scrum half Ollie Wilkinson on the narrow side put flanker Max Harvey in for the second try, converted by MacCallum with a fine kick from the touchline.
In a carbon copy of the game's opening some thirty minutes earlier, Evans' restart had the Wolves in trouble again and a subsequent penalty had them on the Wolves line. Once again the Burnage drive was held but the Wolves defence conceded a penalty to Evans to make it 15-6.
The Wolves once again pressurised the restart to regain the ball and they swung it along the line where they had an overlap until an over ambitious pass went into touch. Moments later they were back again to lose a lineout throw and then to regain the ball with some vigorous counter rucking, which gave their backs the chance to run. As ever, full back Ben Day scythed through and although he was brought down by what looked a high tackle, he had sufficient momentum to get the score.
At half time, one would have thought that they were capable of running away with this game and two thrusts just after the break, both involving Toby Rowe, could have put them out of sight. The first move broke down with the line beckoning if only the final pass hadn't gone to ground and the second was ruled out after referee Taylor asked his touch judge for an opinion as to whether Rowe had put a foot into touch before touching down. The poor fellow, a Wilmslow man, had been audibly gasping to catch up with play from about forty metres behind. He was probably correct in confirming that Rowe had been in touch so he just received a mild chastisement from a sympathetic referee for not having raised his flag. His discomfort could easily have been compounded with a bit of stick from Burnage folk looking down from the railings but they behaved as epitomes of gentlemanly conduct in keeping their own counsel.
The Wolves now reverted to trying to do everything with first phase possession and in doing so their errors passed the initiative to the visitors who got the Wolves stuck in their own half without much sight of the ball. Evans missed a very gettable penalty on about sixty minutes but moments later was successful from much the same position. He then made a comprehensive line break which looked as though it had to yield a score until a stunning tackle just short of the line by the covering Rowe saved the moment. No such fortune though from the ensuing scrum which saw the ball passed in acres of room to left winger Charlie Bray for the Burnage try.
With the best part of fifteen minutes still on the clock, it was now anyone's game. Burnage still had the best chances but lacked composure on the ball in a period during which neither side were able to make a decisive break. With two minutes left, the Wolves had a scrum in the Burnage half from which they very nearly succeeded in running down the clock with a series of picking and driving. They didn't quite manage it though and got penalised. Burnage had to run it from their own half and when they knocked on the game was over.
Neither side will have felt completely satisfied, Burnage not least because they'd ended up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Amongst the turnovers, knock ons and lost lineouts, there had also been some perfectly decent play from two sides seeking to keep in touch with the leaders but who just have to become more accurate to get to the next level. Wilmslow now have a week to prepare for the challenging visit to third placed Northwich, who were just edged out by two points at Birkenhead Park and are now just three points ahead of the Wolves in the table. It'll be a game that will tell us a great deal about the true value of both sides.
Photo: Tom Williams takes on the Burnage defence.
Match report by David Pike.