Saturday 3rd. December 2016
North 1 West
Kirkby Lonsdale 26 – 18 Wilmslow
Now's the day and now's the hour were probably the thoughts foremost in the minds of the Wolves as they took to the field at Kirkby Lonsdale's Underley Park. They knew they had to defy the odds if they were going to reduce the gap between themselves and the runaway unbeaten league leaders.
Kirkby Lonsdale started with a perfect record of eleven wins out of eleven played and a fifth bonus point from all of them. In five home games thus far, they had handed out some severe beatings having never scored less than 50 points in any particular game. Despite the absence of their talismanic scrum half Ben Walker, they were doubtless intent on inflicting similar treatment to Wilmslow. It didn't go entirely to plan though as Wilmslow grabbed an eight point lead in the first five minutes and actually lead 11-7 at half time but when Kirkby Lonsdale mounted a fifteen minute second half blitz to score three tries, it was all over on the hour mark. A rout looked on the cards. That it didn't take place was partly due to the obduracy of the Wolves defence and partly due to the home side resorting to kicking away possession instead of retaining the handling and running game, which depending on your perspective, had caused all the trouble.
On this showing, however, it's hard to see any side in this league being equipped to halt this Kirkby Lonsdale outfit. It possesses out and out pace on the wings, a running full back, centres with quick hands, the ability to put pace on to the ball and to create space. With Walker present, they have two play making half backs. In Walker's absence, the debutant colt at No. 9 was given an armchair ride by his forwards. It's not a particularly big pack and they didn't dominate their Wolves opponents throughout but it is well drilled with good technique at the breakdown, in the scrum and in the lineout. This whole Kirkby Lonsdale unit has been several seasons in the making, it has grown and developed together and is probably an example of a case where its total sum is now greater than the sum of its individual parts. Eleven of the eighteen on duty had learnt the game at both the club and local secondary school and some of the others had probably come through the club's mini and junior section.
Wilmslow were first off the mark, in the first minute turning over KL at the breakdown and releasing right wing Hone Karaka on the open side. As usual, he made himself difficult to stop before offloading inside to centre Ethan Harding, who held off the defence to score. Minutes later, KL were penalised at the breakdown and Bob MacCallum stepped up to make it 8-0 in less than five minutes.
For the rest of the first half, there wasn't much to choose between the two sides but KL did look increasingly dangerous when they had possession, frequently making space for themselves and critically having the power to always cross the gain line. The Wolves defence was coping but it was stretched in the face of powerful thrusts from KL's No. 10 Dave Barton and the combined outside threat of Ms. Akrigg, Pickthall, Ralston, Terry and the speedster Alam, most of them already well known to the Wolves players. The Wilmslow dyke was then breached after twenty minutes with a phase one play from the base of a scrum, which ended up with left wing Alam breaking the line in mid field for KL's opening score. The only other addition to the score in the first half was a second penalty from MacCallum. 11 – 7 at half time for the Wolves didn't look enough, when you took into account that KL would be playing the second half towards the town end with the lie of the land in that direction.
Wilmslow were soon being bottled up in their own quarters but ironically, it was from a turnover after they had patiently played themselves up to half way that KL scored their second try. Winger Ralston powered down the right wing and when the ball was recycled full back Ryan Terry made the extra man. Barton converted and KL now had the lead. Max Harvey and Tom Williams were close to taking the ball at MacCallum's well judged restart but instead KL got quick ball from the scrum and left winger Alam ran nearly the length of the field before being stopped. Back in their favourite town corner, the pressure was on and Terry soon took a short pass for his second try. This time from the restart, KL's forwards were able to break away and with plenty of support off the ball, it went to centre Tom Pickthall who went over under the posts for the fourth bonus point try. It had been a bad ten minutes for the Wolves but to their credit they dug in and there was plenty of digging to do in the following minutes. May be the home side felt that the game was now out of sight for their visitors so the urgency of their play just seemed to become dissipated. The Wolves fielded any loose ball kicked to them, steadied, ran it back and were eventually rewarded late on when full back Toby Rowe joined the line and crossed for their second try. It made the scoreline look a bit closer than in reality it probably should have been.
The Wolves though hadn't done much wrong, they had been competitive for much of the eighty minutes and they'd taken the home side closer, much closer in fact, than any other visitor to Underley Park this season. They had just come up against a side which has an extra gear in its armoury, enabling it to play at a level for twenty crucial minutes during which the Wolves had no answer.
Photo: Wolves second row Tom Bull in possession.
Match report by David Pike.