Saturday 14th. January 2017
North 1 West
Wilmslow 32 – 14 Blackburn
The Wolves were looking comfortably placed at 17 – 0 as the midpoint of the second half approached but two scores in quick succession from their opponents rocked them back on their heels. For a few minutes the game was in the balance but the Wolves recovered their composure to run in three tries in the final fifteen minutes to settle the matter.
They had been the dominant force for most of the eighty minutes producing a brand of rugby which showcased the game at its best. Many of those on the touchline had wanted to roll back the years to take part themselves. The Wolves had moved the ball with width and pace whenever they could, their aggressive defence of two or even three players stopped their opponents in their tracks forcing them into slow ball at the breakdown and there was an outstanding forward effort in scrum, lineout and open play which contributed four of their five tries.
Blackburn had arrived on the back of a draw against unbeaten Birkenhead Park, they had five wins on the road already this season and had won against the Wolves back in October at Ramsgreave Drive. They were a serious threat and played a full part in making the game the spectacle it was. On the hour mark they had come very close to producing their own version of The Great Escape.
It was a bitterly cold January afternoon, very still around the ground but there must have been something in the air pressure which made kicking the ball into the car park end a much easier proposition than kicking it in the other direction. Both fly halves, Bob MacCallum for Wilmslow and Marc Maher for Blackburn, took full advantage of the conditions with accurate and telling kicks when they had the opportunity.
The first minutes of the match belonged to the visitors. In the first play of the afternoon, the otherwise excellent Wilmslow flanker Mike Black lost the ball in the tackle and for several minutes Blackburn installed themselves in and around the Wilmslow 22. It took a knock on for Wilmslow to win a scrum from which they cleared their lines and a turnover soon after to get them going. Centre Richard Hughes did all the hard bits in breaking the Blackburn defensive line but then failed to see the unmarked Toby Rowe outside him for a scoring pass. A MacCallum penalty to the car park corner after about ten minutes play followed.
The Wolves pack won the lineout and set up No. 8 Alex Taylor for the opening score from an unstoppable close range charge down the narrow side. MacCallum converted from the touchline with a magnificent kick. It was soon 14 – 0 after full back Ben Day had set up a position with a kick from one twenty two to the other. Blackburn cleared their lines from the first lineout but at the expense of conceding a Wilmslow throw at the second. Two phases later, Taylor was once again heading at full tilt towards the Blackburn line but was brought down just short allowing second row Adam Hewitt to pick up the ball in the pile up and to touch down.
The Wolves continued to press but were held back by a combination of gritty Blackburn defence and referee Mr. Ince's whistle. A MacCallum penalty after twenty five minutes was the only addition to the score before Blackburn broke out for a few minutes before half time to demonstrate that they were not yet any busted flush.
With Maher using the conditions sensibly, the visitors started getting some territory in the third quarter. They still weren't making much progress in breaking down the Wilmslow defence until a rank bad clearing kick from the base of a Wilmslow scrum gave Maher the chance to try something different. His delicately flighted cross kick forced Wolves winger Sam Cutts to take the ball into touch on his own line and from the ensuing lineout possession he delayed his pass to create an angle for centre Anton Garcia to run through and score.
It was the only time all afternoon that the Wilmslow defensive line was found wanting. The Wolves responded with some ambitious running and passing but as can sometimes happen, a flat off load by Day was intercepted by Blackburn flanker Craig Dootson who held off everyone in the chase to get Blackburn back to within three points. They had forced themselves back into the game with no little good play and the outcome was now no forgone conclusion.
Superficially unperturbed the Wolves now produced twenty minutes of the best rugby they're likely to play all season. They were helped by a yellow card to Blackburn winger Leon Fifield for a deliberate knock to prevent a probable score. MacCallum's penalty set up a series of lineouts close to the Blackburn line, the third of which yielded a catch and drive try for hooker Alex Donaldson.
Five minutes later continual pressure opened up the way for Alex Taylor to run in his second try of the afternoon. More was to come as the visitors were driven back deep into their own twenty two and after several phases left winger Sam Cutts was put clear. Three tries in ten minutes had won the game for the Wolves. There was still time for another interception by Blackburn as the Wolves sought their sixth try but this time the defence got back to snuff out the danger and no side followed soon after.
Coach Rick Jones was all smiles afterwards. It had been one of the Wolves best performances. They had put into practice the drills they had gone through in training and made them work for them. MacCallum's kicking for position and goal had just been devastating at the right times. Alex Taylor, Alex Donaldson and Tom Bull had all been conspicuous in a pack and a side where there just wasn't a weak link. You really did feel that there were spells during this game when their play reached the level that needs to become the norm if this group of players are to grow into genuine title contenders.
Photo: Prop Robert Taylor in possession.
Match report by David Pike.