Saturday 4th. March 2017
North 1 West
Wilmslow 10 – 8 Warrington
There is winning ugly and then there is worse than ugly............ you get the drift................ but it was still a win, the 16th from 21 in this season's league campaign enabling the Wolves to retain their 3rd place position two points clear of Northwich in 4th.
As the game entered its final minute of normal time, Warrington looked a good bet to hang onto their slender one point advantage. The Wolves were throwing everything they had in their armoury at them, as they had been for most of the second half, but their defence was still in good shape and it was hard to see where a Wilmslow score would come from.
A Warrington player then infringed at the breakdown on their twenty two line, trying illegally to slow down Wilmslow possession. The kick was well within Bob MacCallum's range and over the years he has shown the temperament to land the ones that matter. He stepped up and in perfect silence all around the Memorial Ground made no mistake. The Wolves then dropped the restart and the Warrington side had one last roll of the dice but the Wolves defensive line held, they didn't concede a penalty within kicking range and when Warrington finally knocked on, the Wolves won the scrum and played down the clock with a series of picks and drives until scrum half Sean Street booted the ball out of play.
Referee Robert Sheard commented afterwards on the immense defensive effort by both sides and added that if it had ended as a draw that would have been a fair result and nobody would have complained about it. MacCallum, however, had landed his two kicks at goal whilst Warrington's Gilooly had missed his conversion attempt of their first half try. That's just rugby, said Sheard.
There's no doubt though that the Wolves have lost the edge to their game in recent weeks, witness three of their last four outings going to the absolute wire. Inevitably, it's not just one thing. The enforced changes in personnel through absence, departures and injury, players returning to the fray from injury still not quite fully match fit, a loss of form by others, mistakes arising from a creeping anxiety and as coach Rick Jones said afterwards a chronic lack of pace and gas in the back line all contribute to an unsettled sense in the team.
It was also Mike Black's last game for the Wolves before moving to London to take up a senior management position with his employers L'Oreal. As one would expect from him he gave 100% to the cause with his close quarter go forward play, drives and tackling being particularly influential. He arrived at Wilmslow seven years ago after graduating from Newcastle University and was captain for three of them before handing over to Bob MacCallum this season. Rick Jones was at pains to point out what a leader he had been as both a player and as captain. 'I was very fortunate to have him by my side, said Jones. 'He made it an awful lot easier for me to do my job as coach. He's a big loss to the club but we wish him every success in his new role and, of course, he'll always be welcome back.'
It was a thoroughly flat first half from the Wolves and they were lucky to be only eight points adrift at half time. They didn't get out of their own half of the field for over twenty minutes by which time Warrington had scored twice. Where Wilmslow were lacking in pace, Warrington possessed it in plenty with wingers Max Caldwell and Tom Arnold. Danger threatened every time the Warrington backs got the ball and in this regard they received too much free ball from inaccurate kicks out of defence by the Wolves half backs.
Their try on the quarter hour came from one such kick taken by right winger Arnold. Although Sam Cutts had chased it hard, Arnold slipped inside and then shipped the ball which made its way along his line to left winger Caldwell who had the pace and skill to skin the Wilmslow defence for a well executed try. Five minutes earlier Gilhooly had opened the scoring from roughly the same position that MacCallum was to win the game nearly seventy minutes later. Warrington had plenty more chances during this period but a combination of their own inaccuracy and a spirited Wolves defensive effort kept them down to eight points.
When the Wolves did eventually get into Warrington territory, they continually lost possession for technical infringements, probably arising from their own impatience and anxiety. 'Obstruction', 'Side Entry' 'Holding On' bawled out Mr. Sheard, lest anyone be in any doubt, as half time came without the Wolves having put together any successive plays of more than one or two phases.
Captain MacCallum and coach Jones read the riot act at half time and there was an immediate response, exemplified by Adam Hewitt hunting down the Warrington catcher at the restart and driving him five or six yards backwards. It heralded a decent few minutes of raised play from the Wolves which ended when, after several phases, centre Ethan Harding managed to break through for the Wolves try, nearly demolishing both himself and the goal post upright in the process.
Mercifully no harm was done to either in what was an anxious moment or two. The Wolves now enjoyed the greater possession, if not always the desired field position. Street nearly scored from a long range break out but knocked on trying to collect the loose bouncing ball. Several catch and drive attempts were well defended by the visitors, they refused to give an inch in the set piece and it became hard to see how the Wolves were going to break them down, even when Warrington were reduced to fourteen for a Yellow Card when Street was taken out in the air. The Wolves forward bludgeon was stymied and in the absence of the rapier, there was relief all round the Wilmslow ranks at MacCallum's late penalty strike.
There wasn't much good that Jones could say afterwards other than that the players had shown character and that they had somehow managed to grab a win which in the past they wouldn't have done. He commented on a fine game by Ben Day at full back, when he was probably still carrying the after effects of a recent hamstring injury. Day was rock solid under the high ball, made ground going forward and on one occasion fell and gathered the ball at the feet of an oncoming Warrington back to save a difficult situation.
Alex Taylor too had an influential game from No. 8 and showed his character by staying on at the end to make several decisive carries despite a painful shoulder. Tom Bull also grabbed the leadership mantle in a solid display from him. It was the type of game though in which players desperately trying to get it right were always picking up knocks that may or may not recover in time for next week's difficult assignment away at Burnage.
Lineout ball for Adam Hewitt.
Match report by David Pike.