Saturday 25th. March 2017
North 1 West and Cheshire Vase Round 2
Wilmslow 29 – 36 Northwich
In the end it just wasn't Wilmslow's day. In an exciting top of the ground match, played on a gorgeous Spring afternoon, the two sides shared five tries apiece. The difference on the scoreboard, however, was Northwich's No. 10, Nick Baldwin, who landed four conversions and one penalty to Bob MacCallum's two conversions.
Baldwin had one of those afternoons that he'll want to remember. His field kicking from hand was pin point accurate, causing all kinds of havoc in the Wilmslow back three and forcing inaccurate kicks out of defence, which were just swallowed up by the Northwich back three, enabling them to eagerly counter attack an increasingly leaky Wilmslow defensive line. Four of their five tries, including the winning score in time added on, had their origins in Wilmslow kicking possession away.
Their other score after thirty five minutes came from a wickedly difficult Baldwin kick to the corner, which had poor Sam Cutts caught on the hop. In the last quarter though, the Northwich backs knew they had the beating of their Wilmslow opponents, having worked out which channels to attack because of defensive frailties.
And yet it had still been winnable for the Wolves. Their forwards put in a powerful display throughout. They were masters in the set piece, carried the ball purposefully, won plenty of good possession and had the better field position for most of the afternoon. Indeed it took Northwich half an hour to get out of their own half by which time the Wolves were 12-0 ahead. No. 8 Alex Taylor scored three tries, lock Adam Hewitt scored one and the other was an opportunistic effort from scrum half Sean Street, who had another excellent game. It was in the Wolves' make shift back line that the side was lacking power, pace and defensive organisation.
Once again, Wilmslow plans were disrupted by the late withdrawals of the Looman brothers, victims of a food poisoning bug. Lewis Bundy-Davies came into the centre and the veteran Charlie Levings was called up at No. 7. The Wolves made a good start, controlling and retaining possession and deservedly scored after fifteen minutes, when the Northwich scrum was sent backwards at a rate of knots on its own twenty two. The ball squirted out, Street hacked it on and when it bounced free under the Northwich posts he pounced for the opening score. The Wolves continued to dominate at this stage of the game and ten minutes later Alex Taylor broke off a catch and drive for the second try.
The course of the game now changed when Northwich attacked first from a Wilmslow kick ahead and then from a lineout steal. The Wolves still managed to get the ball back and thumped it up into the Northwich twenty two from where the visitors launched a fluent counter which ended with full back Du Randt running in to score. Moments later Baldwin's kick to the corner had Cutts on toast and from the lineout prop Mike Bradshaw got the touch down. Up to this point, Northwich had hardly been in the game but they had clinically taken the two chances that had come their way and were now 14-12 in front.
The Wolves soon got themselves back on the Northwich line and after four successive scrums, Taylor managed to get the touchdown from the base.The Wolves' pack knew it could drive the Northwich scrum back and they were fortunate not to have conceded a penalty try under the posts. 17 – 14 to the Wolves at half time seemed scant reward for forty minutes of endeavour which they had largely controlled.
From the Wolves view point, the second half started with a catalogue of errors in which possession was again kicked away and a penalty conceded in front of the posts for offside. Baldwin tied it up at 17 – 17. Five minutes later another poor clearing kick opened up the way, this time for Du Randt to cross for his second try.
The Wolves forwards responded with another bout of scrums on the Northwich line which were well defended and when Baldwin kicked a turnover down the field, the threat looked to have passed. Not at all. Street suddenly broke from a midfield scrum and released Hewitt who had the pace to hold off the defence for the Wolves fourth try.
Northwich replied with Joel Barber bursting through some weak tackling to restore their lead but not for long. The Wolves still put together several decent phases which ended with Taylor bull dozing his way over to tie it up again.
The game was now close to the end of normal time if not already into time added on. Northwich got possession from the restart and Baldwin with a well judged kick for his winger to run onto forced a knock on in the Wilmslow back three. From the ensuing scrum they got a very kickable looking penalty. It was the only blot on Baldwin's performance all afternoon as he sent it wide. Wolves flanker Tom Ball was up to claim MacCallum's drop out and set off down the field close to halfway.
With five tries against four, the Wolves only had to retain possession to run down the clock. A draw would have taken them through to the final of the Cheshire Vase and kept them in third place in the League. But that's all history now. The ball was kicked deep into Northwich territory and in a fitting finale to a fine match, at least from a neutral and visitors' point of view, they recycled it left and finding the Wolves defence AWOL ran from deep in their own half for No. 8 Chris Dale to grab the winning try.
Rick Jones just shrugged his shoulders afterwards. In many respects, he said, it was a really good performance from the Wolves. We scored some good tries, we looked busy and pacey in the warm spring sunshine, something that's been missing in recent weeks, but you can't kick the ball away badly as often as we did and then get away with all the tackles we missed. Northwich are far too good a side to let all that go unpunished.
Photo: Hard to tell but it’s going to be a try for Alex Taylor as his pack drive him over the Northwich line.
Match report by David Pike.