Saturday 28th. October 2017
North 1 West
Wilmslow 50 – 7 Rochdale
It's not yet known where October 2017 will rank in meteorologist records but it can be safely assumed that it contained four of the wettest successive Saturday afternoons recorded. Wilmslow are not highly regarded as a wet weather side but on this occasion they got their season back on track by scoring seven tries against lowly Rochdale, who had won only once this season.
It wasn't though just as easy as the final score line may suggest. Rochdale had most of the territory in the first half, helped by a stiff wet breeze behind them. The Wolves defended well and denied them any score but, a 'catch and drive' try from Alex Taylor apart, against the run of play, they didn't get out of their own half until the cusp of half time, when Bob MacCallum landed a penalty.
Rochdale then put the restart directly into touch giving the Wolves a scrum on halfway in the middle of the field with options on either side. 'An excellent position' muttered Rick Green, Wilmslow's erstwhile full back of circa. forty years ago, a man who really ought to know. The scrum delivered solid go forward ball, Alex Taylor picked at No. 8. He drew his man and gave it to scrum half Sean Street. Full back Ben Day did what he does best, intruding the line down channel one, and made twenty yards or so to suck in the defence before off loading back to Street, who galloped away unmolested for the try. Training ground stuff! 'Excellent', murmured a beaming Rick Green, delighted that his wise words of less than a minute previously had borne fruit so quickly.
If there was one person in this Wolves side, whom you didn't want to give the ball to, it was full back Day, which is just what Rochdale did shortly after the restart. He fielded a bouncing ball with space and then set off down his favourite channel again, making twenty yards or so, before offloading to his back row. Several others also handled as a tide of Wolves surged down the field to release left winger Will Maslen, who still had a bit to do as he darted inside and raced away for his first try in Wolves colours. In the twinkling of an eye, it seemed, it had gone from 5-0 to 22-0 and the complexion of the game had completely changed.
With the wind and rain now in their favour, MacCallum was soon peppering the Rochdale twenty two with accurate kicks to the corners, forcing them to defend deep in the parts of the field, where they least wanted to be. The Wolves added four tries in the second half. Chunky prop Adam Taher was first to score after turnover ball produced a period of forward pressure on the Rochdale line.
You would have thought that Rochdale would have learnt by now not to kick the ball to Day but they were bottled up again in their own quarters and that's just what they did. Day fielded it cleanly, weaved his way down channel one again for about thirty yards and then timed his offload to James Coulthurst, now replacing the injured Elliott Brierley in the centre, perfectly for try number five. Day meanwhile, having picked up a knock on his knee for the second week in succession then departed the field as coach Jones brought on his bench.
The other centre Ethan Harding was then first to another well placed kick ahead from MacCallum, which was causing havoc in the Rochdale defence for the sixth try and the final score came from Maslen after a planned forward drive from the lineout went awry through a misdirected throw. The pack though drove over the ball on the ground and it was recycled to the left winger, who then skinned two defenders on the outside. MacCallum meanwhile had been kicking everything in sight. It was one of those days, when he couldn't miss. Six conversions and a penalty from eight goal attempts in difficult gusty conditions showed a master of his craft at his best and it wasn't as though they were all gimmees from in front of the posts. His field kicking too drove his opponents regularly back deep into their own territory.
At 50-0 with just ten minutes left, the game had been clearly won and lost but then perversely Rochdale had their best spell of the match. They scored through their centre Ollie Coldman and were back on the attack when the exchange referee from the London Society, Will Foster, blew for no side.
A word of appreciation for Mr. Fosters' refereeing would not be out of order. He saw fit to award only eight penalties throughout the game, four to each side, about a 1/3 of what you would normally get, and showed that it's perfectly possible to have a game of rugby, even in difficult conditions, without the endless stopping and starting that you sometimes have. He played advantage whenever he could, displayed empathy with the players throughout and, as more than one person said afterwards, you hardly knew that he was there.
There was a smile on the face of Rick Jones too. Before the game, he had asked his players to concentrate on three key points, their defence, their discipline, to avoid conceding penalties when the ball was lost, and patience. He felt that his players had responded, even though one could still point to too many occasions when, either in their keenness or anxiety after recent setbacks, they had either unnecessarily over run the ball carrier or thrown bad passes, all of which lost them possession and kept them, particularly in the first half in their own half for long periods. Nevertheless, Jones singled out young second row Max Wortley for his eighty minutes of unseen graft in the boiler room of the game, not far behind was the other young lock Charlie Gardiner, having probably his most influential game yet in the shirt, full back Ben Day for fifty five minutes of near immaculate play during which he contributed to all the Wolves best moments and Bob MacCallum for his tactical play and his captaincy. After losing three on the bounce, there was some relief all round to decisively get back to winning ways again.
The Wolves now have two difficult fixtures coming up in succession. Next week, it's Warrington away and the week after Northwich will be the visitors. Both are currently form sides and Warrington's home win against the dangerous Waterloo won't have gone unnoticed.
Match report by David Pike.
Photos: Wolves scrum half Sean Street has time to pose for the camera as he scores Wilmslow's second try against Stockport.
Full back Ben Day on the charge with Sean Street in support. Photos by Nick Jones