Saturday 11th. November 2017
North 1 West
Wilmslow 19 – 11 Northwich
Nobody could really have wished to either play in or watch a better game of rugby than these two old feisty opponents put on at The Memorial Ground. There was just a nip of winter to come in the breeze but otherwise a weak autumn sun made for a pleasant afternoon and the rugby kept everyone on their toes. For much of the game Wilmslow were forced to defend against a Northwich side, lying second in the table but they dug in deep and continually frustrated the talented Northwich back division. They did this well and then in the last fifteen minutes or so, it was as though the 'feinn' of old finally awoke to rise up against their foes. With renewed aggression, cussedness and belief, they scored two late tries to eventually run out as deserved winners by three tries to one.
How significant this win will turn out to be is yet to be seen but after a sticky period of four losses in five games it was just the tonic that the Wilmslow side needed.
Northwich started well, creating opportunities off the back foot despite the Wolves pack shunting their first scrum backwards at a rate of knots. Scrum half Matthew Poste tidied up a scruffy heel in his own twenty two and put in a perfectly placed cross kick for his free scoring left winger Hayden Skinkis to run on to. Wilmslow were forced to infringe and Northwich fly half Nick Baldwin slotted a penalty after just four minutes. It was still cut and thrust with both sides having their moments, Northwich probably more than Wilmslow, until on the half hour Baldwin landed his second penalty. They then scored a smart try through prop Tom King from a short penalty taken by Poste in his own half.
At 0-11, it looked bleak for the Wolves but they hit back when Northwich were penalised in midfield. MacCallum's kick to the corner gave the Wolves their first real attacking position. The lineout drive was stopped, flanker Adam Hewitt was ruled to have been held up as he went for the line and then from the ensuing scrum, which was being wheeled, Hewitt stood off to take a short pass and this time to make the line.
The Wolves started the second half brightly forcing Northwich's Baldwin into a deliberate knock on for which he was Yellow Carded. The Wolves were unable to make anything of this numerical advantage and for twenty five minutes, Northwich then dominated possession and their supporters would say they should have made more of it than they did. The Wolves defended well, quickly closing down Northwich opportunities and never missing a tackle but it was their forwards, all of them, putting in the big hits, developing some real venom in their counter rucking and showing pure opportunism to steal the ball more than once, that eventually laid the platform for an exhilarating finish. At this stage, a single mistake would have cost the Wolves dear and as Rick Jones said afterwards; 'We were still losing possession and giving the ball away too easily.' But the Wolves continued scrapping for everything, Northwich were held at bay and then the Wolves tempo suddenly just took off.
The first to show was winger Toby Rowe, who made a determined run through the middle into the Northwich half. With nothing to lose, the whole side just took it on, mistakes were cut out, you could sense that Northwich were becoming rattled as they started to lose their grip. Time was running out when the ball was recycled from right to left and winger James Coulthurst was given a potentially scoring pass. Coulthurst isn't the fastest winger you'll ever see but he's powerful and just two strides short of the line, an almost certain score in sight, he was taken out with a high tackle around the neck.
Referee John Pemberton really had no option but to award a penalty try. The verbal invective he had to take from a few players and some spectators, however, was beyond the pale. Quite rightly, he yellow carded the worst offender and then awarded Wilmslow a penalty restart.
As an aside, he had already refereed a schools match in the morning before arriving to take on this high octane encounter and was due that evening to play the cello in the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra at a concert in Stoke on Trent. Rugby needs people like Pemberton to take on the difficult task that they do. Without him and others like him, there wouldn't be a game. People should remember that it's an amateur game, referees included, at this level, before they become too critical or even abusive.
It was still only 12-11 but the Wolves were now in the box seat. Their set piece play in scrum and lineout had been dominant throughout and Jones's tactic of selecting a big pack to disrupt Northwich's scrum and lineout was paying off but their play in the closing minutes was of a different order, particularly from their forwards in taking on and denying Northwich any opportunities to counter attack and get back into the game. Jones was especially pleased with the contributions made by his replacements, Josh Whiteley and Charlie Gardiner. 'Fresh legs', he said, 'made a difference.' He will also reflect on how in recent weeks young newcomers to the Wolves, Seb Pemberton, Max Wortley and Elliott Rowe particularly but others as well have visibly grown into first team rugby.
Sensible, pragmatic running and carrying, controlled aggression at the breakdown, counter rucking and the absence of hasty mistake inducing decisions, otherwise known as patience, kept play deep in Northwich territory. Everything that had been identified and talked about in preceding weeks was now being put into effect. Suddenly the Northwich side looked at sixes and sevens and a final score for the Wolves became a real possibility. The pressure was kept on, the ball was recycled first on the right and then out on the left, moved quickly back into midfield where they had men over and centre Ethan Harding had the space to burst through for the decisive try. It still needed though the conversion from MacCallum to put the Wolves out of sight. MacCallum thrives on these situations, as he struck his kick sweetly and perfectly to bisect the uprights.
Only then could anyone be certain of the outcome. In the end, one had to say that it was a victory for a team, that had kept plugging away in the hard times and had had the character, desire and 'Esprit de Corps' to ultimately grab the rewards against a good Northwich side. A band of brothers indeed!
Photos: Adam Hewitt scores for Wilmslow. Prop Robert Taylor goes forward with the ball. Photos by Nick Jones.
Match report by David Pike.