Broughton Park 17- 24 Wilmslow
Make no mistake, this was another stern examination of Wilmslow's top of the table credentials. The previous week, Park had despatched Penrith, then league leaders, and there was considerable interest amongst a decent crowd to see whether they could repeat the trick.
Come the final whistle, Wilmslow had to thank their defensive organisation and commitment for keeping Broughton Park at bay. The closing minutes were particularly fraught with Park launching wave after wave of assaults on the Wilmslow line, which eventually yielded them a third try, with time for just one more play left on the clock. For their part, the Wolves had created three classy first half tries for right winger Sam Cutts and two for centre Jonny Kennedy.
Shortly after the break, they scored their fourth try when scrum half Sean Street broke down the narrow side from a hastily retreating Wilmslow scrum in his own half. Finding the Park defence awol, he was off like a hare and ran seventy metres down the touchline for what turned out to be the match winning score.
The initial exchanges saw both sides testing the other's defensive formations and both sides conceding possession in promising field positions. The opening score came after six minutes when Wilmslow's Mark Jennings kicked a penalty into the Park twenty two for a lineout from which the Wolves' forwards and backs combined for a bout of excellent passing, which released right winger Sam Cutts with all the space he needed to run in. It was a beautifully executed move, probably the most satisfying try of the season yet, and showed just what these Wolves are capable of at their best.
Park now had a period in the ascendency and after twenty minutes they were awarded a five metre scrum from which they eventually forced a touchdown.
The second quarter was Wilmslow's best of the match. A decently judged clearing kick by Park was taken by Jonny Kennedy in one of those fifty/fifty situations. He counter attacked and Park suddenly found themselves stretched on both sides of the field. Mark Jennings and Alex Taylor were both held up on the Park line in quick succession during this period but from a second five metre scrum, the ball was released, recycled in front of the Park posts and Jonny Kennedy was on hand to scythe through for the coup de grace.
The Wolves continued to press but lacked the composure and accuracy at least twice to add to their score before left winger Jamie Kingdon fielded a box kick on the stroke of half time, ran infield and suddenly there was No. 10 Ethan Harding breaking the Park line with an electrifying run for a simple off load to Jonny Kennedy on his right and a third try under the posts. It couldn't get more clinical than that!
Shortly after the break, came Street's decisive virtuoso effort. That though was the last to be seen of the Wolves as an attacking force. Park seized control. The whole momentum of the game shifted. What possession Wilmslow still got was slow and cumbersome, their passing became laboured and ball retention poor. Their scrum was consistently shunted back and it took some stirring tidying up from No. 8 Alex Taylor and flanker Danny Kennedy to hold back the tide.
Wilmslow's defence still showed how hard it was to break down but there was still plenty of time on the clock when Park eventually made their pressure count with a score far out on the left touchline in front of their supporters in the stand. They remained in charge for the remaining twenty five minutes or so but couldn't find a way through that obdurate defence until with a minute to go the Park No. 14 Adidayo Titiloye, who has scored a few tries against Wilmslow in his time, came off his wing to break through the centre for Park's third score. In the final play, they tried everything they knew but when the ball went loose and out of play, it was all over.
Robert Sheard is one of the more lenient of the referees on the circuit but even he found cause to penalise the Wolves far too often. This is a major reason why the Wolves are spending so much time bottled up in defence in their own twenty two. Referees tend to favour the side in possession which puts the other side under increasing pressure as they attempt to recover the ball and are judged to have infringed.
The whole cycle then just continues until the attacking side either makes a mistake or scores. One of the answers is to be more secure in retaining the ball in all phases of the game in the first place but that could adversely impact on the Wolves game, which is based on fast adventurous but slightly risky movement which can produce both some spectacular moments and equally an early loss of possession. It's a conundrum for Chris Jones and his coaching team to attempt to solve.
Nevertheless, it was a good result for Wilmslow. Any kind of a win at Hough End will do, no doubt about that! They had been missing both the little master Bob MacCallum and full back Ben Day but Ethan Harding, standing in at No. 10, was outstanding. The Kennedy brothers, both the smoothly head shaven Danny on the flank and the more stubbly shaven Jonny in the centre, were highly influential with both Mark Jennings and Sean Street playing a full part.
The pack, although on the back foot for much of the last forty minutes, stuck to its task and one can only commend the whole side for its refusal to bend the knee when under the cosh. Questions, though, still remain to be answered in the upcoming testing fixtures still to come against the other pace setters of the league Douglas (IOM), Vale of Lune, Birkenhead Park and Waterloo, in particular. We shall know soon enough the real worth of this side.
For now, coach Chris Jones and his team will be concentrating on next week's home fixture against a Warrington side still to get off the mark. A game with the potential to be a real banana skin!
Mach report by David Pike.