Wednesday 28th. March 2018
North 1 West
Wilmslow 29 – 7 Warrington
It was a long time coming but two late Wolves' tries in the last five minutes of this rearranged floodlit game assured them of a convincing and deserved win together with five league points which shunted them four notchess up the league into second place and play off position, albeit only until the rest of this week's matches are completed. Even then, they'll still have a game in hand over all the other second place contenders, except Northwich. The permutations for an interesting run in after Easter are huge.
A win for Warrington would have moved them into joint second place so there was plenty at stake for both sides. Rick Jones would have told his charges that Warrington's strengths lay in their back division where danger lurked in every pair of hands in every part of the field. In the autumn their tries against Wilmslow all had their origins from deep in their own half of the field. Their centres Kieran Hughes and Steve Pilkington are the equal of any in this league, the wingers Nathan Beesley and Tom Arnold are both greased lightning and they have two half backs in Ben Hockenhull and Tom Wood, who have inflicted their fair share of damage on their opponents during the season. The Wolves defence would have to be clinical in cutting down their space before they built any momentum and rock solid in bringing them to the ground and driving them back in the tackle.
For the most part, they were just that. Warrington didn't get many scoring opportunities, several times they got turned over at the breakdown in positions from which they might have scored, only occasionally did they threaten to break the Wolves defensive line and when they did the cover was there to haul them down. It was the best organised Wilmslow defence that had been seen for several weeks.
All season Wilmslow's strength has been in the pack and it was no exception this Wednesday evening, particularly in the scrum where the front row of Robert Taylor, Alex Donaldson, Jordan Ayrey and the young substitute Rhodri Lewis all exerted considerable leverage on their opponents. They frequently disrupted the Warrington scrum, shoving them off their ball, slowing it down and making it difficult to use. Slow ball from a backward retreating scrum is just what your half backs don't want, especially with your opponent's back row consistently bearing down on you like, well, 'a pack of angry wolves on the trail'. Consequently they and their team mates became frustrated and bad tempered. In the second half particularly, they conceded far too many penalties of the kind that sides do when they're under pressure at the scrum and at the break down.
The Wolves lineout though was something of a lottery as several times ball that should have been won missed its target and came out on the Warrington side. Clearly in the last couple of games something hasn't been quite right in that department.
The first half was fairly evenly contested. The Wolves came out with real intent to force Warrington back into their own twenty two and when fly half Wood tried to clear, the ball was taken by Wilmslow's Will Maslen on the left wing. The running and handling was good until the final pass but, no matter, lock Tom Bull was present to scoop up the loose ball and swoop for the opening try. Barely a minute had been played.
Play now fluctuated from one end to another, until on the half hour, Wilmslow full back Elliot Rowe was taken out in mid air and visibly shaken up on or around the Warrington twenty two as he chased a high kick ahead. The offender received a yellow card and Bob MacCallum stepped up to kick the penalty for 8-0. Five minutes later, after yet another lost lineout, the Wolves scrum provided their backs with more go forward ball and this time for a still shaken looking Rowe to cross under the posts from close range. Just on half time, Warrington hit back to force a scrum on the Wilmslow line. They didn't make much of the scrum but when the ball was moved right their winger Arnold was high tackled and a penalty try was awarded.
The second half was nearly all Wilmslow, emanating from their superiority in the set piece. That they didn't bother the score board man until the closing minutes was mainly because of their own inaccuracy. All referees have their idiosyncrasies and referee Brown's is the forward pass. Too many marginal forward passes just handed scrum advantage to Warrington, who then got shoved off it and frequently penalised. Bob MacCallum didn't always get the field position he wanted with his kicks, his goal kicking was obstinately awry and the lineout was suspect. Actually, the Wolves handling was quite good, it was just their passing that let them down and referee Brown was in no mood to let anything marginal go.
A Warrington breakaway could have caused a lot of angst. You could just see it, a touch of genius from Kieran Hughes setting up a half chance for one of his wingers and then Rick Jones shaking his head afterwards, inwardly seething and muttering about another game the Wolves should have won. It didn't come to that though! Yet another MacCallum penalty set up a lineout in the 'Fitism' corner for at last a clean Alex Hewitt catch followed by a good controlled drive and touchdown by Alex Taylor, which eased everybody's state of mind, whether on the pitch or the terrace. Stress and tension now waning, the restart was cleanly taken with authority, a couple of drives around the fringes made ground and a quick interchange of passing saw Sean Street galloping away like a thoroughbred colt for the fourth try.
At the end there was a jauntiness about Rick Jones. It was a win which will give the last month of the season a bit of edge. The Wolves now have plenty still to play for when they go to Blackburn, another of the play off contenders, on 7th. April.
Finally it had been the first league game under the new floodlights. They clearly met expectations and for a Wednesday night just before Easter, there was a decent enough crowd and a feeling that it was the ideal format for a rearranged game.
Photo: Sean Street passes to macCallum from the breakdown.
Match report by David Pike.