Rugby: Wolves Disappointing end to pre-season matches for Wolves

Friday 24th. August 2018

Cheshire Plate 1st Round

Wilmslow 28 – 50 Birkenhead Park

The 1st round of Cheshire Cup and Plate matches are the last of the pre-season matches to give coaches a final chance to assess how players and combinations are shaping up before the season proper starts on 1st September. Consequently it's a game which is always punctuated by a constant flow of changes and substitutions. Add to this that it is played during the August Bank Holiday weekend, when most clubs are also missing personnel away on family holidays and it becomes difficult to evaluate the true worth of any particular club side. To ensure as many of the players as possible would still be available, this game was held on the Friday night under floodlights before the weekend exodus really got underway.

Wilmsow made a promising start with probably their strongest line up available on the field. They dominated the first quarter without putting anything on the board but then ran in three tries in the next ten minutes. Birkenhead Park were not to be outdone and their quick silver backs exposed the Wolves defences to get three of their own. At half time, the difference between the two sides was only two magnificent touch line conversions by the evergreen Bob MacCallum.

Wilmslow coach Rick Jones was taking every opportunity to ring the changes and by the third quarter, he had put all of his bench onto the field. It didn't work out at all. The scrum in particular started to buckle, twist and retreat. Park seized control in the set piece, became quicker to the breakdown and in the space of fifteen minutes scored four tries through their backs as they shredded the home side's back line defence.

Only in the closing stages when Jones put the heavy brigade cavalry back on was some semblance of order restored but by then the game had been long out of sight. There was a consolation fourth try but even then Park had the final word when they picked off an interception on their own line as Wilmslow went for a late fifth score to run the length of the pitch for their eighth try of the evening. Eight tries to four tells its own story and there can be no complaints that they didn't end up worthy winners.

Front row forwards are not rugby's glamour boys but there is no doubt that when Ms. Ayrey, Donaldson and Taylor are on the field as a unit, the Wilmslow set piece marches forward and the rest of the side is able to play with good, quick, tidy possession. But these three gentlemen also contribute hugely around the field. The Wolves just look and are a better side when they're present. The spine of the Wolves side, hooker Donaldson, No. 8 Alex Taylor, half backs Street and MacCallum and full back Day also looks fit for purpose.

Elsewhere though it's not so clear. Last season, Jones had four good lineout jumpers to call on and some serious grunt to put in the second row. Unfortunately, three of these players have departed for career and study reasons and the fourth is currently nursing a calf injury. There is still work to be done to get their replacements up to speed. On the credit side, the return of former captain Chris Jones after ten seasons at Macclesfield should strengthen the back row, providing his battered body lasts the course.

The biggest questions though lie amongst the midfield backs and wingers, whose defensive frailties were cruelly shown up by their Park opponents. It's not all gloom and doom though. Young George Witham sparkles in the centre and has real potential, we know that Ethan Harding can play a bit when he gets some game time under his belt and the colt Gus Fiennes showed that he too has a future in the game. And we shouldn't forget that there were also some talented players absent.

On the night, it was a disappointing outcome but it's still very early days and a full strength Wolves side should be a different proposition.

We'll see next Saturday when they host Kirkby Lonsdale in the first of this season's league matches.

Photos: Lewis Bundy-Davis on the wing for Wilmslow, Wilmslow forwards clean out the ball at the breakdown. By Nick Jones.

Match report by David Pike.

Rugby, Wilmslow Rugby Club