Some days are better than others, and this particular Sunday was better than some, but worse than I expected.
1. Archie Irlam-Mowbray
2. Joe Beckett
3. Monty Weatherby
4. Harry Taylor
5. Ollie Taylor
6. Tom Stock
7. James Parry
8. David Hanson-Isasi
9. Callum Darlington
10. Luke Pickles
11. Oli Sorensen
12. Josh Brookes ©
13. Thomas Lea
14. Jake Meredith
15. Jordan Ravenscroft
Replacements: Alex Walker, James Finucane, Cieren Leigh, Christian Dolan, Ben Wilson, Matt Reel
If there were league tables for our age group, just Cheshire based, I would see us about 9th out of 20 (obviously I haven’t included the Shropshire, Staffordshire and Manchester based clubs in that), but it is unfortunate we are only getting to play the top 5 or so at the moment. I suppose it is the equivalent of being promoted a league last year, so in that respect we aren’t doing as bad as we think. One victory from six games is hardly setting things on fire (we have showers to douse those fires!), but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
We went to Ellesmere Port with a game plan (well I did anyway!), after they put us to the sword in the Cheshire Plate Final a couple of years ago. I expected everything to go through their big dangerman “Bambi”, but his absence probably did them a favour as they played an excellent team game, with some great support play throughout. We went with a very strong bench after several players made it difficult to leave out of the starting line-up, which is testament to the great attitude of the players at the moment.
The pitch was at odds with everything else in Cheshire at the moment, and perhaps our lads have been spoilt over the years, playing on some great surfaces, so we struggled slightly in the energy sapping mud to play our quick, flowing rugby we have been reputed to play.
So it was down to our forwards to try and get a grip of the game, which we did for the first 15 minutes, as neither side gave ground. We looked aggressive up front for a change, which was just as well, given Ellesmere’s no nonsense approach, but with a slippy ball and surface, mistakes were always going to be made, and it seemed whenever we were going forward, Ellesmere would repel our attacks.
The ball spent a fair bit of time up in the air, with both side tactically kicking into good areas, but both sides largely defended this tactic well, with Jake Meredith especially doing well in one instance, so it was back to the forwards to see what damage they could inflict. James Parry led by example, and Joe Beckett worked his socks off, as things tooed and frooed, and our line out work has come on in literally leaps and bounds, as we were actually winning their ball at times.
We conceded the first try of the game, however, as Ellesmere broke with their backs finally released, to score the opener. From the restart, we witnessed something not seen in 2 years plus! Harry Taylor catching a fine Luke Pickles drop-out, to set us thundering towards their line, only to be thwarted by a strong Ellesmere defence.
At half-time, changes were made, and I expected our rested players to come on and start to dominate their pack. An injury to Ollie Taylor slightly upset those plans, as Ellesmere dug in against our now heavier forwards. Ben Wilson fielded a ball well, and was dazed in the ensuing tackle, and taking advantage of this, Ellesmere ran into the space he had left, to score an opportunist try. I still fancied our chances, but Ellesmere were made of strong stuff. Callum Darlington made a spectacular run, slaloming between 5 or 6 defenders, only to be thwarted by a last ditch tackle, and in a similar vein to the Final, I felt if we scored one, we would go on and win the game. We now had the better of the game, and David Hanson-Isasi broke free with a fly hack, with Monty Weatherby as support, and again we were met with a resolute defence.
The conditions and fitness eventually started to tell, as Ellesmere, much more used to the mud, started to press forward, and after some great defence from Jordan Ravenscroft, Luke Pickles and Josh Brookes, we finally conceded in the dying embers of the game to give the scoreline a kind shine.
A defeat once again, but once more some encouraging aspects to look at. Our pack was never dominated, and looked strong in the scrum, winning ball against the head again, and ourline out work is improving all the time, (mainly thanks to Andy’s demonstration at the start!), our backs have pace and guile, and good tactical brains on their shoulders. Several players took the eye- James Parry for his aggression and mobility, Monty Weatherby for his allround performance, Joe Beckett for his work rate, Harry Taylor for his pace and Ollie Taylor for his resilience in the forwards. In the backs, Luke Pickles put in some great kicks, and Josh Brookes and Jordan Ravenscroft once again tackled as if their lives depended on it, Jake Meredith is developing into a solid winger and Callum Darlington had his best game of the season.
Although we were better than we were last week, we still lost ball going into contact, and maybe our belief suffers a bit as a result of seeing turnover ball early doors. The backs did the best they could mostly starved of decent ball, but were maybe a bit too flat at times, so had no “Plan B” at times, which after having a whole training session dedicated to it, is a little perplexing, but understandable given the conditions.
Overall though, a fair result against a top 5 side, with Men of the Match – Harry Taylor for the forwards, and Callum Darlington for the backs.
A special mention to Andy Brookes for his line-out training, and a thanks to Phil Hanson for his linesman duties, allowing me to write the reports again (!).