The day started in a sober mood as players of both sides maintained a minutes silence in memory of PC Fiona Bone and her colleague PC Nicola Hughes who were tragically killed in the week. Fiona Bone was a keen rugby player in Cheshire and her sad loss was particularly poignant for the rugby community.
Once the whistle blew, however, both teams came out of the gates strongly with the Sandbach forwards, in particular rampant in all phases of the game. In fact within 3 minutes Sandbach were awarded their 1st penalty as Longton were adjudged to have handled the ball in the ruck. Benny Elliot took 3 points from the kick. No less than 7 minutes later Longton were again penalised for the same offence and again Elliot took the 3 points. Sandbach were leading by 6 points after 7 minutes and looking good.Gradually though the gritty Longton Team began to haul themselves back into the game and picked up their first points as Chris Buck took a fine penalty kick and Sandbach were adjudged to be playing the ball on the ground. These penalties began to become a feature of the game and both sets of supporters found it difficult to understand the reasons for these penalties. (Not a criticism of the ref by the way, just an indication of the problems, interpretations and complexities of the laws applying to the tackle area).
For the next 35 minutes Sandbach continued to edge the play with their scrum, in particular, causing the home team real problems. It then fell to Sandbach’s Chris Davenport to execute an unlikely sidestep on the 22 metre line and run through the short distance, unopposed, to score a well-deserved try beside the posts. Elliot took the extra 2 points from the conversion kick. The first half ended 3-13 to Sandbach.
As players walked into the changing rooms there was a bit of an altercation in the tunnel and whatever happened and for whatever reason, Longton used the situation to inspire and motivate their players, whereas Sandbach seemed strangely lacklustre as the referee started the second half. In fact with a minute of the kick-off Longton Scrum-half Chris Moores picked up from the base of the scrum and scampered through almost unopposed to score an excellent individual try. Buck took the extra points.
Midway through the half Sandbach centre Simon Verbickas was adjudged, perhaps harshly, to have committed a deliberate high tackle and was sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes. Buck took the extra 3 points from the penalty. Verbickas had only been back on for 30 seconds when Longton’ Fijian centre Hendry Vaka, ran in ‘against the grain’ and score a wonderful try. Buck again converted.
In the dying minutes of the game and protecting their bonus point Sandbach were again penalised in the ruck and Buck took the final 3 points to leave the final score at 23 – 13 to Longton.
It’s very clear that in this league there will be no easy games. It’s also very clear that Sandbach are easily good enough to win the majority of their fixtures. They do however have to reduce the penalty count considerably, concentrate and up their game a little in the last 25 minutes and finally maintain possession a bit more in the final stages of their games.
This weekend Scunthorpe visit Sandbach the first ever meeting between these two clubs. Scunthorpe, like Sandbach, have had a mixed start to their season and lie just above Sandbach in the league, courtesy of an extra bonus point. It promises to be a close encounter and all are welcome for the 3.00pm kick-off.
See the Longton view here: http://www.longtonrugby.co.uk/Reports.php?match=708