Report by Andy Leach
When the fixtures were published in the now distant 2018 heat wave, the prospect of a trip to Marl Pitts in mid-December would surely have sent shivers down the spine of every Lymm player or supporter.
However, no one could have imagined the cocktail of weather that was served up on Saturday. With temperatures barely in positive territory, freezing rain alternating with hail and sleet on a regular basis and a strong, gusting, wind, this was pretty much as unpleasant as it gets aas both sides battled in a 15-15 draw.
To be fair to Rossendale, the pitch was actually in really good condition – which certainly helped the teams put on a highly competitive, entertaining match notwithstanding the dire conditions.
With Joe Watson, Rick Halford, Joe Senior and Rich McEvoy unavailable, Lymm brought Will Baldwin, Jake Ashall, Tom Bray and Luke Richards into the starting line-up, necessitating the versatile Ali Sutherland to move from the back row to the wing, and drafted Tom Baker and Rhys Lilly onto the bench.
As appears customary, on winning the toss Rossendale elected to play up the slope first, leaving Lymm to get the game under way. One of the lessons Lymm have learnt in their 10+ years of visits to Marl Pitts, is that you must take advantage of the slope and get a sizeable lead at half time. On this occasion though, the script was torn up as in both halves the team playing up the slope came out on top.
Receiving the ball from the kick off, Rossendale showed their intent by retaining possession, making steady yards and generally frustrating Lymm’s efforts to get their hands on the ball. As a result, Lymm gave away three breakdown penalties in succession allowing the East Lancashire outfit to accelerate their progress up the slope towards the Lymm try line. On 8 minutes the pressure told, when a smart grubber kick behind the advancing Lymm defensive line stayed in play allowing the Rossendale right wing to touch down in the corner, a try that the Rossendale kicker expertly converted. So, 7-0 to Rossendale and Lymm had yet to lay their hands on the ball.
In fact it was 10 minutes into the game before Lymm got their hands on the ball. When they did, it was moved purposefully through the forwards making made good yards into the Rossendale 22. Now it was the home team’s turn to incur the wrath of Mr Riley at the breakdown, giving Nolan a relatively easy (nothing was that easy in the conditions though) kick, which was successful. 7-3.
On 15 minutes, Lymm’s captain Adam Bray was shown a yellow card for a professional foul in pulling back one of his opponents as they threatened the Lymm line. Whilst Lymm defended stoically, on 22 minutes, their 14 man defence was eventually breached as Rossendale scored their second try. Although this conversion was easier than his first, the Rossendale kicker’s attempt narrowly failed. 12-3.
Restored to their full complement, Lymm began to show more enterprise and attacking intent and their kicking game, led by Shard, used the strong crosswind well, gaining valuable territory on many occasions. On 27 minutes, Lymm secured clean first phase ball from an attacking line out and, moving the ball through the hands to the left, Richards made good yards into the Rossendale 22, when an offence at the breakdown resulted in a kickable penalty to Lymm. This time though, the ever-alert Nolan caught the opposition napping as he took a quick tap and ghosted over from 15m to score in the corner. The try scorer failed to add the extras, his excellent attempted conversion drifting narrowly wide. 12-8
As the half headed towards the 40 minute mark, Lymm thought they had registered their second try when the outstanding Pitcher raced over from 30m – only to be brought back as Mr Riley had spotted a Lymm infringement at the previous ruck. Soon after the half-time whistle sounded.
Half Time: ROSSENDALE 12 – 8 LYMM.
So, as the players huddled together for warmth at the break, the concerns on the touchline (other than the prospect of the onset of hypothermia!) were that Lymm had failed to take advantage of the East Lancashire topography, the clear ascendancy that Rossendale had demonstrated in the scrums and the penalty count which, at 11-3 against, had been the main reason Lymm were behind, having given Rossendale too many “easy yards”.
As the half started, immediately Lymm looked more purposeful. However, it was the home side who registered the next score, converting an easy penalty. 15-8
Notwithstanding the deficit, Lymm raised their game; the forwards, with Adam Bray, Ashall and Woods to the fore, started to make good yardage through the heart of the Rossendale defence; Lymm were clearly winning the kicking game; scrum ascendency had shifted to the Crouchley Lane eight; and, when they did get clean ball and moved it wide, the Lymm backs looked dangerous.
It was after 55 minutes that one expansive passage of play from well within their own half started the sequence of events that brought Lymm level. The ball was moved to centre Kimber who showed his strength and pace to burst through, and then round, the Rossendale mid-field backs. His pass found wing Sutherland who was eventually hauled down a couple of metres short of the try line. However, in their frantic defensive effort Rossendale had infringed. Lymm opted to take a tap penalty, and a couple of phases later, Connolly crashed over under the posts. Unfortunately, Mr Riley adjudged that the ball had been held up, awarding Lymm an attacking 5m scrum. Shaking off their disappointment, Lymm set a solid scrum from which Sutherland, now packing at number 8, picked up and crossed the line by the posts, Nolan adding the extras. 15-15.
Whilst there was no further scoring in the match, Lymm looked the more likely to break the deadlock and any time Rossendale got into Lymm territory, they either coughed up possession or Lymm forced a turnover. Shard came close on two occasions in chasing down a kick that had crossed the try line. On the first he was hauled back by a Rossendale defender in a manner similar to the one that had led to Adam Bray’s first half yellow card, but, this time, the referee was unsighted and, on the second, he knocked on as he battled with a Rossendale defender to touchdown. The final play of the half, which it seemed was brought to a slightly premature end as the gathering gloom made it increasingly difficult for the referee to officiate, saw Baker narrowly beaten to the touchdown by a Rossendale defender.
In my last report following the loss at Harrogate, I concluded by commenting that “in the gathering December gloom the glowing embers of an encouraging Lymm performance could be seen quite clearly”, well on Saturday it is clear that those embers are on the point of bursting into flame as Lymm put in an outstanding performance of true grit in diabolical conditions.
After the match, and once feeling had returned to his extremities, Coach Millington was in a contented frame of mind:
“I’m immensely proud of the boys today. To take a result from Marl Pitts, especially in such terrible conditions, takes a lot character and determination.
“After a difficult start, getting to grips with both the weather and the referee’s approach, I think we showed a lot of quality and were probably the better side for 60 minutes. A lot of credit must go to Man of the Match Tom Shard who was outstanding in controlling the game for us and put us in the right positions to take a good result into our Christmas break.”
Lymm will next entertain Wirral at Crouchley Lane on 5th January, KO 2:15.
1) Gav Woods, 2) Adam Bray (c), 3) Matty Hand, 4) Matty Connolly, 5) Will Baldwin, 6) Jake Ashall, 7) James Pitcher, 8) Aaron Rasheed, 9) Tom Shard, 10) Scott Redfern, 11) Luke Richards, 12) Tom Bray, 13) James Kimber, 14) Ali Sutherland, 15) Cormac Nolan, 16) Jordan Widdrington, 17) Rhys Lilly, 18) Tom Baker