by Andy Leach
LYMM welcomed old adversaries Billingham to Beechwood for the final league match of the 2018/19 season knowing they had already avoided the threat of relegation following last week’s victory.
Lymm and Billingham were both promoted to Level 5 at the start of the 2010 season and barring one season when Lymm were sent to the Midlands league and one where Billingham were relegated, to bounce straight back, the two clubs have enjoyed some highly competitive encounters over this time.
Of the 9 seasons playing at this level though, 2018/19 has almost certainly been Lymm’s most difficult. When, back in August, Lymm put up a highly credible performance in a pre-season fixture against Huddersfield – who are now near the top of their Level 4 league – there would have been no thoughts that a large part of the upcoming season would have been spent worrying about the prospect of relegation. Such is sport.
However, with the previous week’s win at Sandal having mathematically consigned the notion of relegation to the rubbish bin, there was a palpable air of relief at Crouchley Lane as the teams headed on to the pitch on a bright but chill afternoon. Once again Lymm were forced to ring the changes, especially in the back line, were back row forward Jake Ashall formed an unlikely centre partnership with colt George Norman, whose previous first team experience had been on the wing. In total, in Norman, Joe Johnson and Alfie Simpson, Lymm fielded three U18 players in their starting line-up, possibly for the first time ever.
The first 25 minutes were a relatively evenly matched affair with both teams showing a willingness to play an expansive game as befits the last match of the season, but errors by both teams at critical times stopped the match bursting into life. Whilst there was parity on the scoreboard, there certainly wasn’t in the penalty count with Lymm infringing far too often and so, having to play much more rugby in their own half than was advisable. Then on 25 minutes the Lymm defensive line was breached for the first time when a Billingham forward forced himself over the line halfway between the posts and touch. The conversion was made. 0-7
From the kick-off Lymm regained possession through Richard Halford’s well timed chase and in the ensuing play Billingham were adjudged to have been offside. A kick to the corner and a well-constructed rolling maul from the resultant line-out had the Lymm pack over Billingham’s line, only for the ball to be ruled held up. This was to be the closest Lymm came to registering a score for some time.
On 35 minutes Billingham scored their second try following a good handling move. In the lead up, Lymm had had opportunities to go on the offensive but errors handed back possession to Billingham on which they ultimately capitalised. 0-14
Half Time: LYMM 0 – 14 BILLINGHAM.
On 47 minutes, Billingham scored their 3rd try. Lymm had looked in a positive frame of mind following the half-time break but an infringement halted the momentum and handed the initiative to the North Easterners, who kicked to the corner and from the subsequent line-out their big number 8 was able to barrel his way over the line. The difficult conversion was made courtesy of the upright. 0-21
From the restart Lymm got themselves into a good position and an attack down the left flank put Simpson into space, after dummying his way past one defender his pass to unmarked winger Luke Richards just failed to go to hand for what would have been an unopposed stroll in. Lymm put Billingham’s resultant 5m scrum under intense pressure and could have been rewarded with a penalty. The referee saw it differently and reset the scrum. On the second attempt Billingham secured possession and then went through a number of phases to build a platform for a clearance kick which took play back to half-way. Then attacking the subsequent Lymm line-out, Billingham were soon back in possession in the Lymm 22 and the glimmer of hope for Lymm had, once again, been dowsed.
On 73 minutes Billingham scored their 4th bonus point try, this coming from another lineout close to the Lymm line where this time the ball was recycled a couple of times until a gap appeared in the Lymm defensive line, sufficient to allow a Billingham player to skip through relatively unopposed. 0-28
Finally, on 77 minutes Lymm got on the scoreboard, which was no less than they deserved. The creator was Norman who, despite his youth, had the confidence to take on the Billingham left wing on the outside, beat him for pace and then draw the last defender with a well-timed pass that allowed the supporting, Lymm man of the match, Aaron Rasheed, to score under the posts, Shard converting. 7-28.
With the final play of the match Billingham scored again, this coming from another lineout close to the Lymm line where this time, rather than scoring himself, the Billingham number 8 was able to offload to a team mate who scored close to the posts 7-35
After the match Coach Fletcher reflected on what had been a tough day at the office:”Billingham were more accurate, physical and creative than we were. They fully deserved the 5 points. We probably used the last bit of our reserves at Sandal last week and I think that showed in our performance. Another season completed at level 5, so once we sit back and reflect we can be happy with what we have achieved.”
Team: 1) Gav Woods, 2) Adam Bray (c), 3) Jordan Widdrington, 4) Matty Connolly, 5) Aaron Rasheed, 6) Rob Makin, 7), Joe Johnson, 8) Joe Watson, 9) Tom Shard, 10) Scott Redfern, 11) James Kimber, 12) Jake Ashall, 13) George Norman, 14) Luke Richards, 15) Alfie Simpson, 16) Nick Ashton, 17) James Lewis, 18) Rick Halford.