by Andy Leach
FOR the first match of the new decade, Lymm welcomed Alnwick to Crouchley Lane on Saturday, celebrating with a 19-12 victory.
The reverse fixture early in the season had been a close run affair, the result of which had been controversially impacted by a score-keeping error by the referee. Lymm knew that the Northumbrian outfit was a better team than their current position towards the foot of the league table suggested, and a highly competitive encounter was expected.
The Lymm XV showed a number of changes from their pre-Christmas outing at Macclesfield, the most notable being the return of the Bray bothers and Oli Higginson. With Joe Senior now in New Zealand, his position on the left wing was filled by fellow 18-year old James Rooney. The weather conditions were good, albeit a brisk, cold westerly wind made for less than ideal spectating conditions – Christmas hats and gloves were certainly of great value.
Alnwick kicked off and the first 20 minute period was a relatively even affair with both sides mixing enterprise equally with errors, stifling the opportunity for either to gain the ascendency. Both set pieces were looking solid, with Alnwick in particular using their line-out as an attacking force. As the match edged into the second quarter, Alnwick won a couple of penalties in quick succession presenting opportunities to utilise a catch and drive from line outs close to the Lymm line. Although Lymm defused the first threat, they were less successful the second time round, with Alnwick forward Cowens crossing the line wide out to the left. Although the difficult conversion was missed, Alnwick had their noses ahead. 0-5
The half continued in a similar vein, but Alnwick definitely had the lion’s share of possession and territory with Lymm, when they were in possession, either electing to kick long or seemingly not having the patience to play phase rugby for long before the tendency to attempt the “miracle offload” kicked in, with little success. As the half was coming to its end, Alnwick were camped in the Lymm red zone, and after being harshly penalised for an offense at the ruck, Josh Hadland was given a 10 minute rest for questioning the referee’s decision. So down to 14 and defending 5m from their line, Lymm were under considerable pressure. However, their defensive system, mixed with more than a little scrambling, was sufficiently solid to force an Alnwick error. From the turnover Lymm made good yards down the pitch and, once in Alnwick territory, they began to use their width, bringing both wingers into play. After a number of phases took play from one touchline to the other and then back, pace was injected down the right flank resulting in Joe Watson, who had recently joined the fray as a rolling replacement for Will Baldwin, scampering over from 20m, from what was to be the last play of the half. Nolan added the extras from wide out and, remarkably, Lymm went into half-time in front 7-5.
If Lymm’s first try was all about teamwork, their second was clearly down to individual brilliance. 18 minutes into the half and in an effort to clear their lines following a period of sustained Lymm pressure, Alnwick hoisted a clearance kick towards the halfway line. Under considerable pressure from a couple of chasing Alnwick players, Nathan Beesley safely gathered the ball, had sufficient strength to fend off the chasing Alnwick players before putting on his afterburners and outflanking three Alnwick defenders to touch down 10m in from the right hand touchline. This time Nolan failed with the conversion. 12-5
If there was now a collective sigh of relief from the Lymm spectators as a visible gap between the two teams had appeared on the scoreboard, it was to be very short lived. Lymm failed to deal with the restart, the bouncing ball landed nicely in the arms of an advancing Alnwick player who, despite being tackled, off loaded to winger Weddell, who touched down just to the left of the posts for an easy 7 pointer. Lymm just seemed to switch off and handed Alnwick what will probably be the easiest try they will score all season. 12-12
Back to square one. However, Lymm now seemed to be even more focused and “on their game” and for the remainder of the match enjoyed their best period of play and some dominance ensued. Lymm were regularly camped in the Alnwick 22 and after a number of close shaves with the whitewash, on 34 minutes, Alnwick’s resolute defence finally cracked, when Higginson launched himself at the line from about 5m out with sufficient power and reach to score the match winning try, which Nolan dutifully converted. 19-12
Lymm saw out the last 5 minutes or so with little drama, making sure that either Alnwick were playing with the ball in their own 22 or Lymm were in control of the ball when play was in their half. This was a close, highly competitive match between two well matched teams. On balance, Lymm probably deserved the win but Alnwick ran them very close and certainly did not look like relegation candidates. There are plenty of matches left for Alnwick to show this on the league table.
After the match Coach Fletcher summed up the performance: “I’m very relieved to get the win. We knew Alnwick would cause us problems as they are a strong well-structured team. The overall standard of the league is better again this year and the teams in the bottom three could all put runs together to get out of trouble. We have to be at 100% against everyone we play, we can’t ease off and think that home advantage will see us through.
“Having said that, it’s great to kick-off 2020 with a win. There were some huge defensive performances today led by Tom Bray and James Lewis. Our attack was a little rusty but we still managed to look dangerous.
“Bring on next week’s local derby against Wirral! Please note that KO is 2pm”
1. Gavin Woods, 2. Adam Bray (C), 3. Jordan Widdrington, 4. Aaron Rasheed, 4. Will Baldwin, 6. Josh Hadland, 7. James Lewis, 8. Oli Higginson, 9. Cormac Nolan, 10. Scott Redfern, 11. James Rooney, 12. James Kimber, 13. Steve Pilkington, 14. Nathan Beesley, 15. Tom Bray, 16. Harry Ratcliffe, 17. Jake Ashall, 18. Joe Watson.
Rereree: Mr Elliot Lewis – RFU North Group