by Andy Leach
LYMM came up just short going down 31-19 at Sandal against a big, confident and rampant West Yorkshire outfit.
The team news wasn’t especially heartening with three players (Tom Bray, James Lewis and Steve Pilkington) out through injury and another, Aaron Rasheed, unavailable – four players who, based on current form, would have been amongst the first that Coach Fletcher would have inked onto his team sheet. Into the starting line-up came Joe Watson, Rory Riddell (playing in an unaccustomed position on the left wing) and Ben Stansfield with Josh Hadland, in from last week’s bench. Jake Ashall and Nick Ashton were added to the bench. The fact that throughout the season Lymm have been able to cope relatively seamlessly with injuries and absences, speaks volumes for the strength and depth of the Senior squad that the Lymm coaching team have built over the past couple of years.
Sandal won the toss and elected to play up the slope and against the wind in the first half. The early exchanges were all Sandal, with Lymm struggling to get any meaningful time on the ball. When Lymm did eventually win a penalty and then secure possession from the resultant line-out, they were penalised at a subsequent break down, a decision which was contested with such ill-advised passion, that the referee marched the penalty mark 20m closer to the Lymm line. This gave Sandal the opportunity to find touch much nearer the Lymm line and then, employing a well-executed driving maul, scoring the first try of the match, about 10m in from the left-hand touchline This required an excellent effort from fly-half Wood to add the extras. 8 minutes gone and Lymm had got off to a far from ideal start. 7-0
From the restart, Sandal collected the ball well, but in moving from the subsequent ruck, the ball went to ground. Lymm’s Watson pounced on the loose ball and ran in, virtually unopposed, from 22m, touching down a couple of metres in from the right-hand touchline. Cormac Nolan was unable to make the difficult conversion. 7-5
On 17 minutes, Lymm were awarded a penalty 40m out and 15m in from the left touch. Nolan, with the wind virtually directly behind, elected to go for the posts. His radar was spot on as the ball bisected the uprights and had sufficient power to just clear the cross bar. Lymm now had their noses in front. 7-8
After 23 minutes, Lymm scored their second try. A period of patient possession rugby had probed and tested the Sandal defensive line, which was finally breached by the marauding James Yates, taking play to within 15m of the Sandal line. Once again, the ball was recycled, this time out towards the right flank, after which a switch to the blindside put James Kimber in space, allowing him to tiptoe down the touchline, virtually unopposed, to score. Nolan again failed with the difficult conversion attempt. 7-13
Back came Sandal and, after 30 minutes, they also registered a second try. Lymm having absorbed a period of sustained Sandal pressure in their 22, thought they had cleared the threat when Nolan booted a loose ball well downfield, but the referee brought play back for an earlier infringement by Lymm. Sandal elected to take a scrum about 10m from the Lymm line, from which their Number 8 breached the Lymm defence to score just to the left of the posts, making the conversion a formality. 14-13
Three minutes later and Lymm were back in front. Riddell chased a kick through behind the Sandal defensive line “like a lurcher chasing a hare” and his tenacity and subsequent tackle led to Lymm being awarded a penalty for the Sandal defender “not releasing” at the subsequent ruck. 22m out and slap bang in front of the posts, Nolan selected his pitching wedge and nailed the three points. 14-16
That ended the scoring of an entertaining first half and whilst Lymm had their noses ahead at 14-16, the view on the terraces was that they had played with more than a 2 point advantage from the slope and wind. They would certainly need a herculean effort in the second-half to maintain the advantage.
As the half began, Lymm were on the offensive and, after 42 minutes won an attacking lineout about 10m from the Sandal line. With the ball secured, the Lymm pack drove forward before releasing their backs. As the ball was moved towards the posts, a Sandal three-quarter slapped the ball down, earning himself a 10 minute rest and Lymm an eminently kickable penalty. Nolan duly obliged. 14-19
The next 20 minutes was pretty evenly contested without either side being able to make a decisive move. Through this period though it was becoming apparent that with the slope and stiffening wind against, Lymm would struggle to enjoy any sustained possession in Sandal territory. After 65 minutes, Sandal finally got their third try. A period of sustained pressure in the Lymm “red zone” had been well defended, until the Sandal scrum-half spotted a gap close to the ruck, worming his way over for a try and a simple conversion. 21-19
Three minutes later and Sandal were awarded a penalty, 40m out and 5m to the left of the posts, which fly-half Wood coolly converted. 24-19
With about 10 minutes remaining, Oli Higginson, who had been outstanding for Lymm all afternoon in both attack and defence, breached the Sandal defence, running from the Lymm 22 well into Sandal territory, where he met their last defender, who was only able to halt his momentum with a high tackle. Another Sandal yellow card and a penalty for Lymm followed, the subsequent touch kick presenting Lymm with a perfect attacking platform well inside the Sandal 22. Unfortunately, the throw into the lineout was adjudged not straight (it had been awful conditions for lineouts all afternoon) and the momentum was halted. This proved to have been Lymm’s final opportunity to secure the win.
As the match entered its final knockings, the play was camped in the Lymm 22, where conditions were such that the kicking option for Lymm to clear their lines was no longer viable. Keeping the ball in hand was tricky and, eventually, Sandal won turnover ball and, with the final play of the match, managed to squeeze over just to the right of the posts for their bonus point try, denying Lymm of a losing bonus point in the process. Full Time 31-19
As a couple of Sandal spectators commented after the match, the scoreline 31-19 in the end flattered Sandal as, in reality, there was little between the two teams.
After the match Lymm DoR Fletcher commented: “I’m very happy with how we fronted up against a big powerful team. We defended really well throughout but unfortunately our attack today wasn’t accurate enough. To be leading 19-14 with 15 minutes to play and to come away with no points is particularly disappointing.
“Sandal are a well drilled side and will certainly be in the mix for promotion come the end of the season.”
1) Matty Hand, 2) Adam Bray (c), 3) Jordan Widdrington, 4) James Yates, 5) Joe Watson, 6) Campbell Thomson, 7) Josh Hadland, 8) Oli Higginson, 9) Tom Shard, 10) Scott Redfern, 11) Rory Riddell, 12) James Kimber, 13) Ben Stansfield, 14) Nathan Beesley, 15) Cormac Nolan, 16) Nick Ashton, 17) Matty Connelly, 18) Jake Ashall.
Referee: Mr Elliot Lewis – RFU Northern Panel
Pictures Stuart Watson