Lymm retain National League status despite narrow defeat


by Andy Leach

BONUS points secured in a thrilling 46-42 defeat at Preston Grasshoppers ensured Lymm’s survival in the National League next season.

Lymm headed north to Preston for a fixture from which 2 league points for either side would mathematically guarantee the retention of their National League status. An exciting match was surely in store, although it seemed likely the strong, gusty winds forecast might have a hand to play in the ability of both sides to play with their usual flair and ambition.

Lymm made four forced changes in personnel from the starting XV that put in an outstanding performance in the win against Sheffield Tigers last time out – Ralph McEachran being otherwise engaged with England U19s in Italy, whilst regulars Ben Thompson, Jack Reynolds and Ste Pilkington were out injured or unavailable. Into the starting line-up from last time’s bench came Gav Woods and Rhys Lilly, whilst Jack Stride and the fit again Tom Shard came straight into the starting line-up. The resultant vacant places on the bench were filled by the experienced Jordan Widdrington and Andy Rowley. The match also marked the 50th appearance for Paddy Jennings, the only player who has been ever present in the Lymm starting XV this season.

Lymm kicked off and the strength of the wind they were playing into became immediately apparent as Shard’s kick-off failed to make the required 10m mark. 2 minutes in and a Cal Morris 50/22 kick gave Lymm an early attacking line-out in the Hoppers’ 22. Enterprising play by the Lymm three-quarters was halted by a forward pass, with Preston being awarded a free kick from the resultant scrum. The attempt by Hoppers to take play out of their own 22 with a quick tap was halted by a thunderous tackle by Josh Hadland which succeeded in dislodging the ball, which fellow flanker Harry Martin was on hand to gather and run in virtually unopposed from 20m. Shard’s success with the tricky conversion made it 7-0 to Lymm after only 5 minutes.

As was to be the pattern of the whole match, the scoreboard operator was kept busy as Preston replied with an outstanding score of their own. From a scrum 40m out the Hoppers backs were, worryingly for Lymm, able to create an overlap on the left flank from which an inside ball to supporting scrum-half Ciaran O’Donnell was enough to frustrate Lymm’s frantic cover defence. The conversion was missed taking the score to 7-5 in Lymm’s favour after 7 minutes.

A simple penalty by Shard on 13 minutes was then followed by Preston’s 2nd try. A penalty to Hoppers 5m out was initially well defended by Lymm but the recycled ball found its way to winger Tyler Spece who scored in the corner. The impossible conversion in the conditions was missed so that after 20 minutes we were back at parity 10-10.

Then Lymm enjoyed a bit of a purple patch. Camped in the Preston 22, Lymm’s aggressive defence again dislodged the ball, Alfie Simpson sent a long pass to Oli Higginson who was ankle-tapped as he bore down on the tryline but managed to offload the ball to Stride who scored 5m in from the left-hand touch for an unconverted try. 4 minutes later and it was back-to-back tries for Lymm. A penalty kick to touch gave Lymm a perfect platform for a rolling maul with Matty Hand and Martin to the fore. Whilst this didn’t cross the whitewash the recycled ball was gratefully accepted by Morris who dotted down. This time Shard’s inch-perfect conversion was successful, and Lymm were ahead 22-10 after 29 minutes.

Then, on 39 minutes and very much against the run of play, Hoppers got their third try. Having been camped in the Preston 22 for a while, Lymm infringed. Preston took a quick tap penalty and moved the ball wide with their three quarters taking play deep into Lymm territory. Spotting some defensive disarray amongst the Lymm ranks fly half Will Hunt put in a cross-field kick which the unmarked winger Spence was able to easily gather and run in unopposed to score by the right-hand touchline. Another unconverted try took the score to 22-15 at halftime.

Reflections of the first half were that Lymm should probably been further ahead given the possession and field position they had enjoyed for large parts of the half. With each of Hoppers tries having started deep in their own territory and the appetite to run rather than kick – even with the wind on their backs – it was going to be interesting to see how both teams played conditions in the second half.

We didn’t have to wait long to see how Preston were intending to approach the half – basically more of the same! The half was only a minute or two old before Hoppers had their 4th bonus point try. A break down the middle of the pitch was halted by Lymm, but the ball was then sent to the right where centre Edward Keohane was able to beat the covering defence to score. Another unsuccessful conversion and Lymm’s noses were in front – just at 22-20.

Lymm then enjoyed a period in which they added 13 unanswered points. Firstly, Shard added two penalties to his tally, the second from fully 40m demonstrating the strength of the wind. The next penalty award to Lymm was put into touch 10m from the Preston tryline, a well-constructed rolling maul from Rhys Lilly’s catch made good progress whilst sucking in Hoppers’ defenders. The recycled ball allowed Morris to bear down on the tryline and although brought down just short had centre James Kimber in support to score by the posts, to register Lymm’s bonus point try. Shard’s conversion took the score to 35-20 in Lymm’s favour after 51 minutes.

On 55 minutes, Stride was shown a yellow card for a technical offence. Preston opted for a scrum from the resultant penalty in Lymm’s 22 and, after a few phases, Keohane was on hand to score his second of the match. This time Hunt added the extras to reduce Lymm’s advantage to 8 points, 35-27.

Back came Lymm. From a scrum in the centre of the pitch, 30m from the Hoppers line, Higginson picked up and went right. Making good yards he had Morris in support who added great ace to the move before drawing the last defender and feeding Nathan Beesley for the winger to run round towards the posts to score. The successful conversion restored Lymm’s lead to 15 points with 16 minutes left to play….surely that would be enough?

If Lymm had a purple patch in the first half, the next 10 minutes from Preston could only be described as “deep purple” as they scored 19 unanswered points. The first of these scores was unfortunate. Hunt’s restart found the strong wind and drifted tantalisingly out of the grasp f the Lymm pod. The ball found the ground and then the grateful hands of flanker Declan Norrington who ran in virtually unopposed from 35m.

5 minutes later and Norrington had his second, this time from about 1m as he scored following a period of pressure by Hoppers in the Lymm red zone. Preston were now playing with confidence, throwing the ball around and off-loading in the tackle to create all sorts of challenges for the Lymm defence. On 73 minutes, and after a few such phases Lymm ran out of defenders and Spence crossed for his 3rd try. With Hunt converting 2 of these, the scoreboard had now swung back in Hoppers’ favour 46-42.
In the remaining 7 minutes, Lymm tried all thy could to wrestle back the initiative but they were just unable to secure field position or gain consistent possession to build the necessary platform. Shortly afterwards Mr Connor blew for fulltime, bringing to an end a helter-skelter end-to-end match of rugby. With both teams securing the 2 league points they needed to retain their places in next season’s National Leagues there was something for both teams to celebrate.

Director of Rugby Adam Fletcher, commented: “At 42-27we should not be losing a game. Hoppers played some excellent off-loading rugby in the 2nd half that we struggled to contain. We made a few poor defensive errors and a few simple mistakes that gave Hoppers a leg up.
“It’s bittersweet as we got the 2 league points we needed to be mathematically safe but I feel that a huge opportunity was missed to get our first double of the season.
“We want to finish the season on a high and especially at home next week. The lads are really up to put on a show for the supporters.”.

Gav Woods (130); James Pitcher* (65); Matty Hand* (105); Rhys Lilly* (52); James Yates* (c) (120); Josh Hadland* (36); Harry Martin (53); Oli Higginson* (261); Callum Morris (36); Tom Shard* (133); Paddy Jennings* (50); Jack Stride (9); James Kimber* (108); Nathan Beesley* (67); Alfie Simpson* (28). Bench – Rob Makin* (62); Jordan Widdrington* (241); Cashel Chilvers (25); Andy Rowley* (74); Andy Williams* (21).

( ) = number of Lymm First XV League appearances
* Former Lymm Academy/M&J player

Referee: Peter Connor


About Author

Experienced journalist for more than 40 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with three in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Chair of Warrington Healthwatch Director Warrington Chamber of Commerce Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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