Eccles 1st XV v Oldham 1st XV
Oldham edge the game in tough conditions
This weeks opponents were Eccles. We haven’t played them for a number of years as they have enjoyed a few seasons at a higher level but came back to this level last season. The fact they sit closer to the bottom than the top is yet another example of how challenging this level is this year. We’ve had a tough couple of weeks ourselves, struggling with injuries and losing very close encounters to the first and second placed teams.
There was a very rare event at Manor Park this week in that all of our pitches were unplayable for a reason other than being frozen. The pitch was an absolute pudding last week, with a good dollop of golden sand and, despite the fabulous efforts of the grounds persons, the pitch was, this week, beyond redemption. I suspect that I have inadvertently made up a word there but it feels as though it is close enough to being gender neutral to ensure that I won’t be dragged to appear before the Equalities Commission or the European courts of human rights to explain my misogyny. No doubt however that I will be persecuted for this in 25 years time when some nosy, mealy mouthed do gooder decides to review mistreatment of people who drive tractors and drink tea for a living. We will all get our day. Except gingers of course who never will.
Whilst games were called off willy nilly this weekend, Eccles happened to have a couple of pitches squirreled away, tucked neatly between a railway embankment and the M60. You need to be equipped with a compass and a piece of string to get there and back safely, or preferably to have passed your Cub Scout orienteering badge. But if you persist and ignore your better judgment, you eventually emerge from beneath the railway viaduct into a totally different temperate zone with its own microclimate where they can’t possibly have had the same amount of rainfall as everywhere else in the country. We discovered two pitches, one merely a postage stamp that were nigh on perfect. We refused to play on the postage stamp but the bigger one was fine; not particularly scenic of course but it wasn’t a day for sightseeing.
Recent selection has been a head count of the injured, the walking wounded and the unavailable. This was compounded this week of course as the absentees also included those on holidays as this should have been a weather weekend and some players chose to take advantage and take themselves away. Good thinking guys. But don’t forget, the weather weekend is put in the fixture list for a reason and the games postponed before Christmas have to be played after Christmas on a weather weekend. That’s how the weather weekends work. It’s pretty straightforward really. Josh Watson and Gaz Blomeley both suffered bad injuries last week and are unlikely to play again this season. However, that just creates an opportunity for someone else.
So Cameo Wood gets another chance for a much bigger role than just a cameo performance. Let’s hope he’s been out jogging during the week to get his fitness levels up because I can only imagine the damage he could inflict over 80 minutes. Come on Cameo, please treat us a full episode, we love seeing those collisions. You too Jack Sayle. Now you know who your real literacy nemesis is, get some work in on the training ground and put in performances that you and we can relish. Veteran, chunky monkey, ball playing, Mr. versatile Phil Graham rejoined the match day 18, as did Liam Aspin, and Adam Takila and Kenny Rowlands were once again in the squad. Jamie Dalloway was a welcome late addition to the squad following the late withdrawal of new dad Will Mellor; Congratulations to you all.
A lot of twos have stepped up this year and have performed really well so come you twos, get down to training and aim to be a one. The training nights are club training nights and not first team training nights. You’ve got an exemplary leader in Matt Finn and by training at the club you can give him the support he deserves on Saturdays and improve your chances of a run in the first team..
Whilst the pitch was in good nick, the weather was truly grim. Low heavy cloud and constant rain and drizzle meant that playing conditions would be awful. But Oldham started well and were on top from the first whistle and they spent most of the first 25 minutes in the Eccles 22. However, the changes in personnel meant that we were a bit disjointed and struggled with continuity. Despite our best efforts at pick and drive, push over scrums and occasionally spinning the ball out wide, we couldn’t put enough together to gets through a determined Eccles defence. 5 m scrums seemed to offer real potential in this period but we couldn’t control the ball which kept popping out at the wrong moment.
After 25 minutes, it really did look as if it was going to be one of those afternoons but from a raid down the left hand side Froggatt made a trademark drive and had sufficient brute strength to drive through a couple of tackles and touchdown. The conversion was the type that we have been missing of late but Jobson nailed this one to give us a 0-7 lead. The rest of the half was played in a similar pattern but Oldham could not add any more points.
It was a difficult half to call really. We had dominated possession and territory but not the scoreboard and you would ordinarily be disappointed. But when you consider the age profile of the team, with only one player over 30 and nobody else really close, and the inexperience in many key areas, we ought to see so many positives. I think 8 of the 18 were 20 or less. The scrum was good but the lineout wasn’t quite working and a couple of critical ones went astray but conditions were seriously tough. Taylor, Takila and North put in great tackling shifts with Hackman, Souter, Froggatt and Cullen doing the heavy duty carrying and pushing and shoving at the breakdown. The world’s one and only sweeper prop Jordan McEwan continues to act like a magnet and seems to be wherever the ball happens to be. Conditions made it difficult for Graham and Megram at half back but they brought Aspin and Roscoe into the game at key moments. Wingers Rowlands and Arundale kept busy and supported breaks and made space all game. We didn’t really go through the phases as we have in recent weeks though but credit should go to Eccles who defended and scrambled well.
The second half commenced with something that you don’t see very often when the re-start was kicked dead. Apart from this, little else changed. The weather didn’t improve and neither did our finishing. It almost looked like a replay of the first half with Oldham on top and playing well all over the pitch apart from the last 10 metres where we continued to make a mess of things. As the half went on it was clear that Eccles hadn’t given up hope of getting something from the game and it wouldn’t have been a surprise if a bit of anxiety had set in amongst the young Oldham boys but they showed excellent composure and belief. 20 year old Cameo Wood and 17 year old Jamie Dalloway brought on some much needed experience but we couldn’t fathom out how to get through that final 10 metres and time and again attacks failed for as many reasons as you can imagine.
A tactical change saw Jobson go to scrum half, Graham to centre and Charlie Roscoe to full back. This saw Oldham play more with ball in hand and Roscoe’s running from deep started to cause the Eccles defence a different kind of problem. It was from one such move that Oldham doubled their lead. A long kick from Eccles on their line gave Oldham possession on half way. Arundale found Roscoe who surged forward and released Dalloway. He off loaded back to Roscoe who found Graham, who slipped the ball to North who had enough speed and strength to touch down by the posts. It was the best passage of play in the game and a moment to illuminate the gloom and showed us at our best. Jobson’s conversion made it 0-14. The final five minutes saw Oldham attack the line but they couldn’t add to the scoreboard.
Final Score: Eccles 1st 0 v Oldham 1st 14
Eccles are having a tough time at the wrong end of the table but fought for 80 minutes and for the most part they managed to frustrate the young Oldham team. They tackled well all afternoon and have a pack that worked hard and managed to frustrate the things that have gone well for us in recent weeks. They were very hungry and won every single contest when the ball went loose. A losing bonus point looked to be in their grasp for a long period but they were denied at the end.
Oldham need to look at the positives with a young and inexperienced team able to secure a victory at this level and not concede a point away from home. But we have to recognise some real deficiencies on the day. Too much of the kicking was pointless and simply gave possession back to Eccles and gave them easy exits and relieved pressure. We conceded too many penalties in their 22 which again gave them easy exits and easy yardage. We were also poor when the ball was loose on the floor. Ryan North was man of the match.
What is the winter Olympics all about? It couldn’t be further away from the original Olympic values and ideals if it tried. Its a combination of Scandinavians showing us how they to work every day and scruffy teenagers who show us what they do rather than get a job. But no doubt somebody loves it.
Next week we face a very good Tarleton team at Manor Park. Its a players re-union so get yourself down there if you can. Players get yourselves fit and get down to training.
Report by Dave Roscoe