Newcastle Under Lyme (22) v (24) Altrincham Kersal Senior Colts
Winning the hard way seems to be the only way we know
It's only six weeks since this fixture was last played, before the restructuring of the leagues. On that occassion Kersal came out 26-8 victors.
This game was going to be a test for both sides, the wind was fresh and the air temperature cold with the threat of rain in the second half. After starting last week's game positively, there was hope that the Kersal would commence this match in a similar fashion.
Newcastle shaded possession in the first eight minutes, but were not able to put points on the board. Kersal where their own worst enemy making error after error, conceding promising positions to their opponents AK did made the breakthrough after 10 minutes, following a lineout 20m from the Newcastle line. Aaron Antrobus received the ball after the first phase and burst through from 15 metres out with the opposition defence unable to contain his strength. The conversion was right in front of the posts, Max Brooks converted easily.
5 minutes later Newcastle levelled, utilising their strong pack to drive over from close range. The home side extended their lead on 26 minutes to 14-7 with another well worked try and so it stayed until the interval. Kersal were unlucky not to close the deficit right on the break, a stunning piece of flowing rugby ended up with ball played through the back line at pace. Cormac Grieves saw Chris Sutton on his outside. Grieves drew in the last defender before firing a pass out the winger two metres from the try line. Sadly the pass was agonisingly out of his reach and the ball sailed out of play.
After a stern half time team talk, Kersal came out of the blocks from the whistle. A well floated drop kick from Tom Gill was superbly collected by Fabio Higginson, that piece of play gave AK an immediate lift as they looked to advance their position closer to the Newcastle line. The Staffordshire team were not going to give up their lead easily though and defended their territory well. After 10 minutes of the second half Kersal struck back, Newcastle kicked away from their own line up to half way. Brooks took a quick line out allowing the back line to run into open space putting pressure immediately back on Newcastle. After three quick phases, Ollie Higson powered through the final 10 metres with defenders hanging off him, there was no way he wasn't going to score and touched down at the base of the posts. Brooks conversion levelled the score at 14-14.
Kersal's indiscipline in the first half started to creep back, conceding several needless scrums and penalties. On 51 minutes, one such error right in front of the AK posts, allowed Newcastle to edge three points in front with a simple kick. Fortunately Kersal regained the lead within two minutes, taking advantage from the kick off. A ruck formed 10 metres in front of the Newcastle posts, The Kersal forwards worked hard to protect the ball allowing Tom Sullivan time to survey the options. Spotting a potential overlap on the Newcastle right he sent out a raking pass missing three players to find Grieves on the right wing who just had enough space to score right in the corner. With less than 20 minutes to go, AK were two points in front.
The lead was extended on 63 minutes. Tom Gill kicked long into touch after AK were awarded a penalty. From the lineout 8m out Kersal set up a strong driving maul. Higginson held the ball at the rear of the marauding pack and despite his valiant efforts he wasn't able to cross the line. The referee however adjudged Newcastle had come in from the side and awarded AK a penalty on 5m. Kersal kicked for the lineout and this time made no mistake opting for the same tactic, Higginson scoring the try to extend the lead to seven points.
The final five minutes were tense, Newcastle scored in the right hand corner to narrow the gap to two points. A successful conversion would tie the game with only a few minutes left on the clock. The rain was driving down, it was going to take a staggering effort to level the scores. The Newcastle fly half struck the ball well as he had done all day, it had the legs and looked like the direction was good as well. Agonisingly for Newcastle the ball just did not drift in enough and passed the outside of the right post by no more than 12 inches.
Kersal just needed to put the ball in the opposition half and keep it there. They did just that and in their desperate attempt to win the ball back Newcastle conceded a penalty. Gill kicked to touch with the last play of the game to ensure AK took the points 22-24. The win took Kersal's winning streak in the league to 10 out of 10 and keeps them firmly on top of the league.