ASPATRIA TAKE SPOILS IN BOLTON THRILLER
DETERMINED BOLTON EFFORT TAKES GAME RESULT TO THE WIRE......
Aspatria led the game from minute 4, scored 6 tries and earned 5 points on their way to victory. But they only shook off a determined Bolton challenge as the final whistle blew to confirm a 40:33 win.
On a rare day of Cumbrian sunshine the combatants at Bower Park appeared determined to entertain a sizeable crowd. Both teams committed to all-out attack when in possession and they found each other’s defence in a generous mood as tries rolled in at both ends of the field on a regular basis.
Aspatria started with a spell of rugby that might have seen off a less determined team than Bolton. The visitors rarely had their hands on the ball for the first 15 minutes except to hoof it out of defence. During this period Aspatria ran in two scores, the first after 4 minutes and it was a beauty. A scrum was won on the Bolton 22 and a backs move to the left committed all available defenders to allow fullback Andrew Miller an unopposed run to the corner flag. Craig Foster’s touchline conversion was good for a 7:0 lead.
It was all Aspatria at this stage with backrow tyro, Jacques Rowe foiling all attempts by Bolton to obtain any meaningful possession. The score board should have moved again on 12 minutes when another attack down the left flank looked certain to result in a score only for a final pass to go astray. The home supporters did not have to wait long for further success. On 15 minutes a desperate Bolton clearing kick went into the hands of right winger, Grant Bethwaite and he roared upfield to set-up an attacking position just inside the Bolton half. The backrow trio of Rowe, Gary Hodgson and Adam Cavanagh combined to gain further ground before the ball was released to centre, Scott Akehurst who danced through the defence for 14:0.
Bolton looked dead and gone but to their credit used the setback to come back into contention. From having next to no possession in the first 15 minutes, Bolton rarely were without it for the next 15 as they gave Aspatria a torrid time in defence.
The revival was on but the first signs indicated that Aspatria could absorb the pressure. Bolton missed a regulation penalty attempt but continued to push the home side back against their try line. On 27 minutes Bolton should have been on the scoreboard when a powerful forward maul took them to the line and sucked in Aspatria defenders. The ball came back and was spun left where an overlap awaited but instead of using the extra man the centre went to bludgeon his way over and failed. It was only a small respite for Aspatria with the Bolton break through coming on 30 minutes. A piece of individual skill from scrum half Will Bate who took the ball from the back of a 5m scrum and wrong-footed the Aspatria backrow to create space to go over for 14:7.
Aspatria’s response was immediate. After regaining the ball from the restart virtually the whole team was involved in an intricate passing and off-loading move that eventually put Akehurst on a run down the right wing. Akehurst was dragged down 15 meters short but Rowe was on his shoulder to take the ball on and over the line for 21:7.
From the restart Bolton returned the favour , regained the ball and moved immediately into attacking mode. The Aspatria defence was poor but Rhys Pritchard at 10 still had to have the vision to spot the gap and dart over the line for an unconverted score. This ended the half with Aspatria having the advantage at 21:12.
The score line was far from comfortable for Aspatria and in a nervous start to the half the Black Reds did their best, with some poor handling, to hand Bolton another score. Centre Alex Waddicar emerged from a farce of ball retention on a gallop to the line but he was stopped short by fullback Andrew Miller. The referee deemed Miller to have acted illegally and he was yellow carded. Perhaps a case for a penalty try but with other defenders in the vicinity the referee gave Aspatria the benefit of the doubt.
Aspatria scored next with a break out from their 22 around the 50 minute mark. The catalyst for this was sheer doggedness from Rowe who disrupted Bolton possession with a mighty hack in broken play that sent the ball flying upfield. Aspatria were back in charge and from the resulting scrum Jason Ward took the ball at the base and exploited space on the blind-side to send left winger Jack Robinson unopposed over the line for 26:12.
This was end to end stuff and Bolton were next up with a third try on 54 minutes. This was a well worked score using good control at a line out 6 meters out from the Aspatria line. The ball was retained and beautifully disguised as it came to Bate who charged at the line but with a superb offload passed inside to the onrushing front rower Nial Murphy who proved unstoppable from this distance. The conversion was good and Bolton back in the contest at 26:17.
Aspatria made a complete mess of the restart and were fortunate not to concede another score. The ball was regathered deep into home territory and perversely set off a move that would result in a Black Reds score. The charge downfield faltered at times but ball retention was perfect and this eventually created space on 58 minutes for Rowe to sprint down the right touchline and over for 33:17.
Bolton would not lie down. The pace of the game was frenetic, both teams suffered from handling errors. Bolton won the ‘mistakes’ lottery and on 66 minutes again moved back in touching distance of Aspatria with an unconverted try from Ryan McClusky. The conversion was missed and Aspatria still had a cushion at 33:24. Importantly, this 4th score secured at least a bonus point for the visitors.
With the game moving into the final 10 minutes there was more yet more drama to follow. This mini passage of play started well for Aspatria as No10, Josh Watson scored try number 6. The move started with a penalty into the corner and a traditional Aspatria catch and drive. When this movement faltered the ball was flung into midfield where Watson took it at pace and opened up the Bolton defence with a piercing dart under the posts.
At 40:24 this should have made the game safe? Bolton again settled to their task and with 3 minutes remaining rattled in try number 5. Fullback Jonny Stanfield who looked dangerous all game outpaced a flailing tackle and Aspatria awoke to a 40:33 score line. A second bonus point for Bolton and still time to kick off.
The final 2 minutes seemed like 2 hours for watching Aspatria loyalists as Bolton regained possession and searched for the score that would bring them level. Aspatria’s defence held and when the ball was mishandled by Bolton to end the game it was the home side who heaved the biggest sigh of relief.