ASPATRIA FALL AT DELLA
BRAVE DEFENSIVE EFFORT EARNS NO REWARD AT DELLA
Aspatria’s title ambitions took a blow with an 18:10 reversal at promotion rivals, De La Salle. Aspatria remain top with 56 points from 16 outings but they now have Saturday’s victors, DLS snapping at their heals on 52 from the same number of games. Below the two front runners, Keswick and Oldham retained a keen interest in the championship race. Both are within striking distance of Aspatria, when games in hand are taken into account.
Aspatria struggled with player availability prior to sending the team down the M6 for what in any circumstances is a difficult game. For a second week, Coach Mike Scott was forced to include himself on the bench and the starting stand-off berth was handed to his son, Ryan. Whilst the back division was simply disrupted the forwards had to deal with wholesale changes.
The conditions were wet and muddy and this led to a rash of handling errors by both sides in the early exchanges. The first 10 minutes rolled by with the teams bogged down in midfield but there was just a hint that Aspatria were getting the better of the individual battles. With 14 minutes on the clock, Aspatria achieved the first breakthrough. Left winger, patrick noutch did well to chase a long clearing kick and bundle his opposite number into touch to give the visitors an attacking lineout and intensify the pressure on De La Salle. The attack failed but Aspatria came away with a Craig Foster penalty to lead 0:3.
Aspatria’s attacking play continued to trouble the De La Salle defence and on 22 minutes Foster had a penalty attempt to increase the lead. The ball shaved the post to leave the scoreboard unmoved and the 22 restart would prove to be a turning point in the game.
Aspatria allowed the drop out to fall into an unguarded area of the pitch and this allowed De La Salle to recover the ball and rampage up the field; the move finishing with the first try of the day. The try was unconverted and the score only 5:3 but the momentum had clearly shifted.
The De La Salle pack had their tails up and dominated the remainder of the first half. Long periods were spent attacking in the Aspatria 22 but the defence was magnificent with every black and red shirt employed on the barricades. On the stroke of half time De La Salle did increase the lead with a penalty but at only 8:3 down Aspatria had every right to be relieved.
From the start of the second half De La Salle still had the demeanour of a team likely to go on and win the game. With 6 minutes gone another penalty strike increased the lead to 11:3. Aspatria attacks were less frequent and there was further disappointment on 52 minutes when one promising foray ended, not only in failure, but the loss of full back Lee Tinnion.
Tinnion leaving the field meant Scott senior joined son Ryan on the pitch. Within minutes Aspatria’s coach was back on the bench, side-lined by a serious looking arm injury. In the short term it only got worse for Aspatria. On 56 minutes, prop Ashley Ravell was yellow carded for a rucking infringement and 4 minutes later he was followed by Fraser McNee for the same offence.
Twenty minutes still to play and Aspatria now, not only, down to 13 men but had no fit substitutes remaining. Aspatria’s defence from this point was not much less than heroic. Every player deserving of a mention but if medals were being handed out then surely the second row partnership of Richard Miller and Liam Ridley would be at the front of the queue.
The 13 men of Aspatria were in some part helped by De La Salle’s tactics. The home side could have used penalties awarded to pin Aspatria against the try line but instead opted for two long range penalty attempts both of which missed. The try that De La Salle did score on 66 minutes demonstrated the error of their earlier tactics. They simply took possession and moved the ball left, right and then left again until Aspatria ran out of defenders and the try was inevitable. At 18:3 the result was settled.
Aspatria have to be applauded for how they finished the game. Heads never went down and there was a steely determination to get some consolation. Into the last few minutes and Captain, Matthew Atkinson led from the front. Atkinson was operating at No8 and his charges from the base of scrums were causing havoc in the De La Salle defence. Near the final whistle Aspatria had a final opportunity to score when they were awarded a 5 meter scrum. Everyone knew what was coming. Atkinson launched himself off the back of the pack and hurled himself at the line. The defensive tackle was a brave effort but not enough to stop Atkinson. The try was converted to end the game 18:10.
De La Salle fully deserved the victory, they adapted well to difficult conditions and were the better side on the day. This was a real contest and, all in all, not a bad result for a youthful looking Aspatria side who will benefit from the experience. On the field of play it will not get any easier on Saturday when in-form Oldham are the visitors to Bower Park for yet another key clash in the promotion stakes.