Previously undefeated Conference B leaders Burnage travelled to Moss Lane on Saturday and returned to Manchester with their tails between their legs having been beaten by an LSH team who were more urgent, more aggressive and more clinical in all aspects of the game. It was a well-deserved victory for the hosts, whose team contained a good blend of youth and experience, power and pace, and left Burnage with plenty to think about going into the final game of the season against AK at home next weekend.
A poor warm-up set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Burnage were tentative in the early exchanges and the LSH team and their vocal supporters sensed blood. The visitors were allowed little space by the home team, who hardly missed a tackle all afternoon, and possession was frequently slowed down or turned over at the breakdown by a physical and hardworking LSH back row trio. With a lack of quick ball and not enough forward runners making themselves available, Burnage really struggled to play with any continuity and LSH dominated possession throughout the first half. With other options limited, Burnage often resorted to kicking the ball but neither the kicks themselves nor the kick chases were of the quality needed to put pressure on the opposition. By contrast, LSH made good use of the boot, finding spaces behind the Burnage back three and chasing as a pack as if their lives depended on it. The Burnage defence also looked vulnerable, with too many players trying to go high on the big LSH ballcarriers and being shrugged off rather too easily. It was no surprise when LSH scored out wide on the left, exploiting an exposed short side following a period of sustained pressure. 5-0 soon became 10-0 with another try wide right after a similar spell of possession in the Burnage 22.
By contrast, opportunities for Burnage were few and far between. An early injury to Tom Blaney
led to some re-organisation of the backline, with replacement Freddie Wilson
entering the fray on the wing and Andy Dowdall
moving to 9. Olly MacDonald-Oulds took the fight to LSH with some strong carries round the fringes. An LSH clearance kick was charged down but this was not an afternoon on which Burnage were to get lucky with a kind bounce. Shaun Gilmour and Chris Kornecki
both made half-breaks through midfield but neither had the support they needed on their shoulder to turn these breaks into scores. A promising counter-attack wide on the left was ended when Joe Limb
’s pass was cynically slapped down by an LSH hand, but when the home team did infringe, as on this occasion, Burnage’s misfiring lineout prevented the visitors from winning their own ball cleanly and building pressure.
10-0 at half-time was no less than LSH deserved, but Burnage were grateful to still be in the game and knew that they were in with a good chance if they could get the next score and build some momentum. It took a while, but the try did eventually come when Andy Ascroft
ran hard, kept his legs pumping and enlisted the help of a few teammates to propel him across the line. David Rees
missed a difficult conversion but with the lead cut to just 5 points Burnage now had an opportunity to show why they are top of Conference B, an opportunity that they proceeded to throw away. Another wayward kick, made worse by a dreadful chase, led to the best try of the day from LSH, who used the space on the left to outflank the defence before flicking the ball back inside to beat the last man and score under the posts: a very impressive score, clinically finished, that knocked the stuffing out of the visitors. An easy conversion stretched the lead to 12 points and the game was slipping away. What Burnage needed now was a good kick-off chase to pin the home team in their own half and try to win back possession. Instead, what Burnage got was a dismal kick chase and some woeful “tackling” that allowed the LSH flanker to charge deep into Burnage territory, eventually leading to a penalty that extended the lead to 15 points. This effectively ended the game as a contest despite a late consolation try for Nathan King
, who showed a surprising turn of speed to plunge over under the posts after spotting a gap in the home team’s defence, a gap possibly created by the absence of the LSH number 8 who had received a yellow card late in the game for his second high tackle of the match.
There were some crumbs of comfort for Burnage to take from the game: a better second half performance, a solid effort throughout in the scrummage and an encouraging debut for Olly MacDonald-Oulds, but overall this was a disappointing afternoon. Following two defeats earlier in the season away at Varley Park, LSH seemed very determined to prove a point on their own patch and thoroughly deserved the win – their unbeaten home record in Conference B shows that they are a formidable outfit when they are at their best. Burnage have ridden their luck at times this year and this defeat shows that there can be no room for complacency. Having worked very hard to earn victories in two tough, tight games away at Stelfox Avenue earlier this season, the lads will be well aware that AK will be thirsty for revenge this Saturday and that a better performance will be required if they are to avoid ending an otherwise excellent season with two successive defeats.
This week’s squad: Nathan King
, Josh Merrick, Chris Maddock
, James Taylor
, Sean Spratling
, James McCumesky, Joe Limb
, Olly MacDonald-Oulds, Tom Blaney
, David Rees
(c), Matt Barrett
, Shaun Gilmour, Andy Ascroft
, Andy Dowdall
, Chris Kornecki
. Reps: Tom Canham
, Freddie Wilson