Staffs Cup Final defeat
Burton met Longton in the final of the County Cup at Stoke on Saturday.
A work injury forced a late change in the Burton line-up that saw Chris Atchison start the game instead of Simon Spencer. Playing against higher league opposition Burton soon realised the size of their task for this game, and indeed the whole of next season, as they battled against these bigger, stronger and more physical opponents. Despite ending on the losing side when playing against these higher level opponents Burton were left to face a defeat that had, hopefully, taught them many lessons for the future, but had definitely not disgraced them.
Longton kicked-off deep into Burton territory and for the first five minutes piled pressure on the Burton line, but Burton defence although stretched every way stood firm against this initial barrage. Eventually youngsters Danny Smith and Lewis Brooks combined for the latter to kick the ball back to near halfway. But Burton then conceded a penalty for not rolling away and Longton missed the chance to take an early lead when their penalty attempt barely got off the ground from barely twenty metres out in front of the posts. Tom Bartram’s dropout sailed deep into opposition territory, but Longton’s clearance landed safely in the arms of John Philliskirk and he stormed forward. He made fifty metres before looking to pass inside only to find the arms of a welcoming opposition defender who took the pass and cleared the danger to set up his side’s next attack. After switching the ball one way and then the other Longton found space out wide for their winger to score in the corner.
Trailing 5-0 Burton tried to up their tempo and the next two set scrums saw the Burton pack surge forward as the frontrow of Charl Neethling, Dan Clarke and Rob Wakelin set about their opposite numbers with devastating effect. Under pressure the Longton pack was driven backwards and harassed by Joe Carpenter and Darryl Banton their No 8 had a torrid time trying to control the ball. For the next twenty-five minutes Burton dominated territory and remained camped in the Longton half, but despite powerful runs by Craig Dutton, Jon Edwards and Carpenter they could not get that elusive score. While the set scrums provided plenty of ball the lineout was not working as well, although Josh Cartwright and Jon Edwards did steal ball on opposition throws they struggled to dominate their own ball. Burton’s backs had chances as well but all too often poor passing saw the ball either going behind, not reaching or completely missing players for the opportunities to be lost.
With five minutes to go to the break Longton reverted to using their forwards and a series of surging rolling mauls saw them take play up the field towards the Burton line. But just as Burton appeared to have nullified this threat Longton threw out a long ball to the wing who dived over in the corner to increase their lead to 10-0. But worse was yet to come for Burton as with injury time being played another rolling maul saw Longton get a further unconverted try.
Trailing 15-0 and with it all to do Burton, now playing down the slope, got the second half underway with Dutton gathering the bouncing kick-off to go on a rampaging run towards the Longton twenty-two. But once again Burton saw the ball turned over and Longton kicked high and long back towards halfway. Burton continued to show control and slowly forced their way forward but when released poor handling again let down Burton’s efforts. Good runs by Lawrence Betty, Dan Smith and Dave Archer all ended in the ball being lost as Longton took the ball either in the tackle or with quick support play at the breakdown. Burton players must have wished for more upper body strength as time and again their stronger and more physical opponents stripped ball away from them in tackles and mauls.
Another great jinking run by Smith saw play get to within ten metres of the Longton line and this was followed by Clarke and Carpenter combining to charge forward together to get back inside the twenty-two and win Burton a penalty. Opting not to go for goal Bartram kicked to the corner and Cartwright took the lineout. Banton passed the ball out along the line where Smith came in to give greater width and Philliskirk at last crashed over in the corner for Burton’s first points.
From the restart Burton attacked again but after a period of sustained pressure Longton cleared the danger and Burton’s midfield defence was again found sadly lacking as Longton’s big, burly centre strode through turn and find support inside to score a converted try under the posts.
With some fifteen minutes play remaining Burton surged back on the attack and a great reverse pass saw Betty burst through to get within three metres of the line. Then Dave Archer had a great run down his flank after Brooks had released him down the blindside. Some more excellent scrummaging by the Burton pack saw Burton get good ball but once again poor handling saw chances missed. Then following a powerful drive by Dutton, Edwards and Spencer quick ball from the ruck saw the ball swiftly go along the Burton line for Smith to dive over in the corner and take the score to 22-10.
Another try was all that Burton needed to put the game on a knife’s edge but with changes now being rung and replacements entering the game the momentum was lost, and Burton could not get any further scores to worry their opponents. As the final whistle sounded although disappointed the Burton team had done their best, were a credit to their club and its supporters and now are well aware of the size of the task they face next season in the National leagues.