Pipped at the post
Shortage of players sees odd looking Burton squad just fail to secure victory in this inconsequential end of seson game
With Burton already guaranteed fourth spot in the Midlands I (West) league table and Northwich doomed to relegation after a long trip to Cheshire this inconsequential game started well for Burton but ended in chaos with the home side coping better with the narrow pitch and the weird decision making of the match official and so finishing the day with the narrowest of victories in a 23-22 final score line. Unavailability and injuries gave an odd look to the Burton side with players playing out of position, Chris Atchison at hooker and Tom Cooper at blind side flanker and three backs on the bench, Alex Reeve, Steve McRobbie and Russ Banton. To add to their problems and compound matters they conceded ten points in the first twenty minutes as the team took time to get itself organised. Burton struggled to get back on equal terms and in the first half only managed a solitary three points from a penalty goal against a much improved side from the one who had been heavily, beaten (80-0) at Peel Croft in November.
Charl Neethling gathered the kick-off and charged up field before being hauled down for Luke Peach to kick the ball deep in the home twenty-two. Then with both sides playing at a frantic pace Josh Cartwright gathered the ball and powered deeper towards the home line but an offside decision against Burton saw the home side clear the danger and take the game into the Burton twenty-two. Here a well, drilled lineout saw the home centre Elliot take a superb line to score under the posts for fly-half Naylor to add the extra points.
Trailing 7-0 after ten minutes and struggling to find any continuity with the narrow pitch hindering their normal expansive style of play Burton went further behind. Northwich tried to increase their lead with some strong runs by their midfield players, and although these runs caused Burton’s defence some problems good scrambling defensive work appeared to have stopped the threat. But a supposed Burton indiscretion saw Naylor land a penalty goal for a 10-0 lead.
After this the Burton team started to play with more authority and determination and a great run by Lewis Brooks saw him held up over the line. Then Dave Archer stormed down the touch line to set up a maul that the Burton forwards drove on towards the home line and Northwich were penalised for pulling down the maul. Archer stepped up to put his kick straight through the middle of the posts and after thirty minutes Burton at last had points on the board. But this was to be the last they secured in the half as the home team went on to score a further eight points and go into half-time leading 18-3 thanks to a try and a penalty goal.
A good start by Burton to the second half saw both backs and forwards surging up field with powerful attacking rugby and it looked as though Burton were about to start getting some points. But an ankle injury to Atchison after just five minutes saw him leave the field to be replaced by Reeve as Neethling moved to hooker and Craig Dutton switched to play prop. This left Burton with only one recognised back row player, James Burrough, and this change saw him move to play at No 8 with Peach joining centre Cooper as the other flanker, while Reeve went onto the wing with Archer moving to fly-half.
In his new position Archer’s first touch saw him burst through opposition ranks to score under the posts and then convert his own try to take the score to 18-10. The yellow carding of the opposition flanker saw more pressure from Burton and good work by Tom Murphy and Craig Dutton saw Brooks released in space and he quickly showed the opposition a clean pair of heels as he raced away to score under the posts for Archer to convert to take Burton to within a point of the opposition at 18-17.
At last Burton started to realise that their pace could win the game and they began to play with more pace to exert increased pressure on the home side. More slick handling saw Brooks again race clear to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try that gave Burton a 18-22 lead.
But with the Burton pack struggling in set pieces a break by a home flanker saw him race clear and this resulted in another unconverted try for the hosts to put themselves back in the lead at 23-22 with five minutes to go.
Burton replaced Reeve and Cooper with Steve McRobbie and Russ Banton and a frenzied period of attacking play saw Burton nearly breaking through opposition ranks on several occasions with Dutton, Edwards, Cartwright, Archer and Brooks all going close. Then in the final minute after some great interplay involving Gilmour, Brooks and Burrough Burton were awarded a scrum. Northwich were penalised but like the rest of Burton’s luck for the day Archer’s kick hit the posts and bounced to safety leaving Burton trailing by one point and facing defeat when a victory would have been a more deserved result from their last game of the season.