Chester 1st XV vs Hinckley 12-8
16th December 2017
Photo - Paul Best
This was an epic victory against top of the table Hinckley, built upon a strong set piece, tireless work in the loose and a well organised defence. The character of the match was dictated by the weather and the pitch. Heavy rain in the lead up meant the pitch was soon churned up and the ball soon became hard to control. The mud soon rendered both sides barely distinguishable. Knock ons occurred with an almost inevitable regularity. Kicking from hand was perilous as the kicker’s standing leg was unlikely to find a foot’s worth of firm turf.
Hinckley began promisingly, using two early breakdown penalties to set up a lineout on the home 22, only for Chester to steal the ball and build pressure of their own. Then the visitors conceded three defensive penalties of their own in quick succession. These set up a Chester 5 metre scrum from which Kyle Joseph broke. The pack carried on the drive for Alick Croft to cross for the try, which James Robins converted to put the home side in front after 9 minutes.
Hinckley were clearly intent on using their dangerous outside backs at every opportunity in defiance of the conditions. Unfortunately, when James Robins narrowly missed touch with a long penalty kick Hinckley used the possession to attack from deep in their own half and move the ball to their left wing before kicking into the home 22. Scrum half Harry Craven recovered the ball but the Hinckley forwards then engineered a turnover. They first moved the ball down a narrow blind side before coming back to the open side. They showed excellent continuity in the conditions, producing quick ball three times before finding a gap in the home defence for Mitch Lamb to cross for an unconverted try in the 19th minute.
During the remainder of the half Chester found it difficult to exit from their own half. Their attempts at relieving the pressure with the boot were sometimes charged down or sometimes fell into the hands of the Hinckley back three who ran the ball back dangerously. However, when the Hinckley speedsters managed to beat a defender the Chester scramble defence inevitably shut them out. In addition, the home pack was becoming increasingly dominant at the scrum, was managing to pressure the Hinckley lineout and was winning invaluable turnovers at the breakdown.
A narrow 7-5 lead at half time clearly wasn’t nearly enough to eke out a home win. Continuity was proving difficult for both sides and the ball was being knocked with increasing frequency as players tired. Nevertheless, Hinckley came close to scoring twice following dangerous breaks by their outside backs down the Chester left, but once again the cover defence got them. But, as in the first, half Chester just could not get out of their own half. Almost inevitably they conceded a kickable penalty on 50 minutes, which put the visitors 7-8 in front.
Given the exhausting work which home defence had done so far and Hinckley’s seemingly greater attacking potential out wide, it would not have been surprising if further scores had followed. But it was not to be. The Chester defence refused to buckle, and the pack asserted its set piece dominance, stealing more lineout ball and winning scrum penalties. This had the effect of taking just enough steam out of the Hinckley offensive to enable the defence to hold.
It was past the 70th minute by the time two Hinckley penalties allowed Chester to set up their first attack of the second half inside the visitors’ 22. From the second of these Chester drove a lineout from 15 metres out. The pack then carried the ball on through a series of irresistible pick and goes and rucks, which allowed Andy Basten to cross for a try in the corner. On an afternoon when accuracy was at an absolute premium the excellent work of the home forwards throughout got the reward it deserved. James Robins narrowly missed the difficult conversion, but the four point lead was enough to see a tireless and resiliant Chester side home for a much deserved win.