Chester 24 - 12 Sedgley Park
Morris's brilliance rubber stamps victory
Chester 24 – 12 Sedgley Park
Chester entertained 6th placed Sedgley Park at Hare Lane and eventually prevailed in a cliché. 24 unanswered second half points ensured that, on the scoreboard at least, this was the archetypal game of two halves.
Sedgley Park will no doubt feel justly aggrieved that their trip back to Manchester was pointless as the least they deserved was a losing point denied to them by a touch of last minute brilliance from finishing scrum half Josh Morris.
In front of a big Hare Lane crowd, Chester started brightly, buoyed from the fine victory way at Huddersfield the previous week. Good driving forward play resulted in a succession of penalties that, in the modern way, were lofted into the corner to set up a driving lineout. Too often the ball was spilled forward halting the momentum. Sedgley Park were then able to use long standing centre Matt Riley to truck the ball up and form a platform to move away from the danger areas.
This was the go to tactic for the visitors in setting up their plays also. Page 1 of the attack coaches manual. Quick ball, 10 to 12, attack the channel between the opposition outside half and inside centre. Little change was derived from this as the defensive work of James Robins for Chester was outstanding. It did however allow Sedgley Park to retain possession and fly half Steve Collins became increasingly influential with darting runs and sensible distribution. In contrast, when Chester did attempt to spread the ball, passing was a little indecisive, meaning support players were overrunning the ball and, again, momentum couldn’t be maintained.
The turning point in the first half came on 27 minutes. Sedgley Park had nullified Chester’s bright start and the referee, Mr Michael Harris, lost patience with Chester’s defensive efforts in the red zone and selected No8 Guy Ford as the yellow card recipient. Quick hands from the backs breaking back to the right-hand touch saw wing Leon Simpson evade Tom Foden’s tackle to score in the corner. Collins was unable to land the conversion.
Minutes later, just as Ford returned to the fray, the visitors forwards drove over the line in the left-hand corner with the try awarded to replacement front row Nathan Rushton. This time Collins landed an excellent conversion, taking Sedgley Park to a 12 point to nil lead at half time.
As the second half began, with the gloom, both atmospheric and emotional, spreading, the home fans were soon smiling again. Good controlled forward play, the go to tactic this season, ended with lock Rik Cottrell burrowing over in the corner. James Robins couldn’t add the extras but with the strengthening wind at their backs and driving rain starting to fall, Chester sensed a shift in the ascendancy. Coach Jan Deventer switched the half backs with James Robins moving to fly half and Josh Morris replacing Tom Holloway at scrum half. Raking kicks, utilising the wind, to establish field position were the order of the day, and Robins excelled.
Two quick strikes, in the 64th and 68th minutes left Sedgley Park with a mountain to climb. Near identical scores from Alick Croft and Guy Ford, one converted by Robins first allowed the hosts to take the lead, and then extend it to 7 points. Close quarter pick and drives were the order of the day, with the second of the scores emanating from a lineout mistake from the visitors in their own 22.
With influential centre Riley retired to the bench, Sedgley Park looked to expand their game to threaten a tiring defence. A lightening break from fly half Collins after a deft offload from lock Rob Birtwell almost proved fruitful. A charged down clearance kick resulted in scrappy play and a penalty to the visitors in the home 22. They elected for a scrum, which appeared to be a strange decision. A strong home effort disrupted the planned move off the set-piece and Morris scooped up the loose ball, chipped the opposing winger and, after a further kick ahead, outpaced the cover defence to collect the bouncing ball and score. A fantastic bit of individual brilliance in the last minute of the game to rubber stamp a good solid performance.
Sedgley Park deserved more. At times they dominated the game, but their attack was a little predictable and against a defence as good as Chester’s more was required.