Didsbury put in an encouraging performance for a first run out of pre-season, narrowly losing to an athletic and physical Kenilworth side who will ply their trade in the level above Toc H this season.
This was a hugely beneficial first outing for the visitors. Toc looked at a number of new players, all of whom impressed, and tried various combinations which also promise lots ahead of a challenging campaign in South Lancashire and Cheshire 2. Slowly but surely there is a real depth of talent developing across the club.
With several key names missing, most notably in the pack, a creditable 27 players made the trip down to Warwickshire. After an eerily contemplative southbound journey, the northbound leg was predictably lively.
On the pitch, a second-minute injury to Seb Sheratte, who looks one of the finds of the summer, made things even more challenging for Toc in the early stages. But the manner in which the players adjusted and grew into the game impressed.
The conditions demanded expansive rugby - a sunny, dry day and an impeccable playing surface encouraged both teams to move the ball at pace. For Toc, with lots of ground to cover on a large pitch it also offered the chance for some timely pre-season fitness.
In a frantic first quarter, Toc controlled their fair share of possession and territory. They were competitive at the set piece and looked to play adventurous rugby to test a robust Kenilworth defence. A turnover in the opposition 22 led to a clinical first try from the home side. They went the length of the pitch, keeping the ball alive with some classy support play to score in the corner. The home side doubled their lead soon afterwards from a short catch a drive after some clumsy discipline had granted them easy access to the Toc 22. It was then Toc's turn to counter punch through the excellent Rory Gibson, who proved a constant threat throughout the match. He skipped blind off a scrum and outpaced the cover defence before sidestepping his way to the try line.
At the first interval, the players recognised they were up against a well-organised team who were quick and combative at the breakdown but also composed with ball in hand. Plenty of personnel and combination changes in the second quarter - perhaps too many - made for a disjointed, disrupted affair as far as the visitors were concerned. The work rate remained high but Toc were outgunned and failed to land any significant blows of their own. They did, though, show glimpses of real quality and it was obvious among the squad that confidence was growing. Gibson and the wingers, Lewis David and Tom Makin, fancied their chances in wider channels.
Just as well, because Toc weren't making much impact up the middle, which is an area the side will have to improve on as September nears. Centres Tom Bunn and Neil Wilkinson worked very hard for the team under a lot of pressure. Kenilworth’s chop tackling was proving effective, they were disruptive at the breakdown, and they made some crushing tackles in midfield. But none of that could dissuade Toc from playing with ball in hand and, in the end, the backs (quite literally) worked around the problem. Moving the ball more efficiently to wider channels and making the big pitch as big as possible yielded some favourable one-on-one match-ups.
Some excellent inside defending from Kenilworth kept Toc at bay - but by the fourth quarter the visitors had momentum and were running it from everywhere: in Makin’s case, from under his own posts. He, along with Number 8 Dan Walder, David, Gibson and Rob Bamberger, who had already scored a lovely try of his own, all looked a threat with ball in hand.
An early contender for try of the season seemed a certainty after a superb burst down the right wing from Makin. A smart cross field kick took the bulk of the cover defenders out of the equation and Bamberger expertly picked it up on the dive. As he was tackled by the last man, he offloaded superbly to second row Owen McIntosh, who put in another commendable and selfless shift. Unfortunately, five metres from the line, and with no one near him, his hands let him down and the ball spilled agonisingly forward.
It wasn't long before Toc did score from a cross-field kick, though. After applying a lot pressure in the Kenilworth 22, Bamberger prodded one to Makin about ten metres from line to give him his first try of the new campaign. A scrum win against the head on the Kens' line led to another score in the final 25 minutes and then David, after probing on so many occasions throughout the match, finally broke free and found some space to cruise in from 50 metres out. The performances in the first and fourth quarter of this match - and the late flurry of tries - will give Toc a boost as they look ahead to Manchester this weekend.
Scorelines are scarcely relevant in pre-season friendlies but the performances are. This was one full of character and commitment. And given the nascent development of the team and the season, the portents look good for the start of the campaign.
Their secretary was kind enough to take some photos. To view them click on the link below:
Also a reminder, we have 4 more preseason games coming up so make sure you are available as there a lot of new players this season.
Saturday 12th August Away at Manchester 1500 KO.
Wednesday 16th August Away at Old Bedians 1900 KO. 2s vs their 1s and mixed 3/4s vs their 2s.
Saturday 19th August Llandudno at Home 1330 KO, followed by a BBQ and Registration Day.
Updated 18:09 - 1 Sep 2017 by Arthur Crabtree