Liverpool Collegiate 34 - 20 Didsbury Toc HL
A powerful and organised Liverpool Collegiate side were too strong for Toc H on the opening day of the season.
One of the problems Toc might face as newcomers to South Lancs and Cheshire 2 is their lack of knowledge about the other teams in the league and their key players.
And so it was with Liverpool Collegiate, who were first up for the 1st XV as the season proper got under way on a beautiful day on Merseyside.
To say Toc’s information about the home team was inaccurate would be a huge understatement. That said, a cursory glance at last season's league table clearly suggested a demanding afternoon - but, even so, the home side were much stronger and more technically adept in the pack than Toc had been led to believe.
Now they know. And that, allied to a direct, skilful and powerful gameplan, made the home side a formidable test.
Toc dominated possession in the opening exchanges without creating much against a very well-organised and physical blitz defence. Playing with the wind and the slope, Collegiate soon got some momentum and were quick to capitalise on the go-forward ball they created around the fringes. The home side's number 8 and scrum-half were key in creating space in behind the Toc defence and a series of successive hard carries yielded two relatively easy scores to put Didsbury immediately up against it.
The visitors rallied and some fluid, high-tempo phase play started to stretch the Collegiate defence on a very tight pitch. The game itself was tight after 25 minutes. Collegiate looked threatening but Toc also showed glimpses of their quality with ball in hand. Much of the threat came from wing Rory Gibson who crossed mid-way through the first half for what looked like a certain score before spilling the ball over the line. A try then could have changed the momentum of the first half, which Collegiate totally dominated for the fifteen minute period before the break, scoring three times.
Their scrum was imposing and their ability to create quick, front-foot ball gave them a solid attacking base which they used well. They were also helped by Toc uncharacteristically falling off some tackles and a very curious turnover which led to a breakaway try from inside their own half. There was no argument with their try on the stroke of half time. A well-executed strike move from a scrum saw their handy full-back break through and score from 50 metres.
It put the home side in a commanding position at the break. The scoreboard read 29-0. That was not an accurate reflection of the balance of play and that was categorically borne out in the second half. Toc changed their approach at half-time and soon started to get some joy. By hitting wide channels earlier it made Collegiate's strong inside defence less influential. Gaps and favourable match-ups soon started to appear.
The first of Toc's four second half tries - which earned them a bonus point - came through some expansive and creative team attack which was expertly finished off by Gibson in the corner for number one of his two second half scores. Prop Mark Chambers was next on the score sheet, busting over from short range to round off another exhaustive, penetrating attack.
The wide channels - which weren't very wide - were by now proving fertile attacking ground for Toc and their backs were relishing a following breeze and the significant slope. The tempo at which the team played also looked to be causing its fair share of problems.
From one break, wing Tom Makin chipped ahead to gather his own kick and score and two further tries were saved by some excellent last ditch defence from the home side. The last 20 minutes was all Toc. The line breaks and gaps which seemed so hard to find in the first half were becoming glaring obvious in the final passages of the game.
Make no mistake, Collegiate's dominance in the first half made them worthy winners of this opening encounter. But against a bigger, more physical outfit, Toc's players stood up well. That is testament depth of the club's playing base, which is going to be crucial to the club this season, and with ten of the squad missing from this opening league encounter it was a commendable effort.
One would think, on this evidence, that Collegiate will be among the better sides in the league this season - but we just don't know.
MOM – Harry Rigby
Next game: Oldershaw (a), September 9.