DIDSBURY TOC H 29-37 LIVERPOOL COLLEGIATE
Toc fall just short against a strong Liverpool Collegiate side, which earned the visitors promotion from South Lancs and Cheshire 2.
This was a microcosm of Toc's season: at times they played some dazzling rugby, at tempo and with gusto, but often that was undermined by basic errors and a lack of concentration. Oh, and Toc missed plenty of kicks which, in the scheme of this match at least, proved the difference. 'Twas ever thus.
There were many striking similarities to the start and end of Toc’s season. Same opposition, a baking hot day, a firm pitch and a high scoring game. Ford Lane on days like this - there are few places one would rather be. Three matches took place at home, with wins for the 4s and an excellent performance from the 2s who beat top-of-the-league Glossop.
The 1st XV could make it a hat-trick - but not through lack off effort or endeavour. A high scoring game seemed inevitable given these two teams and the perfect, fast conditions - but at 0-0 after 25 minutes it wasn't the start that had been expected.
Toc had wasted ample opportunities in the first quarter to get on the scoreboard. Five visits to the opposition 22 yielded nothing. Lost lineouts close to the line, two needless penalties in their 22 and some ordinary handling at crucial moments let Liverpool Collegiate off the hook.
After weathering the storm, a disastrous five-ten minutes then saw the away side streak ahead, with Toc gifting them three easy scores - bang, bang, bang. There was a look of shock on the faces of Toc’s players after the first two tries went in. It was hard to believe they trailed by 14 points after being so competitive in - but the manner in which the scores came about, even by Toc's standards, were soft.
Some lessons can be learned from Collegiate, who got promoted after this win after Ford Lane. Their accuracy in the first half was commendable and their tackling and cover defence were exceptional. They gave Toc very little all game; Toc simply cannot say the same.
That didn’t stop a stirring fightback from the home side, though. And Didsbury played some great stuff before the break - some of the best rugby the team has played all season. It saw them level up the try count going into half time at three apiece.
Full-back Rory Gibson opened the scoring in the corner after some aggressive work Tom Makin on the wing. Fly-half Neil Wilkinson then grabbed a couple before the break after converting sustained periods of relentless pressure on the Collegiate line. It was 24-17 to Collegiate at the break. Their full-back was the standout player on the pitch, having kicked beautifully at posts and out of hand, but it could easily have been all square.
Centre Ben Rothwell, one of the finds of the season and a threat all day, cut through just before half-time but some excellent cover defence denied them a scoring opportunity. Then there was the familiar ‘easier-to-score’ moment that has become the hallmark of Toc’s season: the ability to somehow not convert a seemingly obvious situation.
Picture the scene. Wave after wave of pressure close to the Collegiate posts - following big carries from the immense Owen MacIntosh, James Howarth and Harry Rigby - saw Toc manufacture a big short-side three-on-two in the corner, and a glorious mismatch at first receiver. Didsbury were no more than 10 metres from the try line - it is the exact picture the team’s attack is trying to create. Impressive scrum-half Josh Vize - another find this season - fizzes the ball out to Gibson with the usual pace and accuracy.
Gibson - elusive, quick, the team's best one-on-one attacker - must surely step the front five defender in front of him and saunter in. No? Okay. For once, he decides to pass. Before doing so, to his credit, he did bust to the outside which took the man marking him totally out of the equation. So, therefore, our 3 v 2 becomes a 3 v 1 on one on the last man - the winger - in 15 metres of space, now eight metres from the line. If the ball goes to hand, hooker Mike Hyde will walk it in for a try. The pass? It took out the winger…but it also took out Hyde and ended up in touch. Post-match Gibson said it was perfectly weighted; Hyde vehemently disagreed. This is worth mentioning only because those are the kinds of glaring opportunities that Toc have created this season and failed to take. It’s also why in the tight games, against the top four sides, Didsbury have often fallen marginally short.
In the interests of balance in this rambling match report, it should be pointed out that Collegiate, whom Toc played on the opening day of the season, remain the best team they have faced in South Lancs and Cheshire 2. It’s no surprise that they are playing in SLC1 next season. Here, too, they were very well-organised and accurate. They have some excellent players and play an attractive brand of rugby. They stretched their lead in the second-half through their skilful full-back, who broke through on a neatly-time run from a strike move. He then added a well-struck long-range penalty to take his tally in the game to 17 points. Indeed, his boot proved the difference on Saturday.
That meant Toc found themselves once again up against it in the second half. At least this time, unlike in the first period, they hadn’t contributed so much to their own downfall. The fightback came again and the last quarter belonged to the home side.
Rothwell blasted over from close range after some more cohesive attacking play, and a few minutes later Rigby powered over to make it five tries apiece. By this stage, players on both sides were struggling with the pace of play on an energy-sapping day - but by now Toc had regained the momentum. They were camped in the Collegiate half and the away side had started to lose their discipline. Their fly-half got sin binned on the hour for an indiscretion at the breakdown and they briefly went down to 13 players with about ten minutes to play when the scores were agonisingly poised at 29-37. Toc tried everything to break them down - resetting scrums, kicking to corners, tapping and going - they threw everything they had left at Collegiate whose stout defence stood up to the test.
Over the summer Didsbury can reflect on a season of good progress and promising development - they were involved in numerous, exciting games like this over the course of their first season in SLC2. The squad has grown massive in numbers and talent over the past two years - and when one considers the players not on show here it's very promising for the future. Narrowing losing matches to the top teams in this division is something the squad will undoubtedly learn from. But the biggest lesson Toc have to take into next season, is the ability to not beat themselves.
Note from DOR Jamie Peacock:
A special mention must go to winger Dave Hoare, whose body has finally called it a day at 1st XV level. His commitment to this club has been unrivalled. I don't have the stats to hand but his try-scoring record over the past 15 years is incredible. More than twenty a season for 15 seasons is an astonishing effort and I know all the players are very grateful to him for his commitment and attitude. I enjoyed working with Dave when he was 1st XV captain - he was an excellent captain of this club - and he will remain a really popular member of the club in the coming years. The end of season dinner is on May 12th. Makes sure you buy your tickets and buy a Dave a beer.