Toc H get their Lancashire Premier campaign off to a flier against Liverpool St Helens
This was a promising start from Toc H 1st XV who ran out comfortable winners after a typically absorbing and entertaining opening day contest at Moss Lane.
Some early season rustiness was evident on both sides - but Toc’s greater fitness told in the end as they ran in five second-half tries to record one of the best results in the club’s history.
Toc struggled to find their rhythm early in the game, partly due to the wet conditions, which was not conducive to the expansive game they try to play. They were also up against a strong and bulky LSH pack who made sure Toc spent their fair share of the first half defending.
What was clear from early on was that Toc’s mobility would eventually cause the home side some problems. And so it proved, especially in the last 20 minutes, when their accuracy was much better in the wider channels.
The first half was more chaotic with both sides trading blows and creating clear scoring opportunities. LSH were more clinical and set the pace on the scoreboard. A length-of-the-pitch interception try got them moving before Toc replied almost immediately through winger Ben Platt, who strolled over after some neat build-up play.
That good work was undone shortly afterwards when a concerning lapse in concentration left Toc scrambling from a quickly taken lineout. From that, the LSH right-winger raced into the corner to make it 12-5 before their fly-halt slotted a perfect touchline conversion. It was a most disappointing and unavoidable try for Toc to concede. Fortunately, the impressive new signing Harry Jones replied, scything through the LSH midfield, for what will be his first of many tries for the club.
Play remained back and forth for the rest of the half, the highlight being a truly excellent counter-attacking try from LSH, which was later chalked off by winger Rory Gibson who snatched an interception try of his own (21-19 half-time)
Being critical, Toc were not nearly sharp enough in the first half and too often put themselves under pressure with some errant kicking from hand and loose ball retention. There is an acceptance, given the loose style of rugby Toc play, that they will turnover ball but on a wet day and in a tight game some of their ambition looked unnecessary.
That said, maintaining a high tempo in the game was going to prove important in the last quarter of the game. Scrum-half Josh Vize controls that pace really well and through him Didsbury gradually moved through the gears, especially in broken play. In those situations, Toc always looked as if they might create something.
Their open play game was underpinned by a fiercely competitive set-piece - a big focus of pre-season - and their speed around the pitch was causing the home side some headaches at the breakdown. With LSH forced to commit big numbers to rucks, they had to play a direct style off their busy scrum-half. Historically, Toc haven’t always adapted well to this style of rugby - but it’s been a big area of improvement in recent seasons. Some big tackles were made and Didsbury’s completion rate was high all afternoon.
When beaten in wider channels, it was largely down to LSH’s good attacking play. One important move the home side failed to convert came early in the second-half when their winger knocked on with the try-line beckoning. That was a big momentum shift and from that point Toc switched on. The bench made a big difference, too. James Howarth and James Plested moved into the back row and gave the team greater continuity against a tiring LSH pack which was by now struggling to maintain the power they showed in the first 40 minutes. As a result Toc started to see more quick ball.
Another new signing, Harry Anderson, showed real quality and composure at full-back and as the game broke up he made a number of telling breaks. He scored a couple of tries of his own and proved instrumental in setting up some others. Platt was the first to benefit from some Anderson magic and got his second after bundling his way over in the corner. The jury is out as to whether he actually grounded the ball, although he maintains he did. There was no doubt about the try from second-row Owen McIntosh who galloped in under the posts to put Toc in a commanding position about 15 minutes into the second half (22-36).
LSH were reduced to 14 men with about 15 minutes to go after their centre was sent off for dissent and at that point there was no way back for the home side. In drying conditions and on a top-class playing surface, Toc were able to move the ball at will and found plenty of joy on the edges of the LSH defence. Gibson got his second and Anderson scored arguably the try of the game after dotting down from Gibson’s clever chip ahead.
This was an important run out for Toc who had a first look at a number of their new, promising signings. Second-row Andy Alexander, who last season played at Liverpool Collegiate, was an imperious presence at the lineout and busy in open play; Anderson offered ingenuity and pace at full-back. Former Toc H colt, James Plested, who has rejoined from Sale, was a constant threat at the breakdown and centre Luke Richmond, formerly of Garstang and Vale of Lune, is another exciting prospect to look out for in a heavily re-assembled Toc backline. There are a number of players still to come into the mix, notably Chris Morgan, who last played for Otley, and Elliott Hagan, who has impressed all pre-season at outside centre. The most impressive debut, though, was that of hooker Jones, whose aggression and athleticism stood out.
Next game: Aldwinians (home) 3pm, Saturday, September 15.
NOTE: Training on Tuesdays now moves to MMU, Platt Lane on Tuesdays from 8pm. Training on Thursdays will still be at the club from 7pm until the end of September.