Toc left hanging on in a dramatic game against Aldwinians at home
Dramatic first home game of the season for the 1st XV
For most of this game Toc felt and looked comfortable - but they tried their best to throw it away thanks to an error-strewn last quarter.
Toc demonstrated the different sides to their character at various points in the opening game of the season at Ford Lane. They often looked dangerous with ball in hand, showing adventure and ambition, but they weren’t nearly clinical enough in the opposition 22 or in the way they managed the game.
What was evident on Saturday was a better defensive attitude which is slowly cutting down the unhealthy number of easy tries that made life so difficult last season. Aldwinians scored three - but they were made to work hard for all of them.
To put it bluntly, Didsbury made far too many basic mistakes in attack. They forced a powerful Aldwinians side to defend for decent periods - but more often than not they met that challenge and forced easy turnovers.
The visitors opened the scoring after a blistering start - but Toc gradually edged their way into the game, increasing their share of possession and field position. Given Toc’s obvious dominance at the scrum, which caused the visitors problems for most of the afternoon, the home side should have been further ahead at the break. That was largely down to the repeatedly clueless and risky offloading which saw Didsbury pass up several good scoring opportunities.
Full-back Rory Gibson got Toc on the board with a penalty before the excellent James Howarth finished off a flowing move in the left corner. Toc scored again through captain Harry Rigby after a sustained period of pressure to take a 15-5 lead into half time.
Aldwinians may feel aggrieved that an obvious knock-on from a good chance of their own went unspotted by the referee shortly before half-time - but there were a number of calls that left Toc confused in the second half. What’s more, Saturday’s refereeing performance was noticeably more assured and consistent than what Toc have become used to.
This was developing into the sort of game Toc ended up losing last season, so it is pleasing that the side showed the character to pull through.
But, just as with last season, Didsbury found themselves in an entirely avoidable position with 15 minutes to go. A combination of ultra high-risk offloading and decision-making will catch up with them eventually, especially when the scoreboard is tight.
That said, on a day that Toc’s attack misfired the defence stood up. After an early lapse in concentration, it looked organised and combative for the most part. Outside-centre Elliott Hagan and the back row pair of Howarth and Mark Harrison were excellent. Jonny Naish got through a mountain of work in defence - and carried the ball with real intent in attack - and mention must also go to new signing Will Rayner who was called into action after influential second-row Owen McIntosh picked up an injury in the first few minutes.
The second-half started better than the first for Toc, who stretched their lead to 22-8 after winger Tom Makin scored a neat try from roughly five-metres out. But as other half chances continued to go begging, Aldwinians grew into the game as their tidy half-backs started to exert some control.
By now their big midfield ball-carriers were also getting some joy, consistently winning the gainline and looking dangerous with ball in hand.
Unfortunately Toc’s bench wasn’t having the same impact as last week and they lost some impetus on both sides of the ball. However, the team’s attitude and commitment remained solid - even after conceding a second try that looked suspiciously like obstruction.
There were no complaints about Winnies’ third - the best try of the game - as they worked the wide channels brilliantly to sneak into the corner. The touchline kick was made, making the score 25-22 with five minutes to go.
Didsbury kicked poorly as they tried to get out of their half and they almost completely imploded after conceding a penalty for crossing in their own 22 - from a knock-on advantage - as they tried to run the ball from under their own posts.
Credit to Winnies, they could have taken the draw at 25-22 - but they were intent on the win. Fortunately for Toc they then switched back on and brilliantly defended a five-metre scrum and lineout to shut them out.
The glorious sight of scrum-half Josh Vize kicking the ball high into the trees behind the posts brought a great dose of relief - but even in victory that faltering last 20 minutes left an unsavoury taste in the mouth.
The good news is that Didsbury made it two wins from two and can play much, much better than they did here. The Toc forwards' effort on Saturday was relentless and commendable; the backs should have made much more of the attacking platform they were given.
Next Week: Oldham (away) 3pm.