Toc H do enough against Littleborough to start 2019 with a win on the road
Great start to the new year for Toc
Toc’s new winger Matt Jones scored a hat-trick on his league debut to help the 1st XV to a deserved away win against Littleborough.
The victory moves Didsbury into third in the ADM Premier Division, with a game in hand after the Oldham postponement.
But after leading 19-0 at half-time Toc will be disappointed to have left Hollingworth Lane without a bonus point.
Having not been in action for the best part of a month, some rustiness was expected. It duly arrived in the second-half, where Toc struggled to get going in attack and, on the rare occasions they did, their efforts were too often undone by spilling the ball or getting penalised.
Nevertheless, Littleborough is a difficult place to go - not one member of the Toc side had ever been on the winning side there - and with the slope and the wind in their favour in the second half, Littleborough were much more of a threat and had a lot more of the ball.
On a heavy pitch and with good options on the bench, Toc were very keen to play up the slope and into the wind in the first period. The prospect of some free yardage in the second half against some tiring legs was very appealing. Unfortunately for Toc, Littleborough had a similar idea and they won the toss. Toc’s focus was then to put the game to bed by half-time.
That plan started well enough. Didsbury looked sharp and dominated possession in the early stages, with Jones finishing off in the corner after a series of probing runs from captain Harry Rigby, Tom Makin and second row Owen McIntosh.
Scrum-half Josh Vize was again instrumental in keeping Toc's attack ticking over. He, along with some threatening running from full-back Rory Gibson, helped the team maintain their attacking momentum for most of the first half. Barring one line-break from the home side, Toc were generally camped in the opposition half and spent a lot of time in their 22.
Littleborough defended strongly for most of the afternoon and made Toc work hard for every metre - but left-winger Jones was clearly the big difference. He looked a yard sharper and a touch stronger than everyone else on the pitch.
Jones’ three tries were all neat finishes in the left corner, two from well-executed strike moves, one the result of his own power and ingenuity.
He joins the club from Bath University, same as Vize, and, like Vize, has by all accounts already made his presence felt on Burton Road as well as at Ford Lane.
All of a sudden with fellow winger Chris Morgan returning to fitness, utility back Seb Sheratte available every weekend and centres Luke Richmond and Ben Rothwell back in the UK after heavy festive social calendars, Toc have some enviable options to choose from in the backs.
A couple of other new players are also joining, too, both of whom move to Manchester at the end of the month, so it’s good timing as far as the season’s big fixtures are concerned.
Jones’ excellence was helped by full-back Gibson, in assist mode, who then slotted two conversions from the touchline which established a healthy lead with roughly 25 minutes played.
One of the scores came shortly after Littleborough were reduced to 14 men following a high tackle on the excellent Ben Platt. That period leading up to half-time therefore presented the perfect scenario for Toc to move into an unassailable lead - but they couldn’t capitalise. Silly mistakes allowed Littleborough off the hook at key moments.
It also appeared as if a bit of fatigue kicked into the visitors around the half-hour mark. Until then, Toc had showed plenty of adventure and were counter-attacking well. After the half hour mark, they too often kicked the ball away unconvincingly and lacked some of the intensity of the opening exchanges. Typically, their defence remained hungry and organised throughout and having had most of the ball and territory, Toc understandably felt in control leading 19-0 at half-time.
Only one team lifted their level after the break - and that was Littleborough. Their attacking game was suddenly much slicker and they were putting Toc under much more pressure.
Didsbury had made several changes - all quality players brought it - but that seemed to upset the rhythm of the team. The task in front of them was also much harder: as the pitch heavied, the slope took its toll and the wind felt stronger - even if it wasn’t.
Defensively, though, Toc remained fairly comfortable before gifting Littleborough a route back into the game via an interception which their right winger gratefully ran in from the half-way line.
The second half became a scrappier affair and both sides started to look a bit frantic, with Toc trying to pull clear and ‘Boro trying to fight their way back into the game.
After some fleeting glimpses of the Littleborogh line, it was the hosts who eventually made the breakthrough, bundling over from a tap penalty from close range.
At 14-19, it made for a tense last five minutes in a game that had seen Toc’s total dominance of the first half slowly ebb away.
Visions of a bonus point forgotten, they just needed to shut the game out and did so by playing some sensible, simple and combative rugby.
So, no bonus point - but still plenty of encouragement for Toc. Not least the fact that having seen how difficult Littleborough can be to play against at home, Hollingworth Lane will clearly be a challenging place for other teams needing a similar result.
January is potentially a season-defining month for Toc. There is a cup match against league leaders West Park St Helens next weekend at MMU (2.15ko)*, followed by Widnes at home the following week, who have now won eleven matches on the spin. The following weekend, January 26th, it’s West Park St Helens away in the league. So, some big games coming up.
*The league has now informed clubs that MMU is our home venue (after the Oldham game was postponed on the grounds that we didn’t give them 300 days’ notice about a change of venue.)