Holmes Chapel 10 - 3 Prenton
Chapel do The Double!!
Holmes Chapel 1st XV made it a double-winning season last Sunday as they defeated an extremely tough Prenton side to take home the Cheshire Plate to go alongside their South Lancashire & Cheshire 3 League Championship. On a warm and sunny day at New Brighton Rugby Club, both teams showed 100% commitment in a low-scoring but full-blooded encounter, with Chapel cheered on by the huge numbers of supporters that had made the trip west.
Captain Ed Meyrick had targeted this trophy from the beginning of the season, and Chapel had easily progressed through the group stages, only having to play 4 of their 6 scheduled qualifying fixtures before knocking out Ellesmere Port in the semi-finals. Prenton had been equally impressive in their route to the final, finishing top of their group and overcoming Ramsey in the last four. Both league games between Chapel and Prenton had been close, hard-fought affairs with a 5-5 draw at Station Road in September and an 11-3 victory for Chapel on the Wirral in January.
Chapel kicked off and immediately put their opponents under pressure, dominating the early stages and creating the first opportunity to put points on the board when Prenton conceded a penalty within kicking range. Kristian Clowes was unable to register the 3 points, but Chapel remained in the opposition half and continued to look the more likely to score. When a promising backs move broke down near the try line, the pacy Prenton winger hacked the ball upfield and showed some good footballing skills to take the ball all the way to the Chapel line. A try looked on the cards until Australian Ethan Gould proved just faster than his opposite number and cleaned up the ball to save the day.
Prenton held a massive size advantage in the forwards and were looking to put pressure on the Chapel scrum. Despite the weight difference, Paul Watson and Ian Lightfoot at prop were managing to hold their own and secure possession. A better source of attacking ball came from the lineout, with hooker Neil Almond constantly hitting his targets of Jim Ainsworth and Jon Griffin. The Chapel tackling was also very strong, with second row Mark Mcenaney in particular making some big hits.
After half an hour, the Chapel forwards set off on another ‘catch-and-drive’, with their smaller pack shoving their opponents backwards. The ball was sent along the backline, with Andy Fyffe and Lee Cagna combining to put Danny Kennedy in space. He beat the first man before outpacing the covering full-back to touch down for the first try of the game. Clowes shrugged off his earlier miss to nail the difficult kick and put Chapel 7-0 ahead.
The Prenton forwards were as combative as ever in the battle up front, and this was occasionally spilling over into indiscipline, which helped Chapel to stay on the front foot. Shortly before half time, the touch judge notified the referee of some over-enthusiastic rucking from their tighthead prop who was invited to spend 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
During the interval, Coach Rick Clarke urged his men to keep going as Prenton were by no means out of the contest. Sure enough, the opening minutes of the second half saw Chapel fail to take advantage of the extra man and their opponents returned to a full complement with no further damage to the scoreboard. With 20 minutes remaining, Chapel carved out several scoring opportunities with Prenton being forced to concede penalties to keep them out. Eventually, Meyrick settled for the simple 3 points and Clowes knocked over the penalty for a 10-0 lead.
Only a few minutes later, some argy-bargy off the ball led to the Prenton second row – who had been having a great game in the tight exchanges – being shown the yellow card for retaliation against Chapel Number 8 Mike Cottam. With replacements Ed O’Hare, Dom Moss, and Mark Concar providing fresh legs, Chapel just needed to keep playing in the opposition half and wind down the clock. However, a minor scuffle led to Prenton being given a chance to narrow the deficit, and their outside half kicked a brilliant penalty goal to bring the score to 10-3 with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Prenton were now throwing everything into the attack, with the Chapel defence working overtime to hang onto their lead. With such an accurate kicker, even a score in the corner could have been enough to send the game into extra time and undo all Chapel’s hard work. The final 5 minutes seemed to last an age, with some key moments sending Chapel over the finish line. Moss made an outstanding tackle in front of his own posts with Neil Almond winning the penalty as the ball carrier refused to release possession. This temporarily cleared the danger but Prenton came back and were awarded a penalty that they chose to run through the forwards. Chapel put in one last defensive stand that knocked the huge Prenton runners backwards and eventually allowed them to turn possession over and hack the ball away. In the dying seconds, Cagna intercepted the ball in midfield and sliced it into touch for the last action of the game.
After the match Meyrick was presented with the trophy by the Cheshire RFU President, as the players and supporters celebrated an extremely hard-earned victory. Clarke had told the team before the game that they were playing for everyone who had ever been involved in the club, from the original founders to the lads who kept the club going through difficult times over the years, and each player had risen to the challenge. Club Chairman Mike Corfield said “to win the double is an incredible achievement for a small village club and everyone involved should be extremely proud of themselves”. Corfield paid special tribute to Meyrick and Clarke who he said had been “inspirational all season”.
The players will now take a well-earned break until pre-season training restarts in the summer. There is plenty of work to do with the club competing at their highest level ever next year, but for now everyone should enjoy the moment. There will be one last chance for celebration at the Annual Dinner and Awards Evening at Cranage Hall on Friday 21 May where the success of both teams will be acknowledged and the end of season awards given out.
Holmes Chapel RUFC would like to thank all of the players, coaches, supporters, committee members, sponsors, physios, and everyone else who has helped the club to its most successful season ever, and looks forward to seeing everyone back again for the 2010/11 season.