Malvern Machine Purrs to Promotion
Malvern 53 Crewe and Nantwich 12
There was an air of nervousness amongst the home supporters at the start of this promotion playoff match at Spring Lane on Saturday. Nothing was known about the visitors from Cheshire, apart from the fact that they had a big pack and had clocked up some large scores in recent weeks. Crewe and Nantwich started well after an early Malvern run, winning a couple of penalties and a shot at goal, which drifted wide. Malvern settled into their normal game and went on the attack, running the ball from deep and Luke Milton. making his 150th appearance for the Spring Lane side, followed up some fine work by the pack to take the ball to the away 22. That move broke down, but with the side playing with an intensity which the visitors found hard to contain, went on the attack once more, Tom Hale cutting inside and freeing the overlap for Ben King to go over in the corner. Malvern again attacked on the restart, harrying the defence and forcing a snatched clearance kick. Turning over the ball, Milton again showed his silky skills, linking with his skipper, whose chip ahead went to touch. From the lineout Malvern won a scrum and they showed that technique bettered bulk as they released the ball quickly across the line for Hale to score in the corner. Milton was again in action in the next two phases as he joined the line and the ball was fed to Dan Batty to power through and score. Rob Cook converted and Crewe were already looking down the barrel, needing 3 scores to get back into the game. They won a scrum, but the speed of the home defence was such that they could only make a hasty clearance. From the lineout the Milton/Hale duo were again in evidence before a crossfield kick nearly racked up another try. However, a penalty had been signalled and from the subsequent lineout standoff Adam Dixon made a break and fed the ball back inside for half back partner Frankie Purcell to score and give Cook an easy two points.
Malvern were playing with such fluidity that the huge crowd were purring at the quality of fare set before them. Even when Crewe had possession, the defence was so intense that they could make no headway. Sam Parsons, Jack Longley and Jack Curtis were demons at the breakdown, Adam Green and Jon Bywater provided grunt which couldn't be matched by their heavier counterparts in the engine room and the young front row of Liam Roleston, Glen Potter and Kai Alton with backup Callum Jacob outmatched their more experienced opposition. In fact it was Roleston who struck next, living up to his "fastest prop" tag as he charged through to score, Cook's conversion giving a 31-0 cushion at the break.
From the restart Malvern won a penalty and Cook duly slotted it over, Crewe wasted another penalty chance before a Malvern penalty drifted wide. However, from the 22 kick Malvern gathered and Milton danced through four tackles to go over, Cook again converting. Malvern continued to dominate play as they rang the personnel changes, but it was Crewe who struck next as they won a penalty, drove upfield and worked a good try. Malvern's response was almost immediate as the again drove into the away 22 area, forcing a fumble which Jack Longley gleefully seized upon, pirouetting through Jason Robinson-style with a double shimmy to score. Cook slotted the conversion and even the rather harsh sin binning of replacement scrum half Laurie Essenhigh didn't phase the team. With old heads Richard Hobbs and Dave Smith now on the field they continued to dictate play. Although Crewe pulled a score back from a well worked move after a penalty, and they tried to break the stranglehold, it was the Spring Lane men who finished with panache. Several attacks threatened the Cheshiremen's line before a Malvern scrum fittingly saw Cook set away to put an end to proceedings with the final try.
The match was a fine advert for running rugby, and although well beaten, the Crewe players and committee were fulsome in their praise for the Malvern performance. The cameraderie shown by the gracious visitors proved that the spirit of rugby is still alive and well in the Midlands, and Malvern now look forward to renewing some old rivalries next season.
Meanwhile they look to a difficult visit to North Shropshire on Saturday when they take on an unbeaten Whitchurch side in the semi-final of the Noth Midlands Shield. There will be a team coach - supporters are encouraged to travel also.