Park banish memories of five months ago with resurgent performance
FIVE months ago an under-strength Manor Park were being put to the sword by a ruthless Old Coventrians outfit.
The reality of promotion and step up in class was being made abundantly clear – especially when someway short of a first-choice squad to choose from.
But on Saturday afternoon on the first day of April, head coach Kevin Venus’ side proved that they belong at this level of rugby with a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
While the squad was stronger for this encounter on a bright spring afternoon, selection headaches were plentiful as three changes in circumstance overnight into Saturday forced three further promotions from the second team.
Old Coventrians, buoyed by a fine win over Ledbury last weekend, started the game strongly and opened the scoring when a spilt line out was snatched by a quick-thinking forward who powered over in the corner.
The visitors were being put into superb field positions by the booming kicks of their fly-half, allied by an efficient line out. But Park held firm, time and again. Big tackles, honest defence and seizing upon spilt possession kept Old Coventrians at bay.
Manor needed to relieve the pressure that was building and with one sparkling counter attack they were level. Scrum-half Liam Rose span the ball blind from a quickly recycled ruck for Dan Joyce to race away from outside the 22 to score despite the best efforts of two covering tacklers.
Old Coventrians had further opportunities to retake the lead before the interval but some key penalty turnovers ensured the sides would go into the break with an unconverted try each and the scores level.
Venus introduced Gaz Hammond from the bench for his first appearance since the home victory over Shipston in mid-January – and it proved to be a key moment in the game.
Alongside Lineker Lashley and Mark Wickett, the back row got through a fantastic second half of graft – and they were by no means alone.
Stephen Ballard, back in the hooker’s role after starting at number eight, was straight on the money with his line outs and aside from a five-minute spell towards the end of the second 40 minutes – the half belonged to Manor Park.
The hosts took the lead when strong work at the breakdown afforded captain Chris Goode the opportunity to pick up and burrow over from close range. Chris Morewood struck a superb conversion from wide out on the left-hand side of the pitch to take him into treble figures for the season.
One of the game’s crucial moments followed as Morewood put his side two scores ahead with a sweetly-hit penalty from 35 metres out.
Shell-shocked from a turnaround in their fortunes, Old Coventrians struggled to keep up with Park’s intensity as they ran hard and strong with locks Michael Kemp and Craig Morris two of the main yard makers while Matt Green weighed in with his usual hard yards to keep his side on the ascendancy.
While Goode’s first try was a poacher’s score, his second was pure inspiration that defied the number on his back. The loosehead sensed the opposition were not lined up for a penalty and tapped from the 22. After stepping a prop he managed to evade further defensive efforts to wrestle over and score.
At 22-5 and with 10 minutes left to play the win was seemingly in the bag – but then Old Coventrians hit top gear and showed examples of just how good they can be when everything clicks.
A wonderful backs move from a setpiece freed up a winger to finish superbly. And alarmingly soon afterwards, the visiting backs division repeated the trick with another slick move and suddenly, with two conversions secured, it was a three-point ball game.
The bonus point seemed to have been secured along with the victory when Hammond wriggled free but a covering tackle dislodged the ball and Old Coventrians threatened to attack from behind their own line – but the ball was kicked away when the counter attack seemed ominously available.
Morewood had another chance from the tee to extend his side’s lead but his long-range effort drifted just wide – but it did gobble up another minute as Park closed out the game to joyous cheers from a swelled side line of supporters.
The win was Manor Park’s ninth of the campaign and ensured a second season of Midlands 3 West South rugby for next season. But with three games remaining, one more than their rivals around them, Park’s destiny is in their own hands to improve on their current eighth position – starting with a trip to Old Leamingtonians on Saturday, April 8.