Slender margins as Manor Park run out of steam after breaking the ice against AEI Rugby
IF AEI Rugby do progress to play Midlands league rugby next season – they will look back at wins like this one as to reasons why they made that bold step.
Once known as a predominantly veterans outfit, AEI now possess a clutch of young players who are more than ready for the challenges that would face them at Level 10 rugby.
One such talent is fly-half Chris Halcrow whose second-half penalty denied Manor Park victory on the snow-covered pitches in Hillmorton.
Manor Park held a 14-point lead going into the final 30 minutes of the game after Andy Checkley and debutant Callum Ross touched down for the visitors.
But AEI rallied from their ominous position to score tries through Shane Hunt and Eric Telford with Halcrow converting one before his match-winning penalty settled the encounter.
Following Manor Park’s 34-20 victory in September’s corresponding fixture, another keenly-contested game was played out against an AEI Rugby side with ambitions of joining the Midlands rugby set up next season.
Manor Park’s hopes of travelling with a 20-plus squad were stifled by a series of late cry offs and, even worse, a couple of no shows without contact.
Captained by Callum Bishop, the Park side had two front row players on the bench and early into proceedings Elliot Lucas was forced from the field of play with a head injury.
Michael Crockwell made a welcome return to action as Bobby Bridge switched to the back row and Adam Cousins joined fellow forward Stephen Ballard in the backs.
Park’s scrum dominance was anchoring their early attacking play and it was from the base of a close-range setpiece they took the lead. Andy Checkley gathered from the number eight position before powering over in the corner. Chris Morewood expertly converted.
Unfortunately Park’s superiority at scrum time was not converted into more points as the match official embarked upon a variety of ways to seemingly restore parity.
But the men in red and black were also guilty of their own downfall with loose play from the back of their scrum giving AEI chances to clear from danger.
Into the second-half and a quick transfer of possession saw Park break into the host’s 22 and Ross, making his debut for the club out of position on the wing, raced home for a converted try.
AEI cycled around their subs and it proved crucial as Manor legs tired and tackles began to slip, with two tries and one conversion bringing them back to within a point.
The decision which led to the penalty that decided the game can certainly be questioned, but there was no questioning Halcrow’s skills from the tee as he put AEI for the first time in the game.
Manor threatened on a number of occasions to wrestle back the lead with Josh Carvell breaking superbly from the back of a scrum and when Jak Watson made inroads, Bridge was held up over the line. Christian Smith was also bundled into touch from close range.
Ultimately the defence held out, with flanker Matthew West making one final turnover, as AEI secured victory to avenge September’s defeat at the Griff and Coton.