Melbourne Muster Muddy Win
Melbourne RFC 24 - 12 Wolverhampton RFC
Melbourne welcomed Wolverhampton to Cockshut Lane on a damp and drizzly Saturday afternoon. The option of using a 3G pitch was offered to Wolverhampton ahead of the game but the preferred choice of good old grass and mud was quickly accepted by the visitors.
Stepping off the team bus Wolverhampton looked strong and confident. Melbourne themselves were buoyed by the returning Walker, Watts and Stringer to the squad whilst Coyne and Hancock were unavailable through injury.
In the previous fixture earlier in the season the two sides had fought to a draw but Wolverhampton had had the superiority in the set-piece and tight and Melbourne new that they would face a stern test in the conditions presented.
From the whistle Melbourne received the kick and began to gain ascendency in the game. Despite the poor condition Melbourne went through. a multitude of phases taking play from their own half deep into Wolverhamptons 22 and sustained pressure on the visitors only to see their hard work undone by the movement of accidental crossing. It was evident that Wolverhamptons strengths in the game were going to be lying with their forwards as the big men took on the challenge of hard carries.
The hard yards and strong carries of Day, Percival, Walker and Lockhart got the green&gold onto the front foot a number of times but it was the vision and decision making of when to release the ball that saw the green&gold slice open the visitors defence. On several occasions it was Benstead, Judge and Stephenson latching onto a pass and beating the defender to space to give Melbourne the opportunity to get behind Wolverhampton.
Nightingale was being ruthless in the contact area, squeezing the life out of the opposition with his breakdown work and turning over on a couple of key exchanges. In stark contrast to the previous meeting it was Melbourne who dominated the scrum exchanges and had a strong line out to build from.
Melbournes efforts were reward after the fifteen minute mark. From inside Melbourne's own half the ever present Judge hit the tackle line at pace and taking a short pass to beat the defender. Once behind the line the second row continued to press beating three covering defenders with a combination of footwork and shear speed to touch down left of the posts. The score was converted by Holden.
The green&gold continued to press and shortly later a three point penalty was duly accepted and once again converted by Holden to extend the lead to 10 - 0. Howard was withdrawn for HIA and Nicholson entered the fray coming into the second row.
Melbourne were showing good control but with the conditions deteriorating the game became simplified by Wolverhampton whose pick and goes began to get them going forwards. It was through multiple phases and good ball retention that there first score came which unsuccessfully converted. 10 - 5 at the half time whistle.
The second half saw Watts and Purce enter the action replacing Day and Nightingale. The fresh legs were tasked with bringing further intensity to the game. It was unexpected at how soon that would be evidenced as Watts hit a superb ins line from the centre channels to barrel over the line for Melbourne's second try of the game - once again converted by Holden. 17 - 5
Wolverhampton were rallying however and their powerful forwards began to carry exceptionally well testing Melbourne's defence which was well up to the fight. Despite their best efforts and obvious calls within their line Melbourne began to get punished for being offside which from our vantage point was at times a little harsh. Never to be deterred the green&gold dug deep and the physicality of their hits counted and the visitors were being well thwarted in their efforts. Just reward, and fair play to their resilience and determination, was around the corner as Wolverhampton built some sustained pressure through the forwards and easily usurped twenty continuous phases to eventually crash and wriggle the ball over the Melbourne line using the muddy conditions to slide forward taking the scores to 17 - 12.
The green&gold kept their confidence and composure and despite the regressing conditions managed to orchestrate a fine third try as the forwards linked with the backline who spread the ball through the centres to the far wide channel where the Wolverhampton defence were stretched and allowed winger Stephenson to touch down. Despite the conversion being on touchline Holden converted the additional points.
24 - 12.
The remainder of the game was Melbourne's who pushed for a fourth try, they were reduced to 14 when Percival was harshly yellow carded as the ref stated he couldn't identify who was at fault for not releasing in the tackle and decided Jack was the last man in his line of vision! Wolverhamptons resilience must be credited and the opportunity for a fourth score never fully presented itself despite being camped in the visitors half.
With the game being dictated by the regressing conditions of a wet and muddy pitch the green and gold should be proud of their performance which showed real maturity and a doggedness of fine old times that are reminiscent of the golden amateur era & old days of our glorious sport - the winner of the mud covered Fran Cotton award however goes to Alex Nightingale!
Trys - A Judge, Watts and Stephenson
Kicks - Holden 9 points
YC - Percival
MOTM - A Judge