Head coach Abe Kerr reports:
Off the back of a pleasing cup result against Cambridge the week before, MK Wolves travelled to Hitchin on Saturday to face reigning league and cup champions North Herts Crusaders, who had not lost a match in nearly 2 seasons.
Prior to kick off there were several late withdrawals and a few players in the match day squad carrying injuries which would ultimately result in there being no fit bench players by the end of the game. However, what a game it was!
Crusaders started the brighter taking advantage of a Wolves knock-on and offside giving them 3 sets of tackles in the Wolves half. This pressure ultimately led to Crusaders taking a lead on 5 minutes with an unconverted try.
The pace of the game was very different to the week before and Wolves knew they had to weather the storm and secure some ball.
This they did and worked their way downfield using the ball expansively before some individual brilliance secured them a try on 15 minutes.
With 3 defenders in front of him, Wolves' loose forward Ollie Fountain received the ball 20 yards in from the left touchline on half way. He accelerated, stepped hard and fended off two defenders to put himself in space and headed for the line. The fullback tackled him but only as he planted the ball over the line for great solo try which Scott Aspinall converted making it 6- 4 to Wolves.
For the next 10 minutes there was no score as both sides sought dominance. Crusaders' bigger forwards were making the easier metres with ball in hand and continued to win a succession of penalties which ultimately led to too much pressure for Wolves and another short range try for Crusaders 6 – 8 to the home side.
The Wolves were in determined mood and were gradually beginning to work their way in to the game by completing sets in attack and getting up more quickly in defence. On 32 minutes Aspinall kicked the ball high in the air and it landed within 20m of the Crusaders line. Fountain caught it and despite being tackled offloaded to the supporting Aspinall who ran 15 metres under the posts for the Wolves second try, which he converted for a 12 – 8 lead. Despite a late flurry from Crusaders this was the half –time score.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were always going to be crucial and in that time some errors and penalties gave Crusaders field position in the Wolves half and they scored a well worked try to make it 12 – 12.
Last season the Wolves would probably have struggled to find more gears to match the now bubbling Crusaders but, as in the first half they re-grouped and kept running hard at the Cruasders. The work was being shared out with forwards Ben West, Stuart Tompkinson and Andy Hill making good metres up the middle and Kimo Kirby, Stuart Bowers and Steve Dachtler doing likewise wider out.
A crucial try was scored on 55 minutes as from 25m out Aspinall ran laterally and passed to centre Kyle Gibbings who passed out of contact to a supporting Kimo Kirby who scored wide out right, despite being tackled. It wasn’t converted, making the score 16 – 12 to the Wolves.
The ebb and flow of the game continued with both sides guilty of unforced errors and a mounting injury count amongst the Wolves players.
On 65 minutes the ball was spun left to winger Jake Reynoldson who was held just short. His quick play-the-ball allowed Aspinall to pick up and drive over from 2 metres for another unconverted score, making it 20 – 12 to Wolves.
Crusaders kept pressurising the Wolves and had several sets of tackles in the Wolves 20m but the Wolves refused to crack, heroically defending their line until the ball was theirs again.
From a scrum on their 30m line, Dachtler picked up and fed Fountain who went 20m before passing to Reynoldson who then weaved for a further 40m beating several defenders before scoring just to the left of the posts. Aspinall easily converted and with one minute left victory was secured.
It was a game in which MK's team spirit was fantastic. The satisfaction and relief of such a hard earned victory was clearly etched on all the players' faces at the final whistle. With high-flying King’s Lynn coming to Emerson Valley this Saturday (June 14th) the Wolves will once again have to show a lot of tenacity, skill and team spirit to get another win, and take another big scalp.
There was great news for MK's Under 16s too, who travelled to Hemel Stags for a game earlier in the day, beating the experienced side 50-12 - a result that came two weeks after beating Hemel 50-26 at Emerson Valley.
Euan Starling just pipped match day captain Jake Hodges and centre Ben Savage to the man of the match award with a 4-try haul to add to the hat-trick he scored in the previous match.
The very impressive result came on the back of a much improved performance, where the errors and indiscipline from the previous outing were eradicated.
MK Wolves U16s will now head into this Sunday's four team inter-county tournament full of confidence, as they represent Buckinghamshire Rugby League against Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.