The Penrith side that took the field at Alrincham knew exactly what they had to do to avoid relegation, Ed Swale’s late try the week before ensured their fate was in their own hands. Win and score four tries and it didn’t matter what happened elsewhere, Level 5 rugby would be guaranteed. They made it with a dogged display but you couldn’t have written the script.
To say they were focused was a vast understatement, you could feel the tension in the warm up before the game, in fact you could almost touch it and they started the game in determined mood. Other than conceding a penalty at the first set scrum to go three points down they totally dominated the first quarter.
Their mindset was on scoring tries and penalties were kicked to the corners, it may have been wiser to secure the win first and look to score tries in the later stages but it certainly paid off early in the game. From a penalty to the corner the Penrith forwards secured the ball at the lineout and drove for the line, they were held up and the maul went to ground, when the ball appeared it was snapped up by Paul Newton
who sniped down the blind side and crossed to ease the visitor’s nerves.
Penrith scored their second try shortly afterwards in very similar circumstances but this time it was the rampaging James Thornton who crossed for the try, this time converted by Steve Wood for a 12-3 lead. Penrith were not however having it all their own way, it seemed all their energies were focused on scoring the four tries and this was reflected in their defending which at times was poor and the home team although at the foot of the league were no fools with the ball in hand. They had a try disallowed for a double movement before Penrith grabbed their third try.
From a scrum deep in the home 22 the Cumbrian forwards set up a drive and were held up time and time again right on the Altrincham line, they battered away and when the ball eventually came to the backs the cover had been sucked in and a wide ball to Mike Hawley
saw him cut through to score.
Penrith looked as if they might have the game and the try count wrapped up by half time but it was not going to be that easy. Although playing with great spirit they weren’t as fluent or as clinical as they can be and it wasn’t bad to see the nerves were jangling. A scoring pass went to ground, a ball was kicked dead which brought play back to half way, a kick to the corner was missed, all down to the pressure of the situation they were in. Altrincham did hit back and scored a well worked converted try and half time came with a 17-10 lead and three tries scored. I’m sure everyone would have taken that at kick off but it could have been in the bag.
Penrith started the second period on the offensive but a string of mistakes saw them defending an attacking lineout 5m out. The home lineout functioned well all afternoon and this one was no exception and they won possession and rumbled over for a converted try that levelled the scores, this wasn’t in the script.
Penrith came back and with 20 minutes to go worked the same trick, penalty to the corner, lineout won and drive for the line. This time the drive was not held up and the visitor’s pack were shunted over their own line for Mike Stephens
to claim the score. Penrith’s improved form in the last month and Stephen’s work shift pattern changing allowing him to play every week are not unconnected.
That was the fourth try and back with their noses in from, job done? No, the home side with nothing to play for as they were already relegated have to be admired for the positive attitude, they refused to lie down and came back hard at the visitors. Whether they thought they had completed the job or they just lost concentration was not clear but the outcome was poor tackling on Penrith’s part allowed some good running rugby to lead to a converted try for the home side.
Penrith now with their four tries in the bag trailed by two points with ten minutes to go and that definitely wasn’t in the script. They still trailed with two minutes to go and were desperately attacking when awarded a penalty some 30m out. Kicks at goal had been spurned all game but Wood now stepped up to take this one. It on the wrong side of the field for him as a right footer and he had not kicked as well as he can, only one conversion out of four which is most unusual. He was calmness itself and stroked it over, one point ahead and two minutes to play.
Hearts were in mouths as the game restarted, any sort of score for the home side was curtains at this stage but they needn’t have worried, for once. Turnover ball was secured on half way, Gary Hodgson
ran the ball up and looked to have been stopped a couple of times but wouldn’t be knocked down, he took play up to the 22 and the ball came wide, Gavin Young
ran it in and with two defenders trying to take him down played the ball out of the tackle to skipper Mike Raine
who had the line at his mercy and went in under the posts. Wood chipped the conversion over, the final whistle went and relief was palpable.
Penrith’s whole season on show on one afternoon, the good the bad and the ugly! Perhaps a little unfair but thoughts can now turn to the County Cup Final and preparations for another season at this level and two derby games against Kendal.