BIRKENHEAD 29 PENRITH 21
PENRITH FALL JUST SHORT
Penrith made their way home from the Wirrell ultimately disappointed at not claiming the third promotion spot to the national leagues but happy that had given everything on the day. Birkenhead Park had home advantage as their record at the end of the season was better than Penrith's and that was about the difference between the sides. The Cumbrians would have been very disappointed if they had lost at home.
Their pre-match build up had not been perfect, ex-captain and second forward Ryan Johnson became a father for the second time in the small hours of Saturday morning, he had still hoped to make the game but was ultimately was unable to do so. No one was using this as any sort of excuse as Phil Gardham moved off the bench and started in his place and had an excellent game, it did mean the side was not finalised until shortly before kick off.
Any uncertainty was not apparent as Penrith were fast out of the blocks, they should have probably scored from the first play of the game. The home side cleared their lines up the middle of the field, Jon Fell took a difficult high ball under pressure and Penrith went through the phases until they were on the home line, The Birkenhead defence was thoroughly tested as they were pinned on their line. Both Penrith props, young Adam Howe and Arran Sullivan had charges stopped just inches short, their efforts resulted in a penalty that was kicked to the corner but they were unable to take advantage of it.
The Winters Park men did take the lead shortly after, George Graham tidied up loose scrum ball and fed the backs, Jamie McNaughton found the gap and broke the line and made ground to the 22 and the home side were penalised at the breakdown. Mike Fearon stroked the penalty over, he then had the chance of a second when Graham was taken out in the air but it was a much longer shot and it went wide.
The home side seemed to play in patches, playing within themselves for a while and then putting together some storming play. They were a big well organised outfit and when they put it together they looked pretty formidable. They were next on the scoreboard running back a clearance kick with some pace, only a try saving tackle by Graham stopped the initial effort but their forwards set up a driven maul and rumbled over for a clinical try.
Fearon restored Penrith's lead with a second well struck penalty after Harlan Corrie was the subject of a high tackle. The home side were then camped on the Penrith line, they had three successive 5m scrums and the visitor's set scrum held firm but then conceded a penalty which was kicked to the corner. The home lineout worked efficiently throughout the game and this one was no different and they scored with their second driving maul.
The home side then got up a real head of steam and put together some excellent phases at pace and scored from half way. With five minutes to go to half time Penrith were staring down the barrel at 17-6 down but a quickly taken penalty by Ed Swale got them back in the game. He caught out the back peddling defence, McNaughton then made ground to take play to the 22 and when the ball came from the breakdown to Fearon he made the telling break on the 22. He almost made the line and had Gardham on his shoulder to off load to to score the try.
Penrith almost messed up the restart but Dan Richardson, who had a superb afternoon, tidied up and when the ball came wide Matt Allinson fooled everyone with a dummy and charged into the home half and the home side, on the back foot were penalised as Penrith poured forward. Fearon's kick came off the inside of the post to go over and pull his side back to trail by only one point, at 17-16, at the break.
Penrith started the second half decently and had the better of the play but slowly the home side got the upper hand and then dominated the play. They scored a fourth try and then a fifth with just over ten minutes to go and were 29-16 up which left the visitors needing two converted tries for an unlikely win.
The Cumbrians never gave up and Graham gave them hope, they ran a tap penalty and battered their way to just short of the line when he then took matters into his own hands and forced his way over, he looked to be held up managed to get the ball squeezed on to the line. Fearon was as shocked as anyone when he saw his conversion attempt slide wide and it meant Penrith still needed two scores.
Penrith made a valiant attempt to come back but were thwarted by more good defensive play by the home side. The end of the game was dragged out for a long wait for an ambulance after one of the home side badly dislocated his knee. The final couple of minutes were then played with no addition to the score. Penrith had no complaints, they had been beaten by the better side on the day by five tries to two and could be pleased with their effort, attitude and performance.