Saturday 28th April saw Trafford travel up to Whitehaven for the play off for promotion into the North Lancs and Cumbria league. The day started badly with the coach turning up over an hour late, and the three hour journey meant that MV had very little time to warm up when they finally arrived. Despite this, it was Trafford who started the stronger side. Whitehaven won the toss and electd to play into the strong wind in the first half, so MV saw their opportunity to utilise the conditions and keep Whitehaven pinned back in their own half.
Trafford attacked strongly, but he Whitehaven defence was up to the challenge, and continually made their tackles. It wasn’t long until Whitehaven infringed at the ruck and MV had their first shot at goal. Skipper Wheeler, who was playing through the pain barrier with two broken ribs, took a while to get into his stride with the boot , and uncharacteristically missed the chance to nudge MV into a three point lead. This didn’t deter Trafford however, and they were soon pushing for a first try in the corner.
It was at this stage when the Whitehaven winger took an interception in his own 22 and ran the length of the pitch to score under the posts, leaving the MV defence trailing in his wake. With Whitehaven clearly buoyed by their first score, their large Fijian began to get more involved. His strong running and offloading stretched and battered the Trafford defence, with numerous players guilty of going too high in the tackle. With MV looking like they were going to break, Man of the Match Fagan took control of the game and started making some yards of his own. Powerful running and one great 40 metre kick from the blind side saw MV re-establish a foot hold in the game, and it was inevitable that Fagan would be the man to get the score board ticking for Trafford, when he punched through a hole and dived over the line.
Unfortunately the conversion was missed and MV trailed 7-5. In a half that seesawed backwards and forwards it was Whitehaven to score the next try. Trafford were kicking poorly, and giving the home sides capable full back too much space to return the kicks. He did this with gusto, and eventually went over the line for a try of his own.
Again MV responded well. They were dominating at the set piece, and break down, but every yard Trafford made was hard gained as the home sides defence stood firm. A constant barrage from the Trafford boys saw Wheeler eventually cross the line. He converted his own try, and brought MV back to within touching distance of the lead. Half time score 14-12
Trafford started the second half playing into the wind. His nullified their kicking game and meant that all yards had to be made with all in hand. Pat Eccles distribution was exceptional and this allowed Trafford to run hard of Wheelers shoulder, especially inside centre/prop Davenport taking a lot of the ball on.
Whitehaven eventually infringed again and this time Wheeler made no mistake with the penalty and nudged MV into the lead.
Whitehaven rallied and began to apply pressure of their own. Using their big runners they made constant yards and left MV no option but to try and run out of their own defence, with the wind making a clearance kick too difficult. It was from this situation that the Whitehaven full back scored his second try, when he took an interception and ran in under the posts. 21-15
Again Trafford came back and Danny Burke took a great ball of Wheeler’s shoulder to power over t try line. The conversion was successful and MV had their noses back in front. 21-22
The balance gain tipped and White haven were back attacking. This time their Fijian was too powerful to stop as he smashed through the MV midfield to score under the posts. The conversion was missed and the score was 26-22. MV had further opportunities to score, but were ultimately denied by the committed defence of the home side. With time ticking on the clock and MV exhausted by their efforts, Whitehaven managed to snatch a further try at the death which took the final score to 33-22, perhaps not a fair reflection of how close the game actually was.
The disappointment of defeat was clear for all to see, etched on the faces of the Trafford side, but they should not be too downhearted. It was a mammoth effort to make it to the play offs, went with eight games to go, Trafford were looking at a mid table finish. As so often has happened this season, MV put in 110% and nothing more could have been asked of this young side. The signs are that Trafford could be developing into a quality team, and I look forward to watching some of the expansive style of rugby they play again next season.
Congratulations to Whitehaven on their promotion, and we wish them luck for next season.