Perfect Start for Green Machine
Mike Penrice reports on a great win on the opening day of the season.
Wigton got the new season off to the best possible start with a five point win over Aspatria in an action packed game at Lowmoor Road, containing more drama than the complete works of Shakespeare.
Wigton fashioned some good attacks and took advantage of some loose Aspatria play as they shot into a 24-7 halftime lead. However, the second half was dominated by the visitors as they attacked Wigton over and over again. However, the Greens put in a monumental defensive performance to edge the game 27-26.
Aspatria made the most threatening start to the game as big winger Tom Gardener bustled through a number of tackles in midfield only for the ball to be spilled by the support. Wigton’s first meaningful possession saw second rower Mark Deans run onto the ball at pace. It is always his intention to bowl defenders over, but on this occasion the body left in his wake was that of the referee, Ricky Handa of Northumbria, who was knocked flying when he found himself a little too close to the action. He needed medical attention and spent the rest of the afternoon with his head bandaged like a grizzled old forward. Fortunately he was able to carry on and went on to handled the game with consistency and kept up with play very well.
Shortly after that interval, Aspatria had a lineout around halfway. They called for an ambitious throw to the back, but the overthrown ball was seized upon by Wigton flanker Colin Sessford, who went on to play one of his best games for the club. He carried the ball forward and produced a nicely timed pass to Deans who made yardage into the defence. He was supported by fly half Ryan Clark who beat the first tackle and then linked with No 8 Jay Henderson in support. He galloped 25 yards to hold off the covering defence and score the game’s first try, which went unconverted.
From the restart, Wigton hooker Stuart Creighton made a good catch under pressure. However, the attempted clearance kick simply lobbed up in the air and gifted Aspatria possession in the Wigton half. Throughout the game, especially in the second half, Wigton's inability to clear their lines with any consistency was the source of much pressure. This time there followed a passage of play in which Wigton conceded a whole series of penalties in their 22, starting with one for a high tackle.
Aspatria kicked to the corner and went for a catch and drive. As the momentum of the maul slowed, the ball was released to the backs, only for the ball to go loose. However, play was brought back for a penalty and the dose was repeated. Twice Wigton held out and were able to scoop up the loose ball. Deans again found the referee in the first line of defence, although this time with less spectacular results.
The respite was brief and Aspatria soon had another penalty to put in the corner. Wigton contained the drive and dealt with the next move bring Gardener crashing into midfield. However, when the ball was recycled the wide defence was caught short handed and full back Guy Reed was able to score. Centre Craig Foster added the conversion to give Aspatria a 5-7 lead.
Wigton hit back almost immediately, producing their best play of the match from their next possession. Good hands moved the ball into the wider channels to create space to go forward with backs and forwards supporting and interlinking to great effect. The ball was moved from the right touchline to the left touchline and then swept back to the right again, where winger Aron Henderson was able to cross for Wigton’s second try and a 10-7 score line.
As was becoming the pattern, Wigton struggled to deal with the restart with a loose pass gifting Aspatria possession. They set about constructing their next attack, but Wigton’s centre Richard Moffatt showed superb anticipation to intercept the pass and sprint clear to score between the sticks. Clark converted, giving Wigton a handy 17-7 lead.
Aspatria were soon exerting pressure again, drawing yet another penalty. It was no surprise that the referee decided the accumulation of penalties was worthy of further punishment and he showed Deans a yellow card. Aspatria opted to take a scrum but the subsequent back move was penalised by the referee for crossing, enabling Wigton to push play to halfway. Taking the match as a whole, Aspatria seemed to have the advantage in the scrums, although Wigton conducted a good holding operation and Henderson handled the ball on the retreat pretty well.
Aspatria’s next attack came to an end with a forward pass. This gave Wigton scant relief as their scrum was penalised and Aspatria were again on the march kicking for touch. They looked to move the ball wide but the final pass was looped with too much air, enabling Aron Henderson to step up and intercept racing over from thirty five yards for his second try. Clark converted to push the lead out to 24-7 with a bonus point for the fourth try in the bag.
Aspatria had one last chance to attack before half time but centre Andrew Miller probably chose the wrong action with a diagonal kick when he had several runners outside him who seemed to outnumber the defence. The ball rolled into touch to end the half.
Aspatria had had the best of possession and territory and looked to play a wide expansive game. However, their execution had not been up to scratch and Wigton had punished some loose distribution. Wigton were scrapping well and defending effectively but their lack of a convincing kicking game often resulted in pressure coming back on them.
Aspatria had obviously been given a good talking to by their coaches during the interval and were less profligate in the second half. Wigton contributed to the Aspatria cause but knocking on the kick off. Aspatria used the scrum ball to move it quickly to left winger Greg Bethwaite. He threatened but was brought down in the Wigton 22. The recycled ball reached lock Matthew Atkinson standing in midfield and he was able to run through the Wigton line to score. Foster’s conversion put Aspatria on the march at 24-14.
Wigton were able to make what was to be a rare trip into Aspatria territory when a clearance kick was charged down. This time it was the visitors’ turn to concede a penalty thirty five yards out. Clark confidently slotted the goal, giving Wigton a chink more daylight at 27-14.
There were a few hints of negative body language from the Black Reds and the pace of battle took its toll as both sides started to make changes; some enforced, some tactical. On the whole, Wigton’s defence did a good job sometimes isolating ball carriers and making a good attempt at slowing down the pace of the attack. Nonetheless, Wigton continued to make life hard for themselves with penalties missing touch and kicks bringing meagre gains. A promising position from a driven lineout was up set by Atkinson who came through the heart of a maul to steal the ball.
Wigton again conceded a series of penalties and this time it was scrum half Dan Reed who was on the receiving end of a yellow card. Aspatria opted for a scrum but No 8 Gary Hodgson lost the ball in the act of scoring and Wigton scrambled the ball away. Next, fly half Watson tried to get the ball to Gardener with a kick through, but the ball only found touch. Wigton won the lineout but the clearing kick missing touch inviting Gardener to run the ball back. Aspatria showed more patience, retaining the ball well and Hodgson’s subsequent try had an air of inevitability to it. Foster again converted to narrow the lead to a nervous 27-21.
Reed returned for Wigton but they were soon back to fourteen men when Creighton was carded for a high tackle as he scragged Watson by the collar. The home supporters now started to get an uneasy sense of deja vu and the script looked following that of Aspatria’s last gasp win here last season.
Aspatria kicked the penalty into Wigton’s 22 where they had a lineout. To no one’s surprise they set up a driving maul. Front rower James Ravell broke away from the maul to score Aspatria’s fourth try wide on the left hand side. The fate of the game hung with Foster’s conversion, his most difficult of the match. It was a good attempt but not quite good enough and Wigton breathed again at 27-26.
Nevertheless there was still time for the restart and Aspatria again had possession. However, they were unable to breech the defence and the ball carrier was bundled into touch to end the match.
Aspatria will feel that they should have done better with the amount of ball they had against a side which was reduced by cards to fourteen men for 25 minutes. However, that would be to underestimate the effectiveness of the Wigton defensive effort which worked hard as a unit all afternoon. Wigton handicapped themselves by their poor kicking and the number of penalties they conceded. However, the fact that they still managed to come away with the win speaks volumes for the character shown by the side on the day. Given the pattern of recent matches between the two sides, few neutrals would begrudge Wigton being the beneficiaries of a little bit of luck.