Winger Sam Johnson scored the opening try from 35m out.
Captain Russ Troman
moved to Scrum Half to replace Jon Walker
who was promoted to the 1st XV and Jon Deeming
played his first game of the season at Fly Half. Also available for their first game were veterans neil orme
, Paul Smith
and Steve Grocutt
. Jon Peach and Ben Jelfs
strengthened the front row in a side which looked a much different outfit to the one that played Wolverhampton.
Kicking off with a slight breeze, Josh Clewley
put in a great hit and immediately turned over possession. Smith and prop James Samuel
latched onto the ball and drove to North’s 22 but an over ambitious offload saw the ball go down and the chance gone. Winger Cos Louca
and full back Andy Jones combined to run back a wayward clearance kick to establish an attacking platform back on the visitors 22. Two good line out take and drives by the forwards saw Junior come off his wing to test the Bridgnorth midfield. This was a strong start from the home side and Troman rifled a penalty 50m to within 15m of the line. Smith’s line out ball off the top gave Troman and Deeming the chance to use Louca through the middle. Unfortunately the winger pulled his hamstring in the move and was replaced by Sam Johnson
. A spell of possession allowed the visitors to test Willenhall’s midfield with big one up runners playing from a series of rucks but Fergus, Samuel and centre Tom Thorley
were solid in the tackle. Although Willenhall were clearly on top at this stage neither side were close the opening score. Hooker Peach latched on to a loose ball and hacked on and his enthusiastic chase caught the full back in possession. Quick ruck ball was moved right and the visitors infringed to concede a penalty which Troman pulled wide from 25m. However the first score came quickly after. Orme and Troman combined on the short side of a scrum to set Junior away in space. The winger’s pass inside found Orme whose overhead pass inside found Deeming. Thorley brought Ant Helm into the line and the centre timed his pass beautifully to send Sam Johnson
away 35m out. The young winger stepped his opposite number with ease and raced over to open the scoring on 30 minutes. From the kick off, Orme, Smith, Peach and Fergus drove impressively and Thorley and Helm were again in action with crisp handling and incisive running. The second score came quickly and was equally impressive. Matt Jelfs gave excellent ball off the top at a line out and Troman hit Thorley with a long pass. Using the space it gave him the centre danced his way through the Bridgnorth midfield to within the shadow of the posts. A last ditch tackle put him down but Helm was on his shoulder to dive over from 5m. Troman converted to take the lead to 12-0. Unfortunately Thorley suffered a knee injury in the tackle and had to leave the field to be replaced by Lee Osborne
with Samuel moving into the centre. A series of penalties saw Bridgnorth camped on the Willenhall line and with half time approaching the home team tackled heroically with the visitors smashing players up from 5m time after time. However Willenhall conceded a penalty try on the stroke of half time and finished 12-7 up at the break.
The second half started with both teams trying hard to gain field position through forward drives but it was Johnson and Junior who helped force good attacking positions for the home team with excellent kick chases. Matt Jelfs took good line out ball and brother Ben took play forward but a promising opportunity in midfield was spoilt with a dropped pass. The home side again began to increase the pressure and Jelfs was held up over the line from a catch and drive line out. However the score came immediately as Steve Grocutt
picked up from a 5m scrum and crashed over in the corner. 17-7 to Willenhall. Mick Fergus fielded the kick off and sliced through the Bridgnorth pack to offload to Jelfs. Quick ruck ball gave Deeming the chance to put prop/ replacement centre Samuel on the charge. He stepped inside his man and sprinted 30m to the try line only to be brought down 2m out. Johnson almost got his second as Troman and Deeming used the short side and from the next scrum Grocutt went from the base again. Orme supported and fed Troman who unselfishly tried to give Deeming an easy jog over but a deliberate knock on by the visitors foiled the score. Troman put the resulting penalty over to extend the lead to 20-7. As at the end of the first half, Bridgnorth gained territory through a number of penalties and, after a series of line out catch and drives, scored a converted try to close the gap to 20-12 on 65 mins. The visitors came back strongly looking for the next score but Troman pushed them back with a penalty into the opposition half. Fergus, Clewley and Orme took play forward and sucked in the North defence from the line out and Deeming set up Johnson on the outside but the winger was brought back for a marginal forward pass with the line at his mercy. The same player had another effort disallowed in the next move as he dived onto a grubber from Deeming with the referee unsighted and no TMO in use. However the score came from the resulting scrum as Grocutt picked and fed Fergus who popped the ball to Deeming to score the try which Troman converted.
A good performance from both sides, played in a good spirit and at a good tempo – an enjoyable afternoon for both sides. Well done Willenhall – lets take this into next week’s home game against Stafford.