Mark Ward (pictured) scored his first try for three years to seal an excellent 26 points to 3 win for Willenhall 2nd XV against Bridgnorth 2nds.
A number of players including captain Paul Husband were unavailable from last weeks 27-7 win over Tamworth. Willenhall’s changes included Rob Cowley, Mark Ward, Brendan Penney, Chris Boden, Ryan Cook, Dan Hynes, and Gavin Troman in their starting 15 with Cos Louca, Glen Plant and Andy Alexander on the bench.
Willenhall kicked off down the slope into a strong breeze and captain Russ Troman’s well placed kick found touch on the 22 putting the home team on the front foot from the off. Bridgnorth took the line out cleanly and cleared to half way. With both teams testing each other out the opening score went to the visitors with a penalty from 35m given for a high tackle on the Bridgnorth centre giving them a 3-0 lead.
Willenhall’s first meaningful attack came with a crunching tackle from number 8 Ryan Cook on the opposition fly half causing the ball to run loose. Full back Gav Troman hacked the ball through and centre Sean McMahon recovered possession and took play into the opponents half. From the scrummage, Cook and scrum half Matt Jelfs combined on the short side and when play was switched back open, Troman fed McMahon and the young centre sliced through into Bridgnorth’s 22. Cook again carried strongly and offloaded to Jelfs who got to within 5m of a score. From the resulting ruck Willenhall had plenty of players over and Troman slipped a quick pass to centre Tom Thorley who stepped his way over from 10 m for an excellent team try making the score 5-3. From the restart the home team knocked on and despite driving the Bridgnorth scrum back convincingly, were penalised. The visiting scrum half tapped quickly and Willenhall had to concede another 10 for making the tackle early. The touch kick gave Bridgnorth a 5m line out and a great chance to retake the lead. However the back row of Mick Fergus, Chris Boden and Cook disrupted the visitors driving maul and second row Allan Moore and Brendan Penney smashed back the runners who were attacking the fringes. The front row of Rob Cowley, Rob Loach and Mark Ward were beginning to cause real problems in the scrum and putting Willenhall on the front foot at the set. Cook capitalised on this on half way with a pick and carry of 15m but the offload to Fergus went to ground. The visitors kicked long and turned full back Gav Troman who managed to find touch under pressure. A penalty at the line out gave Bridgnorth to retake the lead but the attempt was wide from 35m. Russ Troman relieved pressure with a 45m clearance and as the visitors full back countered Gav Troman and Dan Hynes trapped him in his own 22. Rob Cowley ripped the ball but a loose pass in midfield allowed Bridgnorth to counter and win a line out in the Willenhall 22. Cook pinched possession and out paced the pursuing tacklers to charge 40m. The young number 8 off loaded to Loach who fed Boden and the resulting ruck ball was moved in field to McMahon who carried strongly but the decisive second score would not come for either side. Jelfs box kicked and the Bridgnorth full back ran it back open, beating two tackles and racing for the corner. A try looked certain but Gav Troman showed his pace and smashed him into touch 5 m out. It was Willenhall who produced another great try to extend the lead before half time. The backs attacked from deep and Russ Troman used McMahon as a dummy runner. Gav Troman cut the line, chipped ahead and joined Thorley in an excellent kick chase. The visiting full back evaded both tacklers and was looking to counter when he encountered prop Mark Ward who smashed him backwards. Willenhall recovered the loose ball and Russ Troman used Thorley on a cut back. The centre changed his running line and stepped three defenders superbly going under the posts with tacklers hanging on. Russ Troman converted to put Willenhall in the lead 12-3 at half time.
The home team started the second half confidently, with Hynes joining the line from the blind side wing and feeding McMahon who gave a great long pass to Thorley. Helm took the ball on the outside 60m out. Thorley looped to receive the return pass and put it down with the field clear. Gwyn Richards and Andy Alexander replaced Hynes and Helm on the wings and Alexander announced his presence with a big tackle and turn over. Not to be outdone McMahon matched the tackle on the next Bridgnorth attack from a 10m line out. Cook, Fergus, Moore and Cowley were prominent with short drives forcing the visitors onto the back foot. 51 year old Glen Plant replaced Penney and Cook again used the pick and go from a scrum on half way to advance play into the 22. McMahon crashed up at inside centre and Thorley drove his fellow centre on to within 10m of the line. Fergus, Cowell and Ward continued the attack with strong drives forcing the penalty. Fergus took the quick tap and crashed over from 10m, converted by Troman to make the score 19-3. In the next attack Russ Troman used his centres well and Thorley and McMahon combined well to get Alexander away on the left wing. Bridgnorth’s scramble defence conceded a penalty and Jelfs tapped and used Fergus to crash 30 m to within 10m of a score. Several pick and drives sucked the visiting forwards in and Ward used his strength to get over for his first score in 3 years. Troman converted for a 26-3 lead. With 10 minutes left Bridgnorth were not going to surrender and battered Willenhall’s line in search of a score. Brave tackles were needed but Willenhall were just as determined not to concede a try and Jelfs, Moore and Loach won a turn over to give Troman the chance to clear to half way. Alexander broke in midfield and Richards fed back inside to Gav Troman who chipped ahead and just failed to reach the ball as it bobbled near the try line.
A great performance from a committed 2nd team well led by Troman and Fergus.