There was a huge sigh of relief all around the Memorial Ground when Wolves scrum half Ed Armitage hoofed the ball deep into touch to end this game, which Wilmslow had managed to hold on to, none too convincingly, for a win and four precious league points.
The Wolves stay in ninth place in the fourteen club league, seven points off the relegation zone but it’s extremely tight with very little separating the bottom eight clubs, none of whom can yet breathe easily.
The Wolves had been ahead twenty one nil after half an hour playing some sparkling rugby and were threatening to run away with a large win. Long raking kicks from Bob MacCallum had consistently penned the Cumbrians back deep into their own half, Mike Clifford was dominating the lineout, Mike Black was making some powerful intrusions from No. 7, and with a surfeit of good possession, the backs were running and passing crisply. With just a bit more patience and less haste the scores would surely have come quicker. Nevertheless on twenty minutes, another break from Black set up quick ball for the backs and simple passing put winger Ben Day in for the opening score, which MacCallum converted from the touchline. Five minutes later another ruck produced quick ball for the backs and this time it was Matthew King, playing in the centre, who slipped his man to score under the posts. MacCallum soon had the Wolves back in the Carlisle twenty two, where the pack stole the ball on the Carlisle throw. Armitage’s speedy pass had the backs running again and after King was held up on the right, the ball was quickly moved left for Ben Day, coming off the right wing to cross for the Wolves third score. At this stage it all looked hunky dory. No bother at all.
But that was the end of the fun for the Wolves as the powerful Carlisle pack with the huge Callum Rawlinson to the fore suddenly awoke from its slumber. They started doing what they do best, picking and driving, and then when they shifted the ball right, centre Matthew Minett made a long weaving run, which ended when he took a return pass from one of his supporting players to score on the right. MacCallum replied with a Wolves penalty just before half time but the second half belonged to Carlisle.
The visitor’s pack got into the driving seat, the Wolves forwards never managed to disturb their momentum and they were penned back into their own half. Any kicks by Armitage or MacCallum out of defence were fielded and run back at the Wolves with a vengeance. Defenders started to fall off their tackles and the Wolves just lost their shape. In fact for thirty minutes they didn’t get out of their own half at all. Ten minutes into the period, Carlisle prop Gareth Wylie burrowed over from short range and then ten minutes later, fly half Glenn Weightman was up to collect his own little chip over the defence and with the space made right winger Martin Brodie had a clear run into the corner from where Weightman converted. It has to be said that at this stage with twenty minutes still to go that Carlisle were looking the more likely of the two sides.
But somehow the Wolves held out. In the last quarter two half chances were created for Tom Raynor on the left and Ed Armitage, who just over ran a scoring pass from Mike Black. And then with the last play of the game, Carlisle gambled everything from their own line and were well into Wolves territory again before a spilt pass enabled Armitage to kill off the game. It had turned into a hard bruising but fair contest. The Wolves had done just enough and Carlisle were thoroughly worthy of their losing bonus point.
Wilmslow coach Giles Heagerty said afterwards that at times in the first half we had looked very good indeed but all credit to Carlisle for raising their game when they could so easily have been onto a hiding. In the second half, they handed out a battering up front to which we just didn’t respond and with too many tackles been missed, the game could easily have gone against us at the end.
On the adjoining pitch, the Vikings kept up their challenge at the top of USL1 with a 24-9 win over Carlisle Crusaders but the Developmentals, hindered by too many last minute changes in personnel, lost their unbeaten record in USL4S at Oswestry.