Wolverhampton sealed top place in the North Mids Colts Sunday League, and the crowd was treated to fast and flowing rugby in the spring sunshine.
The game started at a brisk pace with attacking rugby from the start. After 10 minutes, Wolverhampton gifted an early lead by collapsing a maul on their 22 yard line. The Walsall 10 took the three points easily, and the hosts were ahead. But two minutes later from the restart, a penalty against Walsall for an offside offence saw Wolves kick to touch just 15m form the Walsall line. From the lineout, Walsall again offended, and the resulting kick took the lineout to just 10m away. With Jake Bate taking the catch, the forwards piled in to drive the ensuing maul across the line for hooker Tom Chard to ground the ball. The angle was too sharp for the conversion, but Wolves were ahead 3-5.
Walsall responded with pressure that the Wolves defence soaked up, with a strong turnover eventually coming from George Baxter.
A Walsall scrum on the Wolves 22 was disrupted by scrum half Sam Pryor, and Walsall span the ball back with Wolves on the chase. At the following breakdown, Baxter arrived quickly once more, but referee Tony Roberts judged him to have entered from the side, and awarded a Walsall penalty 30m out. The fly half Ben Tipson’s boot missed its mark, and Ollie Claxton ran the ball back from the Wolves in-goal.
Walsall stifled the attack, but kicked the ball into touch in their own half. The Wolves forwards again took the initiative, with captain Callum Wellings charging forward, Baxter in support, eventually popping the ball inside to Chard who leapt like a salmon over the floored defenders to chalk up a second score. Will Jones’ boot this time made sure of the extra two points. 3-12.
The Walsall restart was well-chased and resulted in a maul which No 8 Steve Byrne halted in its tracks for a scrum to Wolves. The ball came out cleanly to Pryor, who started a series of good passes and forward momentum from the backs to take Wolves back into Walsall territory. In their effort to halt the visitors, Walsall again gave away a penalty on their own 22; the Wolves coaches screamed to take the three points and consolidate the lead, but the lads knew better, and went for the “tap and go”, with Pryor finally slipping through and over the try line. Jones again converted.
Again the Walsall restart pushed Wolves back, but great defence at the ruck by Wellings, Byrne and Mike Poole saw the attack quashed. Spilling the ball, Walsall gave Wolverhampton another chance to show their dominance at the scrum on their own 22. The ball flew back to Will Jones, who shot forward with Don Cascoe-Smile in close support. Passing between themselves and to Andy Fereday, Claxton and Pryor, the Wolves backs covered some 90 metres before back row Baxter took the last pass and swept over the Walsall line for a fourth try and taking the score to 3-24 just before the halftime whistle.
From the restart, Walsall’s determination to claw back became clear. Huge pressure was put on the Wolves defence by the Walsall forwards, whilst the backs ran good lines to take the ball towards the Wolves line, being finished by Laured Kalari and converted to haul the score back to 10-24.
Following the Wolves restart, again Walsall put the pressure on, to see superb defence by winger Aquile Smith and a counter-charge by Cascoe-Smile. Again Byrne was on hand to secure the ball at the breakdown, winning a scrum for Wolves on the 22. Pryor passed the ball cleanly, and again the play swung in Wolves’ favour. Chard and Mitch Norman surged forward, popping the ball out to Jones who ran a good line at pace, sweeping outside the Walsall defence to touch down behind the posts. He converted his own try to take the score to 10-31.
Wolves mounted another sublime attack from close to their own try line only minutes later, with Smith and Claxton working in perfect harmony over 90 metres to see Smith score his first of the day and Jones to convert it.
The hosts then had a run of play that was in their favour. There was some discussion in the bar afterwards, but uncertainty about an apparent forward pass where the referee was unsighted led to Walsall’s Ducket running in a try into the right corner and Tipson converting it.
At the restart, Wolves captain Wellings followed up the kick in his normal gazelle-like manner only to crash into the Walsall catcher whilst he was still in the air. The referee correctly sin binned him for dangerous play, and whilst he was off Walsall’s Ducket again took his chance to add another five points, although the attempted conversion bounced off the post and didn’t cross the bar.
Wolverhampton hadn’t finished scoring though – a great run upfield by Cascoe-Smile, Jones and Claxton fed the ball to replacement hooker Wes Hallam for him to tear through the defenders and put the ball down in the right hand corner. Jones just pulled the conversion across the front of the posts, and the score stayed at 22-43.
Playing the ball from the back of a scrum, Wolves again broke free, with Smith scoring his second try after a typically elusive piece of running. These to be the last points added by Wolverhampton, though a late surge by Walsall saw replacement Jack Crowhurst take advantage of an overlap and slip through for a last try, to be converted by Tipson, and taking the score at the final whistle to 29-48.
The result leaves Wolverhampton in an unassailable first position, with their place confirmed in the Championship playoff against top Saturday team Worcester on 15th April at Dudley Kingswinford.