That jet stream must have shifted south a bit as we have had a bitterly cold and wet end to November. Even the weather bemoans Brexit and who can blame it. It is dark in the morning and dark in the afternoon and it pours down in between. Oh well, it’s almost Christmas.
And what does the establishment do when the government is in seriously deep shit? It causes a major distraction doesn’t it! Ideally, they could do with a major sporting triumph or, better still, a good old war. On the basis that there is no chance of us winning the ashes or the World Cup, and the joint chiefs of staff have confirmed recently that after years of cuts and under investment, our military capacity is such that we don’t have the resources to take the Isle of Man, they have press ganged a 33 year old man to get married to some American actress and the media has immediately gone into a royal wedding frenzy. The government has already slipped through the fact that the Brexit divorce bill is going to 50 billion and nobody has batted an eyelid because they have been blinded by all the nonsense surrounding the wedding and, we don’t even get a day off. Can you Brexiters finally accept that you were duped?
If we had any doubt about the dangers of Donald they must have disappeared completely this week. He really is on the edge of some kind of meltdown and he cannot be trusted to keep the world safe. He even calls out with and abuses his so called friends. So the question becomes how can he be relieved of his position because he has made the world a more divided and a more dangerous place.
After last week’s last ditch penalty try victory over Aldwinians, Oldham faced a trip down the M66 and the M65 to face Burnley. Burnley were promoted this season and have found this level as tough as every other team. There really are no easy games. They are always strong at home on that exposed pitch and this would be no different.
We are on a bit of a roll with five wins on the bounce and we are moving up the table. Players must be desperate to play despite the miserable conditions. Well, don’t make assumptions. Not available this week were Ryan North, Will Mellor, Josh Watson, Robert Froggatt, Rob Sumerwill and John Souter ie over a third or one in three of our regular starting 15. That is a lot of prime beef to be unavailable and with a few long term injuries still not ready to return, the depth of the squad is being well and truly tested. But we did welcome back Ryan Arundale, Dean McEwan young Jamie Dalloway, Louis North and Chris Brown so we can’t complain too much. But why not anyway? So this was a much changed side with a few playing in unfamiliar positions with Phil Graham starting at scrum half, Ryan Pickles starting in the back row for the first time in ages, Cameron Wood starting in the second row and Liam Aspin starting in the centre for the first time. Could it get any worse I hear you ask? Yes it could. For whatever reason we had failed to fully work out the logistics of how you transport 18 players from Oldham to Burnley. As all the cars were on route, it became evident that two players without access to a car were standing on the clubhouse steps, whilst cars with empty seats were en route to Burnley. So for a long time, it looked as we were playing with 16. The lonesome twosome decided to travel with the threes to Rochdale but Steve Timmins saved the day by diverting to Rochdale to rescue the hapless pairing. Thanks Steve!!
We also saw the return of veteran touch judge Mel Garner. Now Burnley are excellent hosts and put on exceptional pre match hospitality. It really was first class with the sausages and spare ribs being particular highlights amongst a smorgasbord of delights and we were very grateful to them. I’m sure that had absolutely nothing to do with Mel being available this week. Now, Mel was so consumed with the clubhouse hospitality that he forget to complete a vital task. But let’s keep that our secret Mel. When you put yourself on that podium and all that!! You can also have a shot of port in your Guinness for a quid which could result in an evening getting out of hand very quickly if you aren’t careful.
The cold weather meant that it was touch and go whether the game would be on. Both our pitches were frozen on Friday afternoon but the temperature raised just enough to thaw the Burnley turf to allow the game to go ahead. Burnley have invested heavily in the pitch and whilst it was understandably a bit soft in places, it was in fine fettle.
Oldham played down the hill and were on the front foot from the off and looked full of adventure and purpose. They piled pressure on the Burnley line but the hosts were full of resolve and resisted these early assaults and a penalty allowed them to clear their lines. However, Oldham swung the ball around early on and having dragged the Burnley defence out wide on the right touchline, they quickly moved the ball left and Commie, that predictive texting really does throw up some gems, made a powerful break and put Hackman in near the corner for the opening try. The conversion was missed and Oldham led 0-5 after eight minutes. Oldham were quickly back on the attack again and forged deep into Burnley territory and attacked down the left hand channel. They quickly shifted the ball right and Charlie Roscoe put Arundale in at the corner. An excellent touchline conversion from Alex Jobson made the score 0-12.
As is often the case, and we tend to be far too guilty of this, we clearly thought the game to be won and took our foot off the gas. We forgot our exit strategy from the kick off and one of our smaller forwards took the ball in and was held up and Burnley were awarded an attacking scrum. These match reports might as well write themselves as I have used those same words too often already this year. They grabbed their opportunity with both hands and showed us what they can do with ball in hand. And it was pretty impressive. Powerful forwards picking and driving and first out runners carrying hard and making good ground. We couldn’t get our hands on the ball. Whilst our organisation and tackling was good, Burnley eventually were rewarded when Jack Donovan touched down near the left touchline. The conversion just missed so the score was 5-12.
The momentum had now changed completely and, for whatever reason, Oldham forgot the format that had served them so well early on and allowed themselves to get sucked into a forward battle which suited Burnley down to the ground. And how they thrived on it and we now spent long periods in our own 22 with Burnley hammering on our line. They turned down a couple of kickable penalties but eventually chose 3 points under the posts when Birthday boy Joe Richardson converted a penalty, which was a testament to the Oldham defensive effort. So at halftime the score was 8-12.
Burnley ended the half wholly in the ascendency. They controlled the style and tempo of the rugby and they are as good as anyone we have played this year at that tight forwards style game. Oldham had lost all structure completely and couldn’t put together any phases of play. We were quickly relieved of the ball when we could get hold of it or, more often, simply kicked possession back to Burnley. The set piece was a real tussle. We were equally good or equally bad in the lineout and the scrum was a seesaw affair with either side capable of getting a nudge on. When Oldham moved the ball they were dangerous but they allowed themselves to become embroiled in an arm wrestle with a team that were slightly better at arm wrestling. Burnley would be playing down a slight hill in the second half and will have fancied their chances.
The second half began as the first half ended with the Burnley pack dominating the pattern of play. When Oldham kicked to relieve pressure, it was nearly always returned with interest by the Burnley back three. But we kept them off the scoreboard during that difficult period and started to play our own game, working our way up the pitch. Dean McEwan replaced Bobby Cullen who is struggling with a bad back in the front row. Our assault seems to fizzle out when we were held up close to the Burnley line, but the forwards put in a huge drive at the scrum to shift them off their own ball. Hackman picked up and fed Graham who powered over the line taking a couple of defenders with him. The conversion was missed but Oldham now led 8-17.
Burnley are made of stern stuff though and were far from finished and stormed back with their pack hammering forward. From a lineout, standoff Shaye McCullough stepped between a couple of forwards and appeared to have a free run to the line, but stumbled. Burnley recycled and Oldham were penalised, and saw Dean McEwan get 10 minutes in the bin. He was a bit unlucky as there were a number of penalties in the red zone all afternoon but Dean was the only person to get a card all game. Bit disappointing also when you consider that Winnie’s got just one yellow when conceding eight consecutive penalties in the red last week. Oh well, it all depends on how you see these things.
Anyhow they opted for a scrum and with our loose head standing beneath the posts, they controlled the shove very well to score a pushover try through Ben Healy. Richardson’s conversion made it 15-17 with 9 minutes left on the sin bin. A betting man would certainly have favoured the home team at this point.
Oldham introduced 19 year old Lewis North for his first game since shoulder reconstruction and he made a big impact. Oldham managed to regroup and whilst Burnley’s tails were clearly up, Oldham raised the tempo and Dean McEwan took a great tight line to power through the Burnley guards. He off loaded to his nephew North who charged into the 22. Oldham recycled and Phil Graham scored a bonus point try when he made a blind side break and burst past three would be tacklers to touch down. The conversion was missed but we now led 15-22 and were assured of at least a bonus point. Oldham continued to play at a higher tempo and scored again when Gaz Barber put a perfectly weighted kick into the in goal area and Liam Aspin won the chase to touch down and extend the lead to 15-27. The conversion hit the post. Oldham saw out the remaining few minutes without any real drama to secure a bonus point win.
In truth, Burnley did deserve more from the game. At 15-17 with Oldham down to 14 men, they would have really fancied their chances. Their forwards are a real handful, led by a powerful number eight. When you are in the kind of difficult position they find themselves in, everything seems to go against you and they just need a bit of luck to turn their position around. It once more confirms how tough this league is and unexpected results continue to turn up on a regular basis. They are a very warm club and were fantastic hosts before and after the game and we thank them very much for their generosity, good humour and outstanding hospitality.
As for Oldham, we could view this as not one our best performances. But we had seven players of 21 or under, six of whom played for 80 minutes, including two eighteen year olds. A number of players played out of position in key parts of the pitch including man of the match Phil Graham at scrum half. So to secure a bonus point win, away from home, is actually quite an achievement. So big pats on the back all round.
We have dogged out two wins and 9 points in the past two weeks and for a team containing 7 youngsters to dog out an away win in very difficult circumstances says a lot for the teams character. Having said that, our performances have been patchy of late ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. We don’t seem to be able to control a game in the way that other teams at the top seem to be able to and we do need to work on that if we want to finish in a decent position. Now that the bitching has eased off, thankfully, we need to deal with the almost childish obsession that a number of the squad have about who scores. Too many players seem to forget that it’s a results based team game and it is irrelevant who scores. Believe me guys, it is so obvious from the touchline who those particular players are. IT’S A TEAM GAME and nobody cares who scores.
How important is cyber security? Very important as we are told time and time again never to give out our personal details. So we have a conservative MP sharing her pass word details with all of her staff!! And we wonder how information is leaked. You would hope that our politicians are responsible people who can be trusted to look after themselves and the populace. Obviously not, why would you think that?
We complete the first round of fixtures next week when we welcome Eccles to Manor Park. They were relegated last year and appear to be going through a rebuilding process but cannot be taken lightly as nobody can in this league as we discover each and every week.
Report by Dave Roscoe