In a pulsating local derby Wigton held back a late Aspatria challenge to close the game out 27:26. A single point separated the teams at the final whistle and that was enough to give the home side all 5 points with Aspatria collecting 2; a losing point and also a try bonus.
Aspatria enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout the game and with control being exerted at both scrum and lineout the outcome of the game would have been entirely different but for Wigton’s magnificent defensive effort and an ability to make the most of the few scoring opportunities that came their way.
Wigton opened the scoring 5 minutes into the game with a well worked try. Jay Henderson was on the end of a precise backline move but he had veteran second row, Mark Deans to thank for initially bursting the Aspatria defensive line and creating space. Clark missed the conversion, 5:0.
From the restart Aspatria dominated possession and field position. Wigton gave away a succession of penalties that allowed the visitors several opportunities to mount attacking moves. Mauls to the line were held up inches short. The onslaught lasted near 10 minutes but just as Wigton looked to have seen off the Aspatria challenge yet another penalty was conceded. From the ensuing scrum Aspatria moved the ball straight to the backs who flashed the ball wide to outside centre Guy Reed, he shrugged off a despairing challenge to power over the line. Craig Foster’s conversion was good for a 5:7 lead.
The lead did not last long as, again, Deans floated out into midfield to create enough havoc amongst the Aspatria defenders to give Aaron Henderson room on the right wing to race over in the corner. Clark’s conversion was wide but the home side held a 10:7 advantage.
Two tries for Wigton became four before halftime and earned a bonus point. Both left Aspatria’s coaching team dancing up and down in frustration. The first of these was on 22 minutes with Aspatria mounting another attack around the halfway mark. The passing along the backline was not precise and Wigton centre, Richard Moffat read the situation and intercepted to race 50 meters unopposed to the posts for 17:7.
Aspatria’s pain was not over. Wigton had lost Deans to the sin bin for an illegal tackle and on 34 minutes they thought that winger Grant Bethwaite had got them back in the game as he raced to the line only to be brought back for a crossing incident. Aspatria were firmly in control and looking the more likely to score next when they repeated the previous error and allowed Arron Henderson to intercept and sprint to the line providing the home side with a flattering 24:7 halftime advantage.
Despite the deficit Aspatria realised that there was still everything to play and were lifted by an early score in the second period. Possession was regained from a Wigton clearing kick and this allowed Bethwaite to race down the left flank. He was hauled down 5 meters out but the ball was quickly recycled into midfield where Aspatria’s captain Matthew Atkinson was waiting to hop, skip and jump his way over the line. Foster nailed the conversion and Aspatria were back in business at 24:14.
Wigton fought back hard and produced their brightest spell of attacking rugby todate. It was Aspatria’s turn to defend and they almost gifted the home side a fifth try when a clearing kick went badly wrong. Only the quick actions of full back Andrew Miller saved the day as he won the foot race to secure the ball. Wigton continued to huff and puff but their only reward came on 47 minutes when Aspatria were caught offside and Clark knocked over a penalty to extend the lead to 27:14.
Wigton attacks were sparse from this point as Aspatria began to grind them down. For long periods the Wigton defence was under pressure but the resistance was equal to the challenge posed by Aspatria and it looked as if this alone would be enough to secure victory.
With the game moving into the final quarter the effort of holding back Aspatria began to show and Wigton again began to conceded penalty on penalty which allowed the visitors to move ever closer to the line. The referee eventually tired of this and yellow carded scrum half Dan Reed.
It was nail biting stuff. Aspatria No8 Gary Hodgson, who had a fine game, was over the line but under pressure dropped the ball in the act of scoring. The clock was now firmly on Wigton’s side but for the first time in the game defenders started to fall off tackles that they were previously, routinely making and this gave Aspatria the glimmer of light they needed.
Hodgson’s running of the back of set-pieces and breakdowns was causing havoc and it was he who made the breakthrough, this time his hand and arm stretching over the line retained the ball for a third Aspatria try. Foster converted for 27:21 to set up a grandstand finish.
Aspatria simply would not lie down. Wigton were flagging and were further disadvantaged with a 3rd yellow card. Penalties continued to cost Wigton in terms of territory. In a final effort Aspatria used one of these to get to within 6 meters and set up a catch and drive move. The move inched to the line and from the back James Ravell got his hands on the ball to dive over in the corner. Foster now had a touchline kick to win the game for the visitors. It was a good effort but shaded the outside of the upright and the day belonged to the home side. The game had time to restart but Wigton kicked the ball deep and had enough left in the tank to see off one final attack from the Black Reds.
Both sides experienced disruption going into the game. Wigton were without influential players, Ledingham, Hanabury and Smith who are all long term injury worries for the Lowmoor Road outfit. Aspatria’s back line lacked the familiar faces of Clegg, Akehurst, Vickers, Robinson and Tinnion due to personal commitments and in the case of Clegg, injury. Fortunately, Tom Gardner who is now London based was in town for the weekend and he stepped into the breach for Aspatria and produced some memorable moments in the game. The positive is that the game showed Aspatria now have depth in the back division and all should be fighting for places v Bolton next Saturday.
Another plus for Aspatria was the reappearance of Jacques Rowe. Jacques has returned from South Africa and had a fine game in the back row.