ASPATRIA 36 : 21 WIGTON
Aspatria’s 36:21 victory over old rivals Wigton leaves them 3rd in the league with one game to play. De La Salle have completed their fixtures and are promoted but Aspatria still have a lifeline. If they win the game in hand, Aspatria will overtake second placed Bolton and gain a shot at promotion via the play-off game.
Bower Park was bathed in sunshine for this local derby. The largest crowd of the season created a carnival atmosphere but out on the field of play it remained deadly serious.
Wigton got off to a positive start and took an early lead. With only one minute gone a Ryan Clark penalty saw them off the mark. It was a nervous opening for Aspatria but they soon settled and hit back with a move straight out of the training manual.
On the 7 minute mark the home side established a good attacking position around the Wigton 22. Prop Graham Andrews, shoulder down, looked set to crash into the Wigton defence but delayed just long enough to pop a sublimely weighted pass to full back Lee Tinnion who came onto the ball and seared through the defence and over the line. Ryan Scott’s conversion established a 7:3 lead for Aspatria.
The game was full of attacking intent. Dave Hanabury the Wigton stand-off repeatedly probed the Aspatria defence with sniping runs. Aspatria remained solid with back row Andy Holcroft tackling as if his life depended on it.
On 14 minutes Aspatria second row Liam Ridley showed great awareness to turn over possession in the Wigton half and earn a penalty. Scott’s kick smashed into the bar and momentarily the pressure on Wigton was released. Wigton cleared but only to stop the next attack with a late tackle. This time the penalty went to the corner. The catch and drive is a party piece for Aspatria but this time they opted for quick ball release to send second row Matthew Atkinson charging infield. Wigton did well to halt the big man but could do nothing when Andrews took over possession and dived low and over the line. Scott’s conversion was good for 14:3.
Aspatria were on top but the mood changed on 20 minutes when Ridley was yellow carded following an altercation at a maul. The penalty that followed set up a sustained period of attacking rugby from Wigton. Hanabury used strong running forwards, Greg Wrathall and Mark Deans to gain good yardage. Aspatria initially held the assault but it was desperate stuff and on 26 minutes the home side found themselves without any defence on the right flank where Wigton enjoyed the luxury of 3 men. It was a simple walk in score for Wrathall and Clark’s conversion ensured Wigton were right back in this match at 14:10.
Within minutes of the restart Aspatria were back on the attack and produced a near carbon copy of the earlier Wigton score. A darting run from No8 Gary Hodgson gifted Aspatria forward momentum. The charge was continued by centre Heinie Jonker. Wigton concentrated their defence to stop the onslaught but in doing so left a wide flank unguarded. When the ball was passed out to the right, winger Andrew Miller had only a short run into the corner for 19:10.
Wigton were at their best in the final 10 minutes of the half. Aspatria helped the cause by giving away a succession of penalties. Clark used two of these to peg the half time score back to 19:16 but this was a period during which Wigton should have made more of several try scoring opportunities. At half-time the game remained finally balanced, the end result too close to call.
Aspatria made a statement of intent straight from the kick off. The centre partnership of Heinie Jonker and Craig Foster ripped the Wigton defence apart with darting runs and Aspatria went close to scoring almost immediately. They had to wait all of 3 minutes before Miller found space on the right wing to beat the cover defence into the corner. It was a superb effort from the winger who not only had to beat off two tacklers but avoid, by mere inches, the threat of the touchline; he did both to put Aspatria 24:16 ahead and earn a try bonus point.
Wigton refused to lie down and within minutes came close to closing the gap but were thwarted by a last ditch tackle from Tinnion. The offensive petered out and the failure to score seemed to alter the mood in the Wigton camp. Tackles were now being missed and Aspatria took full advantage.
The hard running of Aspatria’s Atkinson, Jonker and Greg Dickinson opened gaps for support runners to go through. On 57 minutes Hodgson did not need a second invitation to take full advantage and go under the posts for 31:16.
It looked all over for Wigton and it did not get any easier on 60 minutes when Clark was yellow carded for an illegal tackle. With the sun beating down and tired legs all over the park the game opened up and the visitors were able to benefit when Hanabury used his pace to glide through a gap. With Clark out of action the wide out kick was handed to Dan Reed who was unlucky to see his effort bounce of the post.
31:21 and into the last 10 minutes. Some frustration began to creep into the game. Aspatria’s Miller had a disagreement with Wigton’s Lindsey Walker, both were yellow carded. They were followed a few minutes later by Greg Wrathall who had illegally stopped an Aspatria maul near the try line. With two key forwards missing Aspatria used the awarded penalty to turn the screw and called for a scrum. There could only be one outcome and with Wigton going backwards back row Dickinson picked up the ball and dotted it down for try number six and a 36:21 win.