This observer cannot remember a time when Cannock have travelled to Handsworth and come away with the spoils. Recent games have been enjoyable, two good rugby playing sides with both teams in the game right up until the final whistle. Today saw the same open game of rugby but with Cannock the worthy victors.
The game began with Cannock strong in the contact area, burly carries from 2nd row partners Brookes and Blake ensuring quick ball for the effervescent Gladstone returning to the 9 shirt. Frost standing in at 10 was keen to marshal his troops and worked hard to mix the powerful running of his back row and inside centre with the evasive running of his outside backs. It was the ‘Buffet Slayer’ Baugh who opened the scoring, taking the ball at pace and, despite the defenders outnumbering the attackers, the home team’s 9 took one look and reached for his white flag as Baugh went over untouched. 0-5. The home team were quick to reply, having moved to the 2nd, wider, pitch they secured quick ball through their forwards and clever running lines out wide saw them score in the corner, converted to take the game to 7-5.
The front row of Barret, Trow and Gunter all returning from injury or semi-retirement were in sublime form, dominating the scrum for 80 minutes they drove the home team off their own ball 5m out. Rather than waiting for the inevitable try from Freeman at 8 Handsworth’s 9 attempted to snipe the ball whilst it was still in the scrum, spotted by the referee who dutifully awarded the penalty try, 7-5. Cannock scored their 3rd try after great interplay across the pitch. Pedley returning a clearance and feeding Frost who fed Blake, quick ball saw Downes take three defenders with him, Humphries powering through and offloading to Edwards on the wing, who cut infield and set up quick ruck ball. Ley reacting quickly to pick and go into space before scoring under the sticks, 7-19.
The home team responded with two well worked tries, the 8 carrying very effectively and setting a platform, nice lines fixing defenders and creating space out wide. 19-19 with 5 minutes of the half remaining. Introducing Adeyanjyu stage left, the big winger picking up a loose ball before literally decimating 2/3’s off the oppositions would be tacklers. Side steps, don’t argues, hand offs, kitchen sinks left players on the floor before eventually being felled just outside the home team’s 22. With spaces galore, it was a thing of simplicity for Gladstone to find Baugh who, seemingly disappointed that he had Adeyanjyu had left him no more defenders to beat, dotted down under the sticks, 19-26 at half time.
The second half was a touch more attritional, both teams still playing open rugby but with defences both being tightened up by the coaches at half time. The front row saw a change of Richards for Gunter, and Samuel entered the fray on the wing.
More dominant scrummaging again saw Cannock drive Handsworth off their own ball in a dangerous position, a simple thing for Freeman to dot down and open the lead to 12 points, 19-31. The introduction of Baker bought some extra gas to the wings and pushed the big Adeyanjyu into the centres. More determined carrying from the Cannock pack saw them gain ground, and strong defence from Frost, Downes and Adeyanjyu in the centres ensured the home team’s 8 was unable to secure the ‘go-forward’ ball he did in the first half, allowing Cannock to keep Handsworth at bay.
One point to make a note of was when the home sides entirely ineffective 4 actually joined a ruck, legally from the back foot- a big moment for him this observer is sure.
Game management from Cannock could be improved as they tried to play the ball out from their own 22 too many times. Defending a 12-point lead inside the last 10 minutes, the experienced players in the back line should know better, and be making Handsworth play out from their own half. Some sloppy penalties deep in Cannock’s own half led to Handsworth scoring inside the last 5 minutes- an excellent conversion from out wide taking the deficit to just 5 points. However, this served as a wakeup call and Cannock were able to hold out for the last 5 minutes with relative ease.
Cannock coaching setup were very pleased with the performance and the 5 league points it secured. Coach Pow had his favourite CD ‘The Best Bagpipes Album On The Planet’ playing all the way back to Cannock and could be heard muttering about somebody’s ‘tea being oot’ back at the club house. Man-of-the-match was awarded to Dave Edwards after another solid performance on the wing.