Chester 31-27 Sheffield Tigers
By Tim Carty
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
A bitingly cold wind on Saturday at Hare Lane was the constant backdrop for Chester’s first home game of the season.
The quality of the rugby and the excitement of a game in the balance until the final moments ensured that, despite the wind chill, the spectators were kept engrossed in this National League 2 match.
Chester, keen to put last week’s disappointing defeat behind them, started the game like a team possessed. High intensity, ferocious forward play with some fantastic handling ensured Sheffield Tigers were playing catch up rugby right from minute one. Chester No8 Shay Owen
, doing a fantastic job in the absence of more established back row members, backed his physicality and forced his way past 3 defenders to score close the posts. Some more textbook phase play from Colin Campbells’ well-drilled forwards resulted in hooker Alick Croft
crashing over and, as if to prove close range scores are not the only ones in the locker, George Baxter
sprinted in to add Chester’s third try after a sublime break from half way by Kyle Joseph
and a fantastic offload from supporting scrum-half Tom Hollaway. Two of the scores were converted by centre James Robbins. It seemed that Sheffield were reaping the whirlwind of frustration the home side were raining down, and, for some, the question was how many would Chester score.
However, once the visitors found their feet, it became clear they hadn’t arrived just to make up the numbers. Sheffield Tigers are a classy side with potent threats all over the field. They are cannily led by experienced outside centre Jamie Broadley and in Pete Swatkins and Henri Packard possess two of the most dangerous strike runners in the league. It was Broadley’s centre partner, Tom Hart who snaffled an interception pass on 24 minutes to score and this was quickly followed with another when replacement lock, Lewis Bloor crashed over. With both tries converted and a 40th minute penalty added by Mark Ireland, Sheffield had all but eradicated Chester’s lead. It was a less than confident home team jogging off at half time only leading 19-17.
In fact, Sheffield completed their comeback soon after half time. Chester penalised for handling in the ruck and Mark Ireland landing the resulting penalty. Time for the home side to regroup. A return to the tried and trusted allowed Alick Croft
to score his second try of the game, once again unstoppable from close range. James Robins
’ conversion gave Chester a six-point lead going into the final quarter. Chester brought on James Hattersley
for his debut, replacing fly half Callum Bennett
, a reward for some outstanding displays in the 2nd XV. It is encouraging to see youngsters thrown in at a critical time in the match demonstrating the confidence the coaching team have in the work of the players across both squads.
As the game opened up in the final ten minutes it appeared that the visitors may be celebrating a famous win. Scrum-half Ryan Holmes credited with the score after referee Owen Taylor spent time consulting with his assistant on the possibility of a forward pass in the build-up. It was a fantastic passage of play and the score was well deserved. Ireland’s conversion nudged Sheffield into a one point lead.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Not a 60m sprint reviving memories of days at Franklin’s Gardens or Twickenham, but Ben Foden
, at the bottom of a driving maul and dotting down in the corner, securing the win for the home side in the final minute. Another bonus point win to keep the pressure on league leaders Hull Ionians and widening the gap slightly to third placed side, Fylde.