END OF SEASON NOTES AND UPDATE ON FINAL MATCHES
By James Peacock
SEASON 2018/2019 and 2019/2020
With 40-plus of the boys on a sightseeing Tour of Parma, it is a good chance to reflect on another strong season for the 1st XV.
I am also conscious of the need to update the last two games of the season, which unfortunately ended in narrow defeats.
Oldham completed the double on us - 29-27 (away) and 19-22 (home) - in our last league game. I didn’t see that match but by all accounts a second-half capitulation saw us give up a 12-3 half-time lead and lose, once more, in the dying minutes. The general consensus post-match was the second half was as bad as we have played in years.
The Cup defeat to Widnes at the start of April at least saw us perform much better. It was a great game of rugby to watch with both sides going hard. A baking hot day and a massive pitch encouraged an open, fast game. We scored six good tries - but converted only one of them - while their full-back, not for the first time this season, made us pay with his accurate boot. He was responsible for the long range last-minute kick that did for us in the league at home. Here, it was less dramatic but more surgical. He just seemed to bang them over from everywhere in the cup semi-final. I think he missed one, which hit the post, from which they scored a try. Again, we were right in contention at half-time but a lazy ten minutes after the break saw Widnes pull away with a three very quick scores. The last half an hour was end-to-end to stuff and we played some great rugby to get back in contention. Rory Gibson proved a handful after moving to 10 and we very close to clicking - but it didn't quite happen.
Widnes were unquestionably the best side in the league as their magnificent league run and cup win shows. Our defeats to them 19-14 (away), 18-19 (home) and 38-32 (away, cup) were all hard fought encounters. No question we missed the influence of hooker Harry Jones, prop Josh Hearn and full-back Harry Anderson towards the end of the season - but every team is dealing with injuries.
As a result of the Oldham defeat in the league, the 1st XV finished fourth in the inaugural ADM Premier Division. That was in line with our pre-season aims. The two main priorities for us this season - after moving up into Level 7 following a restructure - were to improve our home form and to make sure we were competitive in every game. We successfully achieved both those aims.
Over the course of the season we lost six games - but none by more than one score. It really was fine margins in some of them.
Importantly, we are retaining the vast majority of the 1st XV from this season. We have welcomed in some strong new talent and some great blokes to the club across the season. I can’t mention them all but Luke Richmond, Harry Jones, Chris Morgan, Arthur Ingamells, Will Rayner, Andy Alexander, Elliott Hagan and James Plested have all contributed loads this season to the 1st XV and Chris Berry, Rob Earl, Ben Jeffrey and several others have put in consistently strong performances for the 2s.
Sadly, we say goodbye to prolific 1st XV winger Matt Jones whose impact on and off the pitch has been unforgettable. He’s become a highly-valued and popular member of the club. Predictably, he is heading for the beaches and decadence of Dubai (if ever there were a man suited to Dubai, it's him). Thanks to everyone involved across all the teams for their help this season, especially the captains.
Watch this space for some interesting developments over the summer, which could have a big impact across all the teams. A few notable players say they are returning, including former 1st XV regulars Ben Oldale from Newcastle University, and half-back Tom Quigley after long-term injury. There will also be at least one, possibly two, new coaches in the set-up next season. That is a big focus for us this summer. We are keen to find the right person to add some extra enthusiasm and new ideas.
Some key things to know...(so no questions): Details about pre-season training will follow shortly - but Neil Wilkinson and Josh Vize are doing some cardio fitness sessions at the club on Monday or Tuesday nights, so get in touch with them. Didsbury Rules (which I gather is an adapted version of Australian Rules) is already under way at Ford Lane, while JB and Chris Morgan are also using the S&C gym at MMU for what they’re calling ‘heavy lifting’ sessions. Get in touch with them for weight training over the summer. The club dinner is on May 25. Please book tickets through the website. Two of our three pre-season games have already been confirmed - we will definitely play Manchester again (standard), we have committed to Bolton at home and we will be looking to do an away bus trip (with an early kick off) probably to Kenilworth.
*(NB: The Lancashire Cup defeat to Eccles was actually our biggest margin of defeat at home - but the side was just so drastically different than for every other game this season we haven’t included it. We could barely get a side out for that game).