A fine Saturday afternoon saw a big match in the making as Manchester 3rds welcomed promotion chasing and in form Manchester Village Spartans to Grove Park. Spartans had recorded a number of high scoring wins against recent opposition and had been bigging this game up with mind games on their website since the previous Sunday. In response, Captain ‘Le Hoff’ had told the Manchester players to focus on this game as just another game.
The two previous fixtures between both teams had been close affairs, with both taking similar patterns in which Manchester’s big forwards set the early pace and Spartans younger squad and ultimately their higher levels of fitness bringing them back into the game. Spartans arrived early and were fired up for the game. Both teams warmed up on the same field and the pre-match tension could be felt as both teams focused on the task in hand! Manchester; to maintain their 100% home win record and pushing for promotion; Spartans to close the gap on Manchester and to turn the heat up on the Grove Park men.
Manchester were able to name a starting 15 consisting of youth and experience despite the absence of Daniel Hiley, big Mark Grahamslaw, the injured Simon Horsefield & Aaron Woodward & Josh Benn Wild being sent on international duty to Liverpool at the 11th hour. Up front, the grumpy Tim Harper started at loose head with Rory Purvis at hooker and the ever expanding man mammoth, Adge Smith at tight. The second row engine room once again saw ‘The Highlander’ & ‘777’ combining. Tidge Chidgey got the nod at open side after some excellent performances this season, Ash Ballan returned from his cannibalistic exile at No8 and the improving ‘Francis half a game for me mate Whelan’ slipped in at blind. Moores and Hoff started as the half backs with Big Stu and Skeletor in the centres. Will Harrison made his 3rd start at senior rugby at fullback with Proff (did he wear tights in a game!) & Lewis Wilson making up the three quarters.
From the kick off Manchester made a disastrous start as they tried to run the ball from their own 22; resulting in turnover ball and Spartans scoring in the corner. Manchester remained composed; quickly re-grouped and set about their game of building a sizeable lead in the first 40 to compensate for the inevitable last 20 mins onslaught from Spartans. The reds game plan of using their powerful pack soon moved into full momentum and a penalty slotted over by frizzy haired Will Harrison closed the Spartans lead to 5 v 3. Manchester then stepped up another gear and started to play their impact game which has been a familiar feature of the season and when Basher made a quality break and offload to Moores, from a scrum down the oppositions 22 blind side the Grove Park men were in full flow. With the conversion going over Manchester lead 10 v 5. The home team then settled into playing some of their best possession rugby this season in the following 15mins, pushing and keeping the Spartans back in their own half for long spells. A further penalty extended the reds lead and 5 minutes later Basher went over in the corner from another Manchester trade mark rolling maul.
Spartans tried to go wide at every opportunity to keep the ball away from the Manchester forwards but the Manchester backs once again showed their capabilities in D. Offensively they had little opportunity themselves due to slow ball and some dubious line speed from the Spartans backs. The referee eventually enforced the offside rule when he realised that shaking hands before the ball is passed constitutes offside. With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Spartans won a line out 5 metres from the Manchester try line and handed out their own rolling maul lesson to score a try which was converted. Manchester again responded, working down the field with some good interaction between backs and forwards. A further offside penalty 5 mtrs out from the Spartans try line saw Basher go over in the other corner to once again extend Manchester’s lead. With Will’s kicking boots and a fine forwards comeback Manchester lead going into half time but knowing that they had missed an opportunity or two to extend the lead further.
HALF TIME: Manchester 25 v 12 Spartans
The half time team talk focused on Manchester stepping their game up by another 10% in defence, giving quicker ball to the backs and committing less to the first phase & therefore allowing the forwards to play Manchester’s more expansive phase game. The only change saw Jeff Upton replace Franny ‘Half Game’ Whelan at blind side.
From the kick off Spartans took the game to Manchester and were more fired up than a Roman Candle on bonfire night but Manchester’s concentration and focus on defence this season once again showed. In turn Spartans allowed Manchester little time on the ball and defensively matched the Grove Park men as a titanic battle ensued in the mid-field with neither team giving any quarter. Offensively Manchester started to lose their normal cohesion as they continued to commit too many to the breakdowns and in turn limiting the options going forward and their normal composure was ebbing away as they tried to force the game. In response, Spartans, now going wide at every opportunity, still failed to penetrate the Manchester line as the three quarters in Will, Lewis and Proff made some excellent tackles. With Stuart half dazed after a smash to the head and Barbs having to leave the pitch after a concussion, Manchester had to re-group.
Spartans capitalised and scored a break away try with Manchester’s fitness levels letting them down as they failed to get back. A missed penalty and a penalty of the post keep Spartans close to Manchester on the score board and a number of passing errors from the Manchester lads kept them from scoring. Spartans then scored a well worked try but an excellent charge down by Lewis and Will kept Manchester in the lead at 25 v 24. Moores was once again carried off at the 75min mark and Tidge moved to scrum with Hoff moving into the back row. Manchester continued to push for the try line but too many pick and goes inevitably resulted in penalties and errors occurring; allowing Spartans to exit from under pressure.
The final phase of the game saw Spartans moving the ball down the pitch but Manchester throwing everything into the tackles. Then the ref blew for a penalty 30mtrs out and indicated that it was the final play of the game. The kick on goal didn’t have the legs and Neil Cartwright blasted the ball off the pitch to secure the points for Manchester. The Manchester lads were ecstatic and Spartans deflated but Manchester were as always gracious in victory and applauded the Spartans commitment to the game.
Spartans probably saw defeat as Manchester clinging on to win but in the post match team talk ‘Le Hoff’ said that victory doesn’t just come from attacking, its comes from attacking, defending, proper game management and scoring more points; on the day Manchester had done this. This probably wasn’t Manchester’s best performance of the season but overall it was the best squad and all-round effort from the men in red. A big word and thank you for the Manchester supporters who turned out in style yesterday to cheer the team on. Manchester now have 7 games remaining to secure promotion but they are not taking anything for granted and this display will only encourage them to work even harder in training as the final push approaches.
Next weekend Manchester face another tough game as they take on Prenton 2s in the quarter final of the cup at Grove Park. Manchester will be fielding a cup team consisting of players who haven’t had much game time this season and will be looking for some great support once again. For Spartans, we wish them well and the Manchester lads are supporting them all the way to winning promotion. Both teams contributed to a fantastic game of rugby that rubbishes any talk that Division 5 rugby is just a social affair!!
And so it was off to the changing rooms were the hot discussion should have been Tom wearing tights but turned into people taking advantage of Ian Barbers wallet due to his concussion….Tim Harper grumped around grunting something about subs, Steve Parker modelled his Marvel Comics underpants in xxxl, Adge chuckled ‘he he he’, Ben said something in Scottish which didn’t make sense but which ultimately translated into thanks for the free prescriptions, Ash Ballan looked for bite marks and Alec caressed 777’s knee. The Swedish House Mafia thumped out & the beer flowed and for once the Hoff thought ‘yes’, I suppose the boys deserve that…..but reminded them shortly after that training is on THURSDAY. 7:15 sharp!!!! As they say, you are only as good as your last game
Next Game: Home v Prenton 2s – 14:15 Kick Off
Next League Game: Home vs Bury - 28th Feb - 14:15 Kick Off