Team: 1) Mark Grahamslaw 2) Dan Hiley 3) Adrian Smith 4) Jason Danton 5) Ben Gordon 6) Fran Whelan 7) Tim Harper 8) Simon Horsefield 9) Harry Moores 10) Ian Richardson 11) Tom Proffitt 12) Ian Barber 13) Stuart Ryan 14) Jamie Gresty 15) Aaron Woodward
Bench: Steven Foster, Steven Parker, Phil Wright, Jake Goodier, Alex Knowles, Josh Benn Wilde, Seb Cole.
A glorious mid-October day which was meant for rugby saw Manchester 3rds travel the short distance to play Manchester Village Spartans in a top of the table clash. With both teams having strong starts to the season, this fixture was eagerly anticipated by both teams.
Manchester travelled with a large squad despite the absence of James Chidgey, Terry Hall, Chunks and Jeff Upton due to injury and Ash Ballan being on his jollies. However, The Hoff was still able to name a strong starting 15 consisting totally of players who had trained over the last 3 weeks. Up front, a new combination saw Buster, Hiley and Adge combining with Big J and former Scotland under 21 Ben Gordon (I think they used pig bladders in those days) in the second row engine room. The loose forwards saw Tim Harper returning to his usual poaching position at open side with the return of Dan at hooker following a period of illness. Recent signing Fran Whelan made his full debut at blind side and new housewives favourite Simon Horsefield returned from injury at No8 to give Manchester a mobile and physical back row.
In the backs, Manchester started with the ageing but handsome Hoff and human whippet Harry Moores as the half backs. The emaciated Barbs and Mr Magoo made up a bulky but mobile centres partnership. Team whinge -bag Azza Woodward, new signing Tom Proffitt and tackling machine Jamie Gresty combined as a youthful and defensively strong three quarters.
At kick off Manchester had to make some late changes due to Adge being late after his delayed trip back from the Bury Market Black Pudding stall and Mark Grahamslaw having his beard trimmed. This disrupted Manchester’s plans with a late re-adjustment needed and Spartans benefited with an early lead 4 minutes into the game after Manchester committed too many to the ruck and subsequently allowed Spartans an overlap out wide. The conversion went wide. With the large Spartans crowd celebrating enthusiastically this may have led the home team into thinking that they could run away with the game. However, Manchester are a different team this year with much self-belief and quickly regrouped following the late introduction of the weather girls in Mark and Adge.
Manchester now took the game to the Spartans with some penetrating runs from Fran Whelan, Big J and Brigadoon and some excellent rucking all round. However, Manchester’s over commitment to the ruck resulted in slow ball and with the Spartans pushing up quickly in defence during the early exchanges, the Manchester backs had little time on the ball and were forced into kicking as the only option.
When the Spartans did have ball in hand, the Manchester defensive machine showed its metal with some excellent work from the forwards and backs disrupting the Spartans momentum. With the lineouts and scrums functioning well, Manchester’s offensive plans began to take shape but the lack of quick ball remained a problem . With 20 minutes gone the game remained an evenly fought contest but early injuries to Simon Horsefield after a monster tackle from the No8 and Fran Whelan with an ankle injury, forced Manchester into some early changes which again disrupted their game plan. A missed penalty from the Hoff kept Manchester off the score sheet.
Manchester’s momentum continued to build though and with the set pieces going well, they started to manage their game plan and a well worked try followed as quick ball between Hoff and the emaciated Barbs put Mr Magoo through for his first penetrating run of the game to release Aaron who combined well with Tom to score under the sticks. The conversion was slotted over and Manchester led 5 v 7.
5 minutes later and with the reds now putting more pressure on the Spartans, some quick thinking from Harry Moores saw the young whippet pick and go from the back of a ruck to score a try under the posts. With the conversion going over Manchester went into half time on the up but knowing that they would have to step up their game even further in the second half.
Half Time: Spartans 5 v 14 Manchester
The second half started as furiously as the first had ended with Spartans trying to get the ball wide to attack the Manchester fringes but the Grove Park lads and the three quarters in particular demonstrated that their defensive game and commitment is massively improved on last season. With Manchester taking another injury with Tom Proffitt having to go off, Jake Goodier dropped onto the wing as an equally impressive replacement and once again showing Manchester’s depth. A further knock saw Mr Magoo losing a contact lens and having to leave the pitch which further disrupted Manchester game plan as their unfortunate statistics with injuries continued.
Spartans plan was to keep the ball away from the Manchester forwards as they tried to mix it up in the backs but Manchester’s continued defensive structure once again forced the Spartans into numerous handling errors and a failure to penetrate the Manchester line time and again.
With both teams fully committed to winning the game, penalty counts started to increase as Manchester became increasingly frustrated with the slow release of the ball at the breakdown. Spartans focused on trying to run their penalties from the Manchester 22 but on each occasion they were driven back through some big hits from the forwards.
With 25 minutes remaining a Manchester counter attack saw a ‘semi-off load’ (let’s call it that!)….. release Moors who finished off brilliantly under the sticks to increase Manchester’s lead.
With 15 minutes to go, Manchester’s injury jinx hit again with Harry Moores having to leave the pitch and Manchester having to make a further re-shuffle (how many is that now….) with the Hoff dropping in at 9 and the skeletal Barber reverting to fly half. Handbags followed soon after which resulted in Gresty and a Spartans player being yellow carded and chance to exchange numbers. With Manchester still looking dangerous going forward and the scrum now winning ball against the head, the battle continued predominantly in the middle of the park.
However, with more aging legs in the Manchester line and 5 forced changes, it was inevitable that the Spartans would finish more strongly as they ran in a frantic try with 10 minutes remaining. Manchester’s grit and determination to win the game once again surfaced as they pushed into the Spartans 22 and only tiredness from Manchester saw them failing to grab a further try. A converted penalty from the Hoff kept the Manchester score sheet ticking over. In the last play of the game Spartans ran in another converted try as a rotund Spartan’s bloke side stepped ‘The Whinger’ to run in under the posts; making the final score Spartans 17 v 24 Manchester.
This was a well-deserved win by the Grove Park men based on their defensive capabilities and counter attack skills to keep the red and whites at the top of the table for another week. Undoubtedly this was Manchester’s biggest challenge of the season against a youthful and good Spartans team that will be in or around the top of the league for the remainder of this season. Ultimately rugby was the winner after a fine spectacle for the large crowd and tough contest with both teams giving 100%. There are still areas to be developed and improved but Manchester remain grounded and focused on improving on a weekly basis.
There was also some great performances all round from Manchester including a 15 minute debut from new signing Alex Knowles who is back after being 15 years out of rugby! Not an easy task to come off the bench in a pressure cooker game. The forwards once again showed that they continue to improve whilst the backs showed that they can not only attack but that their D might also be something to start talking about.
Back at the club house, pie and chips was on the menu and worthy treat for the lads. Big Phil salivated at the thought of pie like a rabid dog; Big Ben tried to select his ‘Dick of the Day’ but couldn’t narrow it down to one individual. Tim was despondent after being demoted from the housewives favourite and Adge chuckled again and again at his own jokes and Stealth… well he just didn’t have much to say!
Training: Thursday 23rd – 7:15 to 8:50pm (Physio available)
Next Game: 01st November – away to Bury