Sunday saw the return fixture against Stockport and we welcomed our rivals to a very soggy Grove Park. Fortunately it was warm so the players weren’t too put off by the conditions.
We have needed to work on our rucking recently as the boys are getting to the break down but need to clear out with more purpose.
The hours training prior to the game focussed on this element as a breakout from the warm up game we played.
Stockport had informed us that they were now streaming their squads and would play their best 9 at the start. From a squad of 15 we put out a strong first 9 as well but still mixed our more experienced and less experienced players up. On the other pitch a Barbarians game was played with the remaining Manchester and Stockport players mixing up for an 8 a-side match.
The main game got underway and both teams were very evenly matched. Stockport ran with purposes and defences were very much on top. The wet conditions meant that Manchester’s free flowing passing and movement game was a little hampered as the slippery ball meant passes that would usually be taken were sometimes spilled and possession was given to our opponents. Manchester defended strongly with great tackling and the rucking we had worked on early in the morning showing a significant improvements. The boys were hitting the rucks harder and driving through the opposition. Sam and Ben H kept the shape of the game well and Manchester’s organisation and awareness was very good. In the first quarter Stockport were held at bay and didn’t cross the Manchester line. The only score of the quarter went to Charlie Salt from a well worked move, through a number of phases of play, and multiple pairs of hands moving the Stockport defence around the pitch before the gap appeared for Charlie to break through and score. Manchester’s intensity and commitment was very good. Ben W, James Houghton, Luka, Henry all worked very hard with Jayden and Harry also running strongly.
In the second quarter Stockport scored some opportunistic individual tries with strong runners side-stepping isolated defenders. The game finished 1-3 in favour of Stockport.
For the second game Manchester made significant changes to their team and let some of the more experienced players move over to the Barbarians game. Stockport made 2 changes
On came Paddy, Fozzy, Ewan, Jacob, Max, and James Hargreaves, and the game got underway. The conditions didn’t improve, and the slippery ball continued to bounce around, but Manchester stuck to their game plan and continued to try and keep the ball moving and the play flowing. Charlie scored a great try and across both games pulled of 4 try saving tackles, one on one, playing as full back. He committed to the tackle and went low on each occasion. Very good full-back play. Stockport’s greater experienced showed and they made the most of the possession in the second game to run out winners. All the Manchester boys worked hard and on 3 occasions counter rucked Stockport off the ball, showing the early training had paid off. Jacob showed he is learning with one ball taken into contact he turned and wriggled back to present the ball perfectly to the scrum half.
In both the Barbarians games the mixed teams had great fun. Paddy got an early try and in the second game Sam, Harry, Henry, Ben W, James Houghton, and Luka all scored.
The Barbarians game this week, and last week against Wilmslow have been a great success and great fun, something we should do most weeks if possible.
At the start of the day we asked for high work rate, stronger tackling and better rucking and that’s what the boys gave us. A little bit more composure and a little less panic when under pressure is our next step but the boys are really thinking for themselves on the pitch. A number of times the boys chose to stack one side of the scrum with all the players, this created a 5 on 3, with Stockport failing to see what Manchester had done, and doggedly sticking to a split defence. Another time from a scrum in the middle they stacked one side but left Harry on a very big blindside against a smaller opponent. Sam dummied to Ben then fed Harry. Sam looped round to accept the return pass but the ball went to ground in the conditions, but they had created a try scoring chance. These opportunities the boys are creating themselves. These are not things we have coached. They are starting to have a real understanding of how to play, and not playing to a set formula that we see so often in our opposition. As the boys grow, their ability to make their own decisions on the field will give them the edge and make them very difficult to play against.
At the end of the day we had 15 very wet but very happy boys, all the boys were worn out as they had given maximum effort. Highlights of the day were Charlie first try, a great team try, Charlie’s try saving tackles and in the Barbarians game Sam actually managed to tackle himself, 6 or 7 side steps, 2 stop and starts and 3 spins meant he fell over uncontested and but still managed to present the ball back well although he wasn’t tackled.
Great effort boys and more steps forward.