Still somewhat down on numbers, five players out through illness or injury, we headed back to SP for the second time this season. The further North we headed around the M 60, the foggier it became, after 20 mins or so of warm up we could see the posts the far end, by KO it was almost warm and clear.
Manchester made their typical slow start to the game and the first few minutes were scrappy even if Manchester had the majority of the territory for this period, both teams made several mistakes and both had scrums, penalties and line out awarded against them. Manchester seemed to be establishing themselves with a scrum won and good kick from TJ, this was followed up by the Manchester backs and good hands took the ball out to Joe M who was talked into touch, from the line Manchester knocked on, giving a scrum to SP their own 22. Winning the scrum, SP put the ball down their back line to their strong centre who carved his way through the Manchester team to run the best part of the full length of the pitch to score under the posts, easily converted, SP were up after 10 mins (7-0)
This shocked Manchester into some action, they stepped up their game and moved the ball back into the SP half a couple of breakdowns and restarts later we found Ciaran running strongly through the middle of the SP defence to touch down for his try to the left of the posts, TJ had his kicking boots on and Manchester had closed the gap on the scoreboard, 15 mins played, 7 apiece.
The game restarted, Luke M was penalised for diving over the ball in the ruck, SP kicked the penalty to touch. Ciaran won the ball from the SP lineout, went through the line passed the ball to the wing where Matt B was tackled into touch. SP won their own lineout forming a maul, this was collapsed but SP came away with the ball again moving it quickly to their centres, another breakaway, a few missed tackles from Manchester and SP were over the try line under the posts and seconds later a further 7 points were on the scoreboard, 18 mins gone (14-7).
Doug and Sam spoke to the team at half time encouraging the team to increase their intensity all over the pitch and the backs to improve their line speed. This was the advice that Manchester needed. Manchester spent the next 10 minutes or so camped in the SP half if not on their try line. SP at this point gave away penalty after penalty defending their own line. A warning was given to the Captain about the number of penalties awarded against SP and that the next infringement would result in a yellow, SP were caught offside again and a yellow was shown. More pressure on the SP line from Manchester led to quick ball, TJ took it upon himself to run backwards, behind his back line, the coaches desperate screams (they’ll be mine then!) for him to run forward fell on deaf ears as he ran the full width of the pitch in an arcing run to finish with a try in the right hand corner, for a moment or two the word amongst the Manchester support was that he had run into touch, we were gutted we then saw that Manchester were heading back to their own half and TJ was collecting his ‘T’, the try had been awarded! The conversion, well attempted by TJ, fell short of the uprights and crossbar, 40 mins on the clock, the score 14-12.
This set the pulses racing, 10 mins to go and 2 points behind, should we have kicked those penalties we had had before the try was scored?, were we going to get another chance to cross the SP try line? (I’m afraid the note writing was given up at this point as I couldn’t take my eyes off the game).
Had we blown it?, we continued to put SP under pressure, a silly mistake let them escape from their try line, strong tackling from Manchester led to a ruck, SP in at the side and a penalty was awarded some 35 to 40m from the SP posts. TJ was volunteered to kick! At the end of the season last year I’d have put my mortgage (in my dreams!) on him converting this, having changed his kicking style, missed one earlier in the day, the pressure of the situation , today I wasn’t so sure. I was behind the posts willing it over. The clock was running down, the stadium fell silent…………….. what chance would we have if the kick didn’t go over, talk about stress! You wouldn’t have guessed TJ was suffering any of it from where I was under the posts, he took his time, went through his routine and struck the ball sweetly, it was in the air an age, it began to drift to my left (TJ’s right), I was worried, he was not! He’d given it enough and it cleared the crossbar easily landing 3 or 4 m into the deadball area. 23 mins gone and Manchester take the lead for the first time (14- 15).
Sedgely came back strongly at Manchester, the defence held and foul play from SP led to a penalty, having asked the ref how long was remaining, TJ kicked to touch and the game was won!
The look on the lad’s faces told it all, they were ecstatic cheering, shouting, high fiving and celebrating a hard won victory.
Praise has to be given to the whole Manchester squad; we lost three of our starting line up again to injury, Greg, Charlie and Joe H. All were replaced ably by Alex MJ, Stewie and Joe C.
I can’t mention any individual for being head and shoulders above the rest of the team today, Ciaran led from the front as Captain, the forwards held their own and more, Joe C, Max and Alex should all have been over the line to score, Laurence drove towards the line strongly on more than one occasion. Josh led the forwards by example after Ciaran moved to centre, Greg stepped into number 8 seamlessly and kept all the scrums in check until he took a knock to the nose leading to his substitution. Matt G kept the ball moving sweetly from forwards to backs also making tackles all over the pitch. Luke M and Joe H worked well together as a centre pairing. Stewie slowed their big guys on more than one occasion making sure SP couldn’t make another breakaway. Matt B won more than his fair share against the head and made many hard yards today as did Max with him, I haven’t seen Joe C look as K***kered as he did today. Charlie played well at full back joining the line and running strongly on more than one occasion. Luke Boon also deserves a mention after trying to carry the best part of the SP team down the left touchline and almost succeeding! Both wingers Joe M and Aden made good ground when called upon and contributed strongly to defence
Thanks to SP for a game played, yet again, in good spirits, I really did feel for their lads, it must have been a horrible way to lose the match.