A fairly inexperienced and unbalanced (due to half term commitments) Manchester side were stretched by the 12-a-side format but bravely faced up to the challenge. The four regular forwards who travelled (Charlee Chambers, Alyx Maw, Amber Smith and Molly Hastie ) certainly held their own, and the two backs pressed into service up front (Leanne Murray and Rachel Twigg ) made up a solid pack. Even the half backs needed to be shuffled, leaving Manchester with a very new back line to defend against some experienced opposite numbers. And defend they did! To spend the first fifteen minutes within fifteen metres of your line and deny a score takes some doing.
Glossop lined up to play downfield with the wind at their backs for the first half. It has to be said that although their tactic to kick high using the wind was predictable, it was certainly effective! As a result, Manchester found themselves pinned within their own 22 for most of the first half. Any attempt to escape resulted in a punt back into their 22 while Glossop waited for a gap or a handling error to capitalise on.
Glossop’s first try was eventually scored after a seemingly interminable advantage was played. The effect of defending for a couple of minutes with a penalty advantage in Glossop’s pocket was very tiring. In fact the converted score was almost a relief to allow Manchester to escape from their defensive duties.
Unfortunately, once Glossop had the ball back, it was simply a case of hoofing the ball back down field to let the wind do its work. Several minutes passed with the wind in Manchester’s faces again defending their line. A knock on by Manchester was penalised with another lengthy advantage despite Manchester being in possession. When Glossop finally got their hands on the ball, ‘advantage over’ was signalled, and an already tired defence had to concede a second try to take the score to 12-0.
Manchester’s restart was returned with interest of course, and the play became concentrated once again deep in Manchester’s 22. Some ill advised clearance kicks made very little ground and Manchester were forced to try to run everything, even from behind their own line at times. A knock on was awarded when Emily appeared to be pulled back and spilled the ball so that Manchester again found themselves defending from five metres out. Somehow, progress (of sorts!) was made towards the 22 metre line but a neat kick over the top of the Manchester defence bounced kindly and Glossop were over for their third try and a 17-0 lead.
Charlee suffered an injury as half time approached and, feeling dizzy as a result of a heavy fall, it was decided that she should take no further part. Glossop had sportingly agreed beforehand that in the case of any injuries they would withdraw a player to match numbers. This was appreciated as was the care and concern of the Glossop coach whenever a Manchester player needed first aid during this bruising encounter.
Taking account of the conditions, the half time deficit didn’t seem insurmountable as long as Manchester could turn around and use the wind to the same good effect as Glossop had.
Manchester started brightly with the same part of the Glossop pitch getting a hammering as in the first half. It seemed that Lucy Colledge was going to open Manchester’s account but, with the line beckoning ,the referee decided that Glossop were disadvantaged by Manchester ‘crossing’ and a penalty was conceded instead.
As if a wind machine had been turned down, the first half gale then turned into a second half breeze and Manchester were unable to take the same advantage of the weather that Glossop had done in the first half. Nonetheless the home side were now more restricted to running the ball, although some committed tackling by the Manchester backs stopped any real progress. Charlotte Hockenhull, playing her very first game, was particularly brave and effective in her efforts.
As Manchester began to regain control of the game, a second key injury was suffered when scrum half Hannah Johnson limped off with a recurrence of her ankle injury. Another reshuffle was necessary with Emily moved from 10 to 9 and Hannah Goddard as a “reward” for her excellent start with Manchester Girls moved in to the pivotal fly half position. Lucy and Charlotte, from newcomers on the wing, quickly became centres; with Eleanor Harper now effectively as a roving full back, putting in some solid defensive work. All the girls gave a very good account of themselves in whichever position they were asked to play and continued to resist a well organised Glossop team.
Special mention should be given to Hannah G for making and taking some crunching tackles (even the referee was impressed!). This was particularly noticeable because of the experience of the home side’s half backs who would never have known that this was only Hannah’s third game.
It was disappointingly against the run of play when Glossop scored their killer try to take a very commanding 24-0 lead. The real character of the side was then shown when from a defensive scrum, Emily looked up, fancied her chances against the ten players in front of her and went for it. With support racing after her, she was able to charge along the wing before cutting inside to touch down under the posts. Alyx converted to bring the score to 24-7.
Without the luxury of any replacements and missing a couple of key players in Charlee and Hannah J, Manchester were inevitably tiring and a late pushover try was conceded to make the final score 31-7 to our hosts.
Glossop deserved the win and should be given credit for making the most of the first half conditions to build up an unassailable lead. However the one try advantage that Glossop had over Manchester in a more settled second half was a much fairer reflection of the skills on display. Against early season pacesetters Glossop, this performance should give Manchester confidence for the matches to come.
Player of the Match: Charlotte Hockenhull