A prompt arrival by a strong twelve player squad unfortunately worked against Manchester on the day. Three of the visiting party were delayed due to a detour to the wrong ground(!) and with only seven players to play against, Manchester did the decent thing and offered to wait. Not to matter, these things happen and the referee’s and parents’ patience was very much appreciated.
The match started evenly but it was Manchester who made the first breakthrough. A strong run by Hannah Goddard gained Manchester good field position before Hannah G was unceremoniously bundled into touch. The pressure was kept on however and a determined charge by Alyx Maw took the home side over the line for a 5-0 lead in as many minutes.
Liverpool St Helens were quick to settle from this setback and play became concentrated in midfield for a while. Manchester’s rucking was excellent at the breakdowns, with the forwards winning some good ball against some very aggressive opponents. Molly Hastie and Bethan Emuss put in sterling work all afternoon, clearly having taken on board the coaches’ advice in this area. A rare turnover opened a gap for an LSH attack however which, despite some excellent tracking back by Hannah Johnson, resulted in the equalising score at the end of the first quarter.
Manchester were disappointed to be playing 10s when they would have preferred to have had all their available players on the field from the start. To accommodate this format, the referee agreed to the visitors’ request to narrow and shorten the pitch by 10 metres which led to great confusion when LSH grounded the ball only to find that the wrong line had been reached! Their second score was finally made however despite some ferocious tackling by Charlotte Hockenhull, and with play fairly even, LSH had the edge on the scoreboard at 5-10.
Although it is difficult to work out just how Manchester lost this game, the key moments when the match got away from the team were the five minutes leading up to half time. The first blow was when Leanne Murray failed to recover from another knock to her ankle when trying to prevent LSH’s second line. Unable to restart, Leanne limped off and the first shuffle involved bringing Hannah G into 10 to partner Hannah J at 9.
Before the new partnership could settle, a speculative kick up field saw the LSH forwards take control of the ball inside Manchester’s 22. Although the move seemed to be in slow motion, the home defence did not cope with a player who refused to be brought down (despite Hannah J’s best efforts!) and a third try was converted to a 5-17 deficit with half time approaching. Not related to her “tackle”, Hannah J then had to leave the field for attention, leaving a disorganised Manchester to play out the first period.
Unfortunately there was still time for a farcical moment which gave Manchester a mountain to climb in the second half. The confusion with the ‘try line versus five metre line’ resulted in a lineout being awarded to LSH on the five metre line. Only it wasn’t the five metre line of course, it was actually the try line...the consequence of an undefendable lineout resulted in a contentious try with Manchester turning around at 5-24. The subsequent abandoning of the shortened pitch idea was little consolation for Manchester at this point.
Hannah J was able to start the second half but another setback was soon suffered when Charlee Chambers who had been immense against an “awkward” opposite number failed to get up from a heavily contested ruck. At this point Charlee looked as if she would play no further part in the proceedings although she did bravely return to the fray after a lengthy injury break.
Special mention should be given at this point to Manchester’s two replacements: Rachel Twigg whose versatility and willingness to play in the forwards or the backs helped the remaining players to keep their shape; and to Megan Pancutt who was playing her first game of the season after injury. Meg’s experience in the front row allowed Manchester to play contested scrums despite Charlee and Alyx having to leave the field at different times and her return to the team was very welcome.
The frustrations of the Manchester players and supporters was finally relieved with a try that will certainly rival Emily Houghton’s of last week for the try of the season. This time it was Hannah J who decided to take on the whole of the opposition from deep in her own 22. From a tap-and-run penalty, Hannah caused total chaos in the LSH defence which was desperately trying to switch from attack mode. Hannah’s pace was spectacular of course but her vision to plot her course and shrug off despairing tackles was superb. The try was warmly applauded by coaches and supporters of both sides who knew that this was a special score that had brought Manchester back to 10-24.
Manchester’s pack was certainly the equal of LSH despite their physical disadvantage. Once again Amber Smith played the full match at tight head and her impressive performance was highlighted by the coaches for her strength and soft hands (in every sense!) when taking and giving passes and the amount of ground made. Certainly the example that Charlee sets at loose head and Alyx at hooker has made for a strong presence up front. Unfortunately for Amber and Manchester, LSH were able to restore the gap when really Amber should have been allowed to touch the ball down behind her line with Manchester in retreat. The pull back as she went for the ball was unnoticed and LSH capitalised to touch down instead, leaving Manchester dispirited to have conceded the bonus point try.
There could be no gripes about the visitors’ final try though, when a superbly drilled line out (which was a very strong part of the LSH game throughout) was taken at height and rapidly and impressively moved along the backs to complete the scoring, converted to 10-36.
It really did look as if Manchester would have the last word however, until a puzzled Hannah G was recalled from a dramatic "score" from within her own half when an earlier Manchester indiscretion didn’t result in an advantage to LSH and a scrum was awarded. What is absolutely certain is that our new but very talented back line of Hannah G, Lucy Colledge and Charlotte will start scoring tries soon. The ability is there and an extra ounce of confidence to back themselves is bound to be rewarded with points in the matches to come.
[i]Player of the match: Charlee Chambers[/i]