Once again Manchester found their opposition wanting in numbers but not in talent. As a result our hosts were better prepared for a seven-a-side game with the Yorkshire players able to stick with their starting seven throughout. With a strong squad travelling, Manchester appeared disjointed at times as their rolling subs settled to the pace of the game.
Manchester actually started the stronger with good pressure just outside the home 22. Finally West Park got their hands on the ball and a breakaway try, courtesy of some poor cover tackling, gave them the first try of the match.
Manchester knew from the opening salvos that they were at least the equal of the home side and a good passage of play through the hands saw Leanne Murray take the ball at pace to power over the line to equalise at 5-5.
West Park’s second try was a carbon copy of their first with Manchester looking the more likely to gain the initiative until one of West Park’s rapid backs was able to make a break from deep in her own half. With Manchester’s defence well out of position, a determined chase back by both Hannah Johnson and Hannah Goddard was not quite enough to stop the second breakaway try making it a 12-5 deficit.
From their opening successes, it was clear now to the experienced Yorkshire girls just what they needed to do to score. The well drilled backs simply hung back for the ball to be won and then exploited the flanks to race towards the Manchester line, soon increasing their lead to 17-5.
Although Manchester were tactically not adept at sevens (and to be fair they hadn’t expected to need to be this season!), there was no little determination in defence. It seemed unlikely that a fourth score would be scored before half time, especially with Hannah Clarke holding on grimly to her opposite number as she neared the line. The tackle was eventually broken however and a conversion concluded the half with a commanding 24-5 lead for the hosts.
A quick score would have brought Manchester right back into the game and the Manchester girls restarted the game aggressively with that in mind. West Park were now finding the visitors a handful and when a scrum was won against the head, Manchester could begin to hope. West Park’s defence remained solid however and their rucking frustrated the Manchester forwards as they tried to feed their backs from a strong field position.
In short seven-a-side games an eye always has to be on the clock, so despite Manchester’s resurgence, time was already against them as the second half remained scoreless. Hannah Johnson almost made the telling break before she was bundled into touch and the last quarter of the match was reached still three tries behind.
Deservedly, Manchester then made the breakthrough with a short penalty taken by Leanne Murray who was driven over by an alert Manchester pack to narrow the score to 24-10.
Manchester’s forwards worked hard throughout the game, none more so than Bethan Emuss who was able to match the best of the opposition's rucking in a Player of the Match performance.
With the Manchester forwards improving and now the equal of their opposition, the visiting support felt much more encouraged - but playing uphill, into the wind and behind on the scoreboard was always going to be a tough ask!
Emma Broadbent joined the team in her old position of scrum half and showed her experience with some quick ball out of the rucks, eventually freeing Hannah J whose pace took her clear and put Manchester well back in the game at only 24-15 down but with only ten minutes remaining.
Unfortunately, at this point Manchester still needed to score next and despite a great tackle by Lucy Colledge that looked as if it had saved the day, a West Park attack kept its momentum and what was effectively the winning try was scored to leave Manchester 29-15 down with time running out.
Only at this point did Manchester actually look a beaten team and the final try was let in when Manchester’s heads went down despite an excellent effort, losing by 34-15 to a very good seven-a-side team of Yorkshire county players.
Click HERE or on the Match Report tab for some great photos by Liz Broadbent.