Manchester kicked off and an eager chase almost gave Lucy Colledge a try with her first touch. Unfortunately the very first foray was a sign of what was to come, when a knock on in a scoring position let Eccles off the hook. The first breakthrough was soon made however when Hannah Johnson as part of a dynamic partnership with Emily Houghton, touched down following her support of Emily’s break. Alyx added the extras with a far from straightforward conversion to give Manchester a 7-0 advantage.
Although Hannah has grown into a more regular role of scrum half this season, the coaches decision to move Hannah back into the three-quarters was rewarded several times by the familiar running of either Hannah on Emily’s shoulder or Emily in support of Hannah. It was predictable therefore that Emily was soon going to get on the score sheet. Eleanor Harper did extremely well to make ground along the wing and with a tight line to run, Emily was able to take the ball outside Eleanor and race to the line. Alyx doubled the score to 14-0 and Manchester’s nerves were settled early on.
The remainder of the half however remained scoreless despite chances galore for Manchester to seal the game and despite Eccles remaining pinned in their own half for the entire period! It became impossible for Manchester to sustain an attack let alone cross the line as handling errors were justifiably penalised with scrum after scrum awarded to Eccles as Manchester knocked on.
If there was one positive to take from the rest of the first half it was that new scrum half Hannah Goddard was getting plenty of experience! Hannah’s opposite number had a torrid time, despite the scrums being uncontested, as Hannah’s reactions denied Eccles getting any significant advantage from their set piece.
Manchester’s tendency to run back into trouble when things are not going well meant that the half time talk focussed on two areas – losing the ball in contact, and, not using the width of the pitch. An enthused team restarted the second half knowing that the game was there for the taking and that a five-try bonus point was a realistic target.
Field position was soon set up and an attacking scrum was marshalled by Emma Broadbent who was now back in her old U15s position of scrum half. Making the most of the uncontested scrum, Emma left the ball until she was happy that a charging Leanne Murray was ready to take her pass. At speed Leanne was unstoppable and a third try was added, converted to a commanding 21-0 lead.
With the match probably beyond them because of their lack of possession, a disconsolate Eccles restarted with a long kick which was well fielded by Bethan Emuss. Bethan took the ball forward, creating a gap as the Eccles defence closed her down. This allowed Hannah J to score a typical try from her own half as she outpaced the remaining defenders to take the score to 26-0. With Manchester’s 100% kicker Alyx off the pitch, Leanne willingly stepped up to the mark and kept the conversion record intact, taking the gap to 28 points.
From this point Manchester’s play became disjointed at times, but this was more through circumstances than a lack of skill. It was important to give the travelling squad game time, but the juggling of positions meant that the team inevitably lost its shape at times as subs rolled on and off. The fact that despite this no score was conceded is very much to Manchester’s credit. One significant advantage of the tactic was that an opportunity was given to new recruit Hannah Clarke who, with only nine players per side, made a promising debut making good ground with some strong runs.
So, was that fifth try bonus ever going to be scored? After two early tries at the start of each half, the scoring again dried up with several players going close; Lucy again and Charlotte Hockenhull almost breaking the defence. As it turned out, it was sheer determination (or was it frustration?) that got the breakthrough. With the forwards battering the Eccles line, the backs were lined up waiting for the ball to be fed back to them. Hannah G was the conduit for this but, deciding that enough was enough, she picked up the ball from the base of the ruck and took Route One to charge through the middle and force the ball over the line.
A very satisfying fifth conversion of the day was added by Alyx to take the final score to 35-0. A late effort by Eccles was then resisted by some determined defence by Manchester who in truth didn’t deserve to concede, after dominating both territory and possession throughout the match.