League Champions Pushed All the Way
Walsall 21 Whitchurch 36
A good sized crowd at Delves Road were treated to a game of good quality rugby between two teams who showed a full commitment from the very first whistle. It was very evident that the unbeaten Shropshire team were rather concerned as the hosts established an 18 – 7 lead early in the second half. They eventually maintained their unblemished record after being awarded a controversial try and having to do some desperate defending.
The hosts had the ideal start as Will Hennessey gathered a kick ahead and found fellow centre Rob Angell in support to burst through for the touchdown. Roger Weston added the conversion from wide out. During the next ten minutes Walsall continued to press and got their reward with a second try. They produced several phases of play before, the hard working lock forward Mike Benson, made a decisive break which took play close to the Whitchurch tryline. The visitors tried to kick the ball out of play but it was gathered by Sam Garbett on the right wing. He linked with Weston who made a good run before being stopped. Scrum half Ainger was quick to get the ball away and fly half Matt Wood and Hennessey linked together well before the young centre glided through the opposition defence for a superb try. It was a similar pattern of play for the next twenty minutes with the hosts exposing some weaknesses in the Whitchurch defence that could have added further scores. They did secure the next score when Weston put over a forty meter penalty kick after the visitors were penalised for persistent dissent. The final minutes of the first half saw the visitors begin to be more effective with their run and support style of play. Good handling and kicks ahead looked like giving them their first score. But excellent pieces of cover defence by Roger Weston and Dean Ainger stopped certain tries. Whitchurch, however, had a confidence boosting score, just before the interval. They were quick to move their lineout possession and centre Gardner made a well-executed pass that put Davies over for a try near the posts which Horton converted.
The second half started well for Walsall as Weston kicked another good forty meter penalty as a result of the hosts being penalised for being offside. It was not long after this that the visitors had their next score. It seemed that the Walsall defence were the first to get the touchdown to a kick into their own goal area. But the referee decided that it was the visitor’s Wellesbury who should be awarded a try. Walsall immediately pressed forward with Weaver, Gozukucuk,Benson and Lockett, all making effective ball carries. This created pressure on the Whitchurch defence and they failed to remain onside which resulted in Weston adding a thirty meter penalty kick.
The next score came virtually straight from the restart. A good follow up to the kick off saw the visitors gain possession and retain the ball until No8 Rees drove over from close range. The game was now evenly poised and it was captain Rees that gave his team the lead for the first time in the match. A powerful scrum close to the Walsall line saw him getting the touchdown. Although Horton missed the conversion his team had now established a 22-21 advantage with just over fifteen minutes left to play. During this time Walsall played some good rugby as they pressed hard to try and regain the advantage. They had several attacks deep in opposition territory and were unfortunate in not getting the score. A couple of potential try scoring passes were not gathered, and with some heroic Whitchurch defending, Walsall failed to make the breakthrough. This would prove to be crucial as the visitors, through replacement Jake Towers, broke away to score two converted tries. The final whistle sounded immediately after his second try. This brought to an end a very good game of rugby with the late scores giving a rather distorted scoreline in terms of the contribution both teams had made during the eighty minutes