Westoe Storm North Division Final
By dave barnes
One more Step
South Shields Westoe cruised into the Semi-finals of the National Intermediate Cup with a ‘Mary Poppins’ of a first half – ‘Practically Perfect in Every Way’
With conditions blustery, the wind swirling and a low sun, most spectators were not expecting a free-flowing sevens-style performance, but the home support were in for a welcome surprise.
In a first half demolition of visitors, Bowdon, Westoe scored seven tries and 43 points, playing the best consistent rugby of the season. Westoe’s pack dominated in all areas and the side played with confidence, allowing some great handling and fast open play.
Bowdon currently play in Lancs/Cheshire League 1, the equivalent level to Westoe, and are league leaders and primed for promotion at the end of the season. The visitors had only lost on two occasions this year and were probably not expecting the rampant display from their hosts.
Straight from the first whistle, Westoe turned on the pressure after Bowdon cleared the kick-off. The line-out was taken cleanly, set-up and driven towards the line. Bowdon managed to drop the maul short, but Westoe’s short handling and recycling was accurate and after several phases and drives from Sam Hughes and Raymie Elliott, winger Paul Evans crossed for the score in under a minute. 5-0
Bowdon came back strong, applying pressure of their own, but the Westoe defence was on song and camped on their own line, resisted a barrage of close drives from the visitors. Mounting pressure looked like it may pay off after several minutes of assault, but constant tackling and a stripped ball allowed Westoe to clear the lines and nullify the early threat.
Still in their own 22m, No. 8, Sam Gaff broke free, charging down the slope and flicking the reverse pass to Paul Evans, who almost made the line but was tackled short. Scrum half, Chris Judson broke quickly from the ruck and a second inside pass found Raymie Elliott, unstoppable with ten metres to go. 10-0
Fifteen minutes in and a line-out steal led to a series of Westoe drives from Elliott, Derek Worthington and Ryan Lamb, eating the territory and dragging defenders in. With spaces appearing the ball was spun wide for Mikel Tate and onto full-back, Luke Moffett, who sprinted the last 30m into the corner outpacing the speedy Bowdon full-back, Agyei-King. 15-0
More driving play from Louis Kellett, Lamb and Worthington again gained territory and set up a powerful break from lock, John Younghusband, with Paul Evans providing the link to flanker, Alex Wylie running in support for the score. Converted 22-0
Twenty-five minutes played and déjà vu time, the drives coming from Andy Kirton and Kellett, with Worthington breaking the line and delivering the short offload to Joe McKenzie on an angled run to the line. Converted 29-0
What appeared to be their first mistake of the day turned into score number six, with McKenzie scooping up loose ball from the restart and passing to Gaff, who strode all the way to the posts. Converted 36-0
Bowdon’s day worsened with the wind holding the restart kick and giving Westoe the scrum. A Gaff pick-up and Judson run, took the ball close, with the defence forcing the mistake and earning their own scrum-5. Westoe’s pack attacked the scrum, turning over the ball for Alex Wylie to pounce and end the half with a converted score. 43-0 HT
A reinvigorated Bowdon came out after the whistle, now playing down the slope they held the ball well and strung together a dozen or so phases, switching between close-up drives and spinning the ball wide; however, Westoe’s line-speed and defence forced another error and they regained possession.
A Bowdon ruck offence gave Westoe the penalty to the corner. A clean Younghusband take was driven to the line but collapsed just short, but the horrific union of Lamb and Kellett smashed through the remaining defenders for Lamb to claim the touch-down and the half century after 10 minutes of the half. Converted 50-0
With the game all but won, the intensity and accuracy of the home side tailed off slightly, allowing Bowdon, who never gave in, more time in possession and the opportunity to attack.
Despite this, Westoe continued to pressure the visitors and forced errors and turnovers nullifying several scoring opportunities. Andy Sutherland read the play and intercepted a long pass taking the ball to the oppositions red zone and giving the offload to Haydn Richards to cross the line, dragging a defender with him. 55-0
With Westoe attacking again, Bowdon’s Njang-Ako-Oben stripped the ball and after a series of drives the ball was spun out wide for young winger, Briscoe, to show his pace and sprint under the posts for the visitors’ first score. Converted 55-7
Westoe remained in control of the ball and gained territory from some long Sutherland kicks and their relentless forward surges. A McKenzie break went a full 70m, with John Younghusband on hand to receive the pass, only to be brought down short of Bowdon’s line.
Another rare penalty gave Westoe a line-out on the five metre line. The catch and drive this time unstoppable with Paul Evans adding his considerable weight at the back, touching down for try number ten. Converted 62-7
The restart proved to be the worst period for Westoe, whose lazy play gave Bowdon’s centre, Hargreaves-Connolly the opportunity to steal loose ball and show his strength in blasting through the home side’s defence. Converted 62-14
With the clock ticking down, Westoe’s Sutherland gave another inside pass to Sam Hughes, giving him the opportunity to show his pace and power, scoring try number eleven. Converted 69-14
The final play and score of the match came from another Hughes run down the touchline, recycled ball finding Joe McKenzie who crashed his way through to finish off a man-of-the-match performance and score his second and Westoe’s twelfth try of the day. Converted 76-14 FT
A diamond performance from the home side on a day when everything seemed to go right. The pack were dominant in all areas, stealing both line-out and scrum ball, and winning the collisions in the loose.
The back row were outstanding both in their support play and control at the breakdown; especially Joe McKenzie, who in recent months has played at both flanker and centre positions. Today he appeared to be playing them all at once as he seemed to be first to the ball wherever it was.
The half-backs controlled the ball and varied the area of attack throughout, the centre pairing caused persistent disruption, crashing through the midfield and the back three were a constant threat in attack and made three or four try-saving tackles denying Bowdon any chance to get back in the game.
With a strong bench there was no drop-off when the early replacements were made, which bodes well for the remainder of the season and the Semi-final of the cup to come.
Unfortunately for Bowdon, they met Westoe at their very best and struggled after the blistering first twenty minutes. We wish them well with the remainder of their season which may see them promoted to North One West.
The match was expertly refereed by Steve Green, who played good advantage and allowed fair contest at the breakdown.
Westoe now progress to the semi-final of the National Intermediate Cup and will face Kenilworth, winners of the Midlands Divisional Cup.
With only one step to go, Westoe are gearing up for another visit to Twickenham after their last appearance in 2005, and if they can continue with today’s intensity, patience and accuracy they stand a very good chance of fulfilling the dream.