Wilmslow Wolves 29 Northwich 36
WILMSLOW were dealt a double blow despite scoring as many tries as Northwich on Saturday.
The clash combined as a North One West league game and Cheshire Vase semi-final, with Northwich leaping Wilmslow into third spot and booking themselves a potential silverware finale to the campaign.
In the end it just was not Wilmslow’s day as an exciting encounter, played on a gorgeous Spring afternoon, concuded with five tries apiece but Northwich’s number 10 Nick Baldwin landed four conversions and one penalty to Bob MacCallum’s two conversions.
“In many respects it was a really good performance from the Wolves,” said Wilmslow coach Rick Jones.
“We scored some good tries, we looked busy and pacey in the warm spring sunshine, something that’s been missing in recent weeks.
“But you can’t kick the ball away badly as often as we did and then get away with all the tackles we missed. Northwich are far too good a side to let all that go unpunished.”
Baldwin’s field kicking from hand caused all kinds of havoc in the Wilmslow back three, forcing inaccurate kicks out of defence.
Four of the visitors’ five tries, including the winning score in time added on, had their origins in Wilmslow kicking possession away.
Their other score after 35 minutes came from a wickedly difficult Baldwin kick to the corner, which had poor Sam Cutts caught on the hop.
In the last quarter though, the Northwich backs knew they had the beating of their Wilmslow opponents, having worked out which channels to attack because of defensive frailties.
And yet it had still been winnable for Wolves.
Their forwards put in a powerful display. They were masters in the set piece, carried the ball purposefully, won plenty of good possession and had the better field position for most of the afternoon.
It took Northwich half an hour to get out of their own half by which time Wolves were 12-0 ahead.
Number eight Alex Taylor scored three tries, lock Adam Hewitt scored one and the other was an opportunistic effort from scrum half Sean Street, who had another excellent game.
It was in the Wolves’ makeshift back-line that the side was lacking power, pace and defensive organisation.
Plans were disrupted by the late withdrawals of the Looman brothers, victims of a food poisoning bug.
Lewis Bundy-Davies came into the centre and the veteran Charlie Levings was called up at number seven.
Hopefully Jones will have a few faces back in contention for the trip to St Benedicts on Saturday.
Wolves made a good start, controlling and retaining possession and deservedly scored after fifteen minutes, when the Northwich scrum was sent backwards at a rate of knots on its own twenty two.
The ball squirted out, Street hacked it on and when it bounced free under the Northwich posts he pounced for the opening score.
Wolves continued to dominate at this stage of the game and ten minutes later Alex Taylor broke off a catch and drive for the second try.
The course of the game changed when Northwich attacked first from a Wilmslow kick ahead and then from a lineout steal.
Wolves still managed to get the ball back and thumped it up into the Northwich 22 from where the visitors launched a fluent counter which ended with full back Du Randt running in to score.
Moments later Baldwin’s kick to the corner had Cutts on toast and from the lineout prop Mike Bradshaw got the touch down.
Up to this point, Northwich had hardly been in the game but they had clinically taken the two chances that had come their way and were now 14-12 in front.
Wolves soon got themselves back on the Northwich line and after four successive scrums, Taylor managed to get the touchdown from the base.
Wolves’ pack knew it could drive the Northwich scrum back and they were fortunate not to have conceded a penalty try under the posts.
The 17-14 scoreline to the Wolves at half time seemed scant reward for 40 minutes of endeavour which they had largely controlled.
From the Wolves view point, the second half started with a catalogue of errors in which possession was again kicked away and a penalty conceded in front of the posts for offside.
Baldwin tied it up at 17-17.
Five minutes later another poor clearing kick opened up the way, this time for Du Randt to cross for his second try.
The Wolves forwards responded with another bout of scrums on the Northwich line which were well defended and when Baldwin kicked a turnover down the field, the threat looked to have passed.
Not at all.
Street suddenly broke from a midfield scrum and released Hewitt who had the pace to hold off the defence for the Wolves' fourth try.
Northwich replied with Joel Barber bursting through some weak tackling to restore their lead but not for long.
Wolves still put together several decent phases which ended with Taylor bulldozing his way over to tie it up again.
Northwich got possession from the restart and Baldwin, with a well judged kick for his winger to run onto, forced a knock on in the Wilmslow back three.
From the ensuing scrum they got a very kickable looking penalty.
It was the only blot on Baldwin’s performance all afternoon as he sent it wide.
Wolves flanker Tom Ball was up to claim MacCallum’s drop out and set off down the field close to halfway.
With five tries against four, Wolves only had to retain possession to run down the clock.
A draw would have taken them through to the final and kept them in third place in the league.
But that’s all history now.
The ball was kicked deep into Northwich territory and in a fitting finale to a fine match, at least from a neutral and visitors’ point of view, they recycled it left and found the Wolves defence AWOL to run from deep in their own half for number eight Chris Dale to grab the winning try.