WISDOM & EFFORT* WIN THE DAY
Mike Smith gives his coaches eye verdict on an epic afternoon at Waterloo Road as Firsts ultimately triumph in nerve-wracker.
Southport faced visitors Manchester last Saturday in a see-saw contest that might have been an exciting spectacle for any prospective neutral, but which in reality had both sets of supporters at Waterloo Rd on the edge of their seats until the end.
Southport struck after only two minutes when the power of Tom Smith, Rob White and Dan Aindow drove the Manchester scrum back on their put in, causing a fumble at the base. This allowed Southport to set an attacking scrum, and from a solid platform, Charlie Attis attacked wide before finding Josh Critchley on his inside. The number 8 took play up to the line before being stopped, but Southport recycled and with good hands found Jake McMullen free to cross for the first score. Another was added shortly after when Attis again found space, this time a perfectly weighted pass putting Danny Banks through the middle. Banks found Dylan Norbury on his outside and the winger chipped to the corner where after another fumble, Norbury’s chase put him on the spot to gather and dive over.
But in a pattern that was set to follow all afternoon, Manchester immediately struck back, firstly with a Rich McCartney close range penalty and then with a counter attack, shipping the ball wide and supporting well before Will Chance finished off in the corner, well converted by McCartney. However, from the restart, Southport regained possession from another Manchester mistake, allowing Attis to put in a cross field kick for Norbury to contest with his opposite number, and as he did, the ball fell kindly for hooker White who was on hand to collect and score in the corner. Manchester had a kick at goal late in the half to reduce the deficit, but a miss meant that Southport took a slender 15-10 lead into the interval with neither team able to break free from the other.
However, as the sides turned around, Southport immediately opened up a gap. A Manchester scrum in their own 22 and another huge shove from the Southport eight put pressure on the visiting scrum half and this was followed up by a hassle from Jake Mann and a tackle from Joe Mawdsley before Mann flicked the ball up to Critchley and he strode over the line and under the posts. But yet again Manchester struck straight back after Southport threw a loose pass in their own half, and a chip through saw fullback Dean Hogg collect the ball and outpace the defence to the line. And as the pendulum continued to swing, Southport then camped in Manchester’s half before, from a well worked lineout, a line break from Banks and a marauding run from replacement Jordan Caldwell, allowed the home side to put together several phases of play until Critchley was on hand to power over the whitewash. Unsurprisingly, Manchester replied from the kick off after a dropped catch gave the visitors an attacking scrum. Good work from the back row took play up to the Southport try line and Manchester then spread the ball wide for Hogg to bag his second, well converted by McCartney with the help of the crossbar.
With the game in the balance, both sides strived to dominate possession with both defences tightening up. However, with 15 minutes to go, Southport found a way through for what looked like the decisive score. From a lineout just outside of their 22, Smith took play forward. Then working the ball right and left, McMullen found a gap to step inside before finding Norbury out wide. The winger was stopped short but with the help of his forwards the ball was worked wide for Tom Hill to finish off an excellent a passage of play. But Manchester never gave in, and with minutes left, a period of sustained forward pressure told with a try for the powerful number 8. However, from the restart, a Manchester pass was adjudged forward, providing Southport with an attacking scrum, changed to a penalty for dissent, allowing McMullen to strike home the kick and seal the victory. Final score: Southport 37 Manchester 29.
*The motto on the City of Manchester coat of arms and the rugby club badge "Concilio et Labore" loosely translates to "By wisdom and effort" - certainly something that is needed in bucketloads at this level and which the lads showed yesterday.