ALL THINGS BRIGHTON BEAUTIFUL
By Graham Ellis
A large crowd assembled at Hillside to watch two evenly matched teams pit their wits in an enthralling match.
Mike Smith reports as Southport welcomed New Brighton on Saturday with the home side riding high after three wins out of four in January and looking to avenge defeat in the wind and rain at Hartsfield earlier in the season.
The match started at some pace, with both teams spreading the ball wide and looking to test the opposition defence. James Tomkinson had an early opportunity, linking well with winger Dan Cresswell on the right, and as New Brighton looked to rush up in defence, a clever Charlie Attis grubber gave captain Tom Hill all the time in the world to kick through and ground the ball, before Attis added the extras. New Brighton responded, and were awarded a penalty at the scrum and an easy three points in front of the posts. And five minutes later, the visitors hit the front after Southport provided too much space for New Brighton’s dangerous left winger, who took his second chance well, crossing in the corner, before an excellent conversion increased the lead.
But Southport immediately put pressure back on the visitors, and after several penalties in the red zone, New Brighton lost a player to the sin bin. Southport immediately exploited the numerical advantage and attacked from the lineout, before Dan Whalen found support on his outside and released Rob White for the prop to sprint to the corner and regain the lead. And Southport soon added to the score, counter attacking from a relieving New Brighton clearance. Crisp hands from Joe Bradford and Tomkinson set Cresswell charging down the wing, before Whalen switched play, with Jake McMullen linking up and putting Hill in, for the captain to finish well in the corner. However, no sooner were the visitors restored to 15 men, unforced errors and missed tackles from the home side allowed New Brighton to find space out wide to again breech the Southport line. Another well struck conversion from the touchline and the scores were level as the sides turned around. Half time: Southport 17 New Brighton 17.
As the second half started, neither side were able to get ahead, and the expansive rugby from the first half was replaced by a forwards’ arm wrestle. Danny Banks, on as a replacement, added some energy, and a good run deep into New Brighton’s 22 set up great attacking territory, only for the home side to knock on, allowing the visitors to clear their lines. But soon Southport were again knocking on the door, and after several New Brighton penalties, Southport chose to kick to the corner instead of taking the points on offer. The tactic paid off when, after a good catch and drive, and with the defence sucked in, Sam Cross saw the gap and powered over the line. The conversion was well struck by Attis and opened up a seven-point lead.
Southport now had their heads up and were soon back in New Brighton’s 22. A driving maul saw the pack powering for the line, but when the maul was taken down, expecting a penalty Southport were caught short and New Brighton were first to react, pouncing on a loose ball and sprinting the length only to be stopped in Southport’s 22 by the last gasp defence. However, Southport were penalised at the ruck and lost a player to the bin for their efforts, giving New Brighton an attacking penalty in front of the posts. With only five minutes on the clock, the visitors chose to take the three points instead of pressing home the advantage. And the gamble nearly paid off as New Brighton immediately marched back into Southport’s half from the restart to set up a frantic five minutes of rugby. But despite New Brighton’s forwards trying to force a way through, ‘Port’s defence held strong. And when the ball spilled loose on Southport’s 22, Banks was first to pounce, collecting and sprinting deep into the visitor’s half. Unable to get all the way, the reinforcements were soon on hand, and with a penalty advantage being played, Colin Fearns scooted down the blindside and crossed in the corner, before Attis sealed the victory with another touchline conversion. So, it was job done, eventually, and Southport can now look forward to their next appointment, a trip to the doctors away at Manchester Medics next weekend. Final score: Southport 31 New Brighton 20.