SOUTHPORT 11 VAGABONDS (IoM) 10 by Mike Smith
For the second week in succession, Southport faced a side from the Isle of Man, and for the second week in succession came out victorious. However, this was a very different encounter to the previous week, and the powerful visitors Vagabonds pushed Southport to the very end of the match.
With a good crowd at Waterloo Rd, an excellent Shane Cook-prepared playing surface and another sun-bathed afternoon, the setting seemed perfect for entertaining, open-running rugby. Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to suit the referee, who was more intent on whistle blowing, and the first 10 minutes of the match consisted of a variety of penalties and free kicks for a variety of offences being given to both sides. During this period, Southport number 8 Matty Astwood was penalised for a tackle off the ball, right in front of the Southport posts, and given an enforced 10 minutes rest for his troubles. Rather than taking the easy 3 points, Vagas decided to opt for a scrum. However the 7 men of Southport held fast, and an error by the Vagas number 8 allowed Southport to clear their lines.
With Astwood returned to the ranks (and his footwear recovered and re-secured), Southport began to cause their own problems. From a clearance kick, Southport wing Chris Drescher recovered the ball and drew the Vagas defence across the pitch, where quick recycling caught the Vagas defence offside, allowing Danny Banks to kick the opening penalty and put Southport in the lead.
Vagabonds continued to press, their pack having the upper hand at the set plays, again turning down the offer of a kickable penalty to put the ball in the corner, but again left the Southport end with nothing.
Away from the set plays however the Southport forwards were keen to run at their opposition and strong runs from Gareth Lang and Sam Cross saw another penalty awarded for hands in the ruck. A quick tap from Lang followed by a power drive from Astwood and a quick recycle allowed the play to be switched, and good hands from centre Chris Tees put Dresher in for a try on the right.
As the match reached half time, the game continued to be well contested, with Southport now having some parity in the scrums. However the constant interruption for penalties seemed to disrupt the flow of play for both sides. One such penalty for not letting a player to his feet gave Vagas another opportunity to kick at goal, and this time the decision was to take the 3 points on offer.
Half time: Southport 8 Vagabonds 3
The second half seemed to continue where the first half finished with both teams trying to get a foothold on the game but neither in supremacy. However, it was a lapse in concentration by Southport that allowed Vagabonds back into the game. Southport failed to clear their lines from a scrum on their own try line, and several pick and drives from the Vagas forwards allowed their lively 9 to supply good ball that saw the inside centre cross for a converted try under the posts and take the lead.
But Southport continued to play with conviction, and midway through the half Tees chased his own kick and, under pressure, the defender was this time adjudged to be holding on, allowing Banks to slot the ensuing penalty through the posts form outside the 22 and retake the lead. These were to be the last and deciding points of the contest.