Marple 13 Southport 24, as seen by Mike 'Word' Smith
Southport made the journey across Manchester to Marple last Saturday, looking to extend their winning run to three matches.
Despite a heavy pitch underfoot, both teams made clear from the kick off their intent to play open running rugby, and the early exchanges saw end to end rugby with both teams profiting from early penalty kicks converted. However, as the game progressed, Marple started to create the clearer scoring opportunities, borne out of greater possession, starting from their dominance of the scrum, with their heavier and more experienced front row driving the Southport pack back at every set piece. But despite this dominance, Marple failed to make the most of the opportunities created, making too many unforced errors, and Southport could count themselves quite fortunate to only concede one other penalty kick in the half and still be in the contest, 6-3 down at half time.
Changes at half time saw the introduction of James Smallwood and Ian Smith into the Southport pack. Smith joined his name sake Tom in the front row, although the senior stalwart, unlike his junior counterpart, was in possession of both of his own boots. This young-and-old combination, together with a forced change in the Marple front row, resulted in the Southport scrum now starting to gain the upper hand.
Indeed, it was from a Marple five-metre scrum on the Southport line that Southport turned the tables and drove the Marple pack back to turn over ball and allow outside half Danny Banks to clear his lines. From the ensuing lineout, the ‘Port pack continued to pressurise their opposite numbers, and this forced the Marple ten to spill a wayward pass. Banks was on to the loose ball in a flash and sprinted the 60m to score under the sticks and present Jake McMullen an easy kick for a 6-10 lead. Sadly for Southport, Banks sustained an injury in his exertions and had to sit out the rest of the contest.
Now Southport had their tails up, and powerful runs from Sam Cross and Mike Dale and excellent tackling and pressure at the breakdown from Danny Booth, who was having another outstanding game, caused Marple to transgress at the breakdowns, and allowed McMullen to kick two further penalties to extend the Southport lead. To make their cause harder, Marple were reduced to 14 men for a ten minute spell for persistent offences.
However, to their credit, Marple were not prepared to fade away, and came straight back down to attack the Southport try line with a series of their own penalties awarded, and a catch and drive at the lineout saw them score in the corner. The conversion from the touch line was converted and suddenly Marple were within 3 points.
But back came Southport, showing a real determination that has been growing over recent weeks, and from the kick off, collected the ball and started a drive that sucked in the Marple defence. With vision, Booth surged off the back of the maul into space, putting the Marple defence on the back foot, and this allowed Southport’s Joe Mawdsley, now filling in at outside half and held together with tape, to find Chris Drescher on the left wing for a run in and decisive try in the corner. With the match nearing its conclusion, there was just time for McMullen to land one more penalty goal, this time from the 10m line, to conclude a rejuvenated second half performance from ‘Port.
Final score: Marple 13 Southport 24.