FIRSTS SHOW TRUE GRIT
With nine players injured or unavailable, Southport character sees spoils clamed at the death. Mike Smith was there.
Southport started the game brightly in the October sunshine. From the kick off, the Southport pack chased the kick, and good work from Phil Antrobus throwing his body at a loose ball, gave Southport possession. This allowed the Southport forwards to take the game immediately to Ashton, causing their blitz defence to blitz offside, and giving Jake McMullen an easy chance to slot the ensuing penalty between the uprights.
The visitors continued to look good in possession, and a break from Ste Hunter in his first start of the season released the backs and quick hands found Chris Tees in space to cross the line. Unfortunately for the centre, his pace was too much for the match official, and by the time he eventually caught up with play, it was a 5m scrum instead of a try that was awarded. This gave the opportunity for the powerful Ashton pack to drive their opposition off their ball and clear their lines. Despite this, Southport continued to take the game to Ashton, with Jamie Bailey cleverly kicking through only for the Ashton open-side to bravely dive on the ball and prevent a certain try.
However, the game was to be remembered for the numerous penalties awarded at the breakdown lottery, and from such a penalty for a tackler not releasing, the Ashton fly half levelled the scores with a long range effort from just inside Southport territory. And the theme was continue when after numerous penalties for a variety of offences at the breakdown, Southport gifted another three-pointer for Ashton’s 10 to convert and take the lead.
But the lead did not last long. As Southport kept on pressing towards the Ashton try line, a clearance kick found Phil Weston on the halfway line. He fielded the ball well, and found Bailey in space, who skipped in and out of the scattered Ashton defence to score an excellent solo effort in the left corner, and a half time lead.
The game was set up for an exciting second half, however it proved to be a frustrating 40 minutes of rugby for both teams with neither able to find any structure. Ashton’s powerful forwards continued to drive the Southport pack back, however couldn’t find a way through, with great defence at the ruck from Tom Smith. In reply, Southport struggled for possession at the set pieces, and when they did, more often than not were penalised at the breakdown. As the drizzle started to fall, there were glimpses of sunshine, for example, when Dylan Norbury collected the ball on his own try line and raced 60 metres before he was eventually stopped.
However it always appeared that the game would be decided on a refereeing decision rather than a spark of rugby genius. With 25 minutes gone, Ashton were awarded a penalty just inside the Southport half. As the Aston fly half prepared to attempt the long range kick, an exchange of words from players from both sides saw the official march 15m forward and 10m in field to present an easier opportunity for the Ashton kicker to convert and take the lead.
With two minutes left, this seemed to have been the decisive kick. However there were still penalties to be awarded, and when Ashton were adjudged this time to be holding on at the tackle, this gave Southport a last chance effort from the Ashton 10m line. Up stepped McMullen who calmly struck the ball through the sticks.
So it was Southport who were able to hang on to victory in this close contest. Despite the frustrated cries that can probably still now be heard ringing out from the touchlines of Banky Lane, credit should be given to the leadership skills of captain George Baumber, who led by example from the front, was a constant thorn in the side of the Ashton driving mauls, continually thwarted the threat from the heavier Ashton pack and was the calming voice that led his team to victory. Final score Ashton on Mersey 9 Southport 11.