This was our first match in this years Blacksticks Blue Challenge Cup and I am delighted to report we ran out winners in a hard fought encounter 25-5.
A blustery wind that blew straight down the pitch made it a game of two halves. West Park won the toss and decided to play with the wind in the first half and for the first ten minutes Southport found themselves pinned down in their own twenty two, having to battle hard to drive their way back up the pitch.
Good work in the scrum and line out secured possession and the forwards made steady progress towards the half way line breaking the gain line with repeated drives from the base of the ruck. Eventually Rhys Journeaux was able to roll away from the back of a maul and break through the West Park defence. With just the full back to beat Rhys powered through the tackle and was able to open the scoring and give Southport a vital lead against run of play and against the wind.
A stunned West Park quickly recovered their composure and thoughtful kicking kept Southport under pressure close to their own try line. Some strong defence and good work at the breakdown repelled repeated attacks and Southport were eventually able to break away up field through some strong running from the Southport centre pairing of James Cook and Jake Meleady Hughes.
The Southport scrum worked well all day. Having worked their way into the West Park half Southport were disappointed to concede a scrum just outside the home teams twenty two. The Southport scrum worked well all day and Lewis Johnson's strike against the head allowed no.8 Harry Hewitt to pick up from the base and driving round the blind side, broke two tackles to stretch out and score near the corner.
The windy conditions and heavy pitch made kicking extremely difficult and despite an excellent effort all afternoon both teams were unable to convert their scores.
Half time saw Southport leading 10-0 and with the wind at their backs in the second half, they might have felt the hard work had been done. However, straight from the re-start West Park played with a new intensity and the Southport forwards were caught reeling. Following several phases well worked forward play, West Park released their back line and a superb kick to the corner saw Luke Platt collect the ball on the run and dart round the Southport defence to score a well worked and highly skilful try.
The score seemed to re-ignite Southport who finally realised the wind could be used to their advantage and a series of superb kicks out of hand, from full back Tom Stewart, pinned West Park back in their own half. Southport kept the ball narrow through the forwards, driving ever closer to the West Park line but the defence was strong and well organised and wave after wave of attack was driven back, before George Scott was able to pick and go from the base of a ruck and drive over to score from 5 yards out.
At 15-5 and with 10 minutes remaining, Southport pushed West Park deep into their own twenty two and Lewis Johnson running on to a clever 'pop' ball crashed through the nine, ten channel to score a well worked try. With seconds remaining Jake Meleady Hughes, who it transpires played the majority of the game with a broken thumb, made a strong break and ran for the corner only to be held up over the line. From the resulting scrum Southport made several drives towards the try line, keeping possession and committing defenders to the ruck until finally the ball was passed through the backs to winger Tom Stott who finished well.
25-5 was a super result for Southport against a well organised and committed West Park side. The game was won in the forwards with every aspect working well. The scrum was solid and Southport won several agains the head, the line out was safe if unadventurous but the key factor was the amount of ball Southport were able to win at the breakdown. Southport were quicker and seemed more determined to win the ball in the loose and played with a level of intensity that gave West Park few opportunities release their dangerous back line who were quick and looked comfortable with the ball in hand.
In summary it was a good performance from the Southport pack with some strong running and solid defence from the back line including Joe Parkinson and Owen Travis who made a positive impact in the second half.
Man of the match was Charlie Carney who put in a huge effort at second row, well done.