Manchester 31 v Burnage 7
By Tim Harper
Manchester do double over local rivals
The home fixture against Burnage (as in ‘Farage’) Garden City is always anticipated as a big game and this was no exception given the respective league positions. This and the approaching storm (above) seemed to combine to affect both teams in an overall somewhat error-strewn spectacle.
Sometimes though, it is the result that counts and the home team were eventually able to take a comfortable bonus point win despite the inability of either side to come to terms with the wind, which Manchester elected to kick and play into in the first half.
Fielding a strong pack, with Martin Halsall propping, Manchester quickly proved dominant in the scrum often driving the opposition back a metre or so to disrupt their possession. Jake Stewart was his usual athletic self at the front so the visitors lineout was also always under threat as long throws were almost inevitably ‘not straight’! The visitors gained little ball from that source throughout the first half. Combine that with a scrum-half playing right up to the edge in both set-piece & loose (his chop tackles assisting a very mobile pair of flankers in Tom Fantom and Sean Davenport in jackling) and the visitors were seldom able to hold onto their own ball for long as dominance at the breakdown completed their holy trinity of winning rugby.
Nevertheless the wind and poor handling disrupted the play of both sides and gave us a first half to mostly forget. Two penalty kick ‘corner balls’ which failed to find touch exemplary in that regard. It was a difficult task to gain much territory at all by kicking! Another opportunity was lost when a ‘high tackle’ penalty was reversed, apparently because the referee objected to the tone of voice used by Alex in discussing the foul with his opposite number. Frustration was felt by both players and spectators.
Notwithstanding all that, two or three highlights come to mind. Manchester spent quite a lot of time in their own half in the first half but their pressure defence held firm even in the red zone. More often than not it was a turnover at the breakdown that relieved pressure. The game became a bit of a midfield to and fro impasse.
The deadlock was broken after 20 minutes: a call of ‘crossing’ in midfield by the visitors gave the home team the opportunity of better field position. We kicked, made touch, and from the resulting attacking lineout, after several phases down the 10/12 channel, a lovely floated pass by Jay Saena eventually give Harry Lewis a half chance which he finished with aplomb wide right. The wind made the conversion a nigh on impossibility. 5:0.
Late on in the half consecutive turnovers by Tom and Charlie gave an opportunity to attack, with Burnage on the back foot in their own half, and the backs duly delivered: Jay, Doug and Zak combining well to almost reach the line whereupon Sion Davenport showed why he was so highly regarded as a Colt in easily getting there first to score an excellent flankers try. 10-0 at the half.
As the second half got under way I remember feeling somewhat worried when Manchester, receiving, decided to try and run the ball out of the 22: a loose pass and Burnage gained a heaven sent opportunity of possession and field position. They seized it to repeatedly launch their lively backs with renewed vigour and showed good interplay. Manchester responded with perhaps the most critical period of stonewall defence in the whole match, initially holding up a player over the line, then disrupting the scrum. Ena, Karl ,Brodie and Mike Jordan prominent in making an impenetrable barrier at the gain line. Wave after wave of attackers were rebuffed in the 5m zone. Strangely even when the defenders were penalised at the breakdown, or for off-side, the visitors kept electing to scrummage which ultimately proved their undoing. Another turnover eventually resulting.
Doug Day then did the sensible thing: faced with a depleted backfield, A beautiful wind-assisted diagonal kick, which travelled deep into the opposition half, before rolling into touch must have been very disheartening as they were pushed all of 70 metres back.
A stolen lineout immediately gave Manchester the opportunity to spread the ball for Harry Lewis to underline his attacking credentials with another well taken half-chance. This one much closer in, converted by Jay Saena for a 17-0 lead.
Burnage still laboured on, giving themselves renewed hope after their backs enjoyed initial success with good off-loading to penetrate to within 10 metres of the home line in open play. Jay, perhaps aware that the defence was still trying to get into position, slowed the ball a little too much for the refs liking and was yellow-carded.The visitors again battered away in the red zone, but even a man short, stoical Manchester managed to turnover the ball after a dozen phases and take play to midfield.
A single lapse in guard-defence of a ruck was to be the home team’s only critical error in this game, as Burnage’s 8 switched play at a ruck he spotted a premature drift in defence and romped through the large gap to set up a try and conversion under the post for their scrum-half.
The prospect that the 17-7 scoreline would make for an interesting last quarter was soon dispelled. A long restart, another ‘not straight’ call at a defensive lineout and another series of good carries by the home pack in midfield gave an opportunity for the backs to spread the ball and for Harry Lewis to stand his man up and complete a well-deserved hat trick and gain the essential bonus point win for Manchester. Converted; 24-7.
The last 10 minutes wasn’t particularly memorable save that it gave an opportunity for Jay, having returned to the field, to show that his ‘little bit of hand baggage’ wasn’t impeding his speed that much. He seized upon a loose pass on the halfway line and easily kept the Burnage backs at bay in scoring a good interception try under the posts, converting it himself.
Final Score 31-7.
Judging by the raised voice of the visiting coach on the pitch immediately after the match, Burnage were pretty disappointed in their own level of commitment & performance in this match, in marked contrast to a pretty relieved home team.
My mom: Harry Lewis for his superb finishing.