The Magnificent Seven…
This was a great day for Manchester, finishing a long and successful season on a high, despite the pressure of knowing that they just had to deliver (again!) or be pipped at the post.
Worryingly, Bowdon’s kick off wasn’t dealt with well, and an easy three points was offered as Manchester were caught offside in their own 22. The home side unwisely elected for a scrum which was wrecked by the Manchester pack. The backs made the most of this unexpected turnover and raced to the other end of the field, Richard McCartney touching down after selling a deft dummy, converted to 0-7 by Doug Day.
Initial nerves (the supporters’, that is!) were settled when McCartney’s long penalty kick to touch set up an attacking lineout. Karl Higginson’s throw found Jake Stewart who looked after the ball as the forwards walked him over the line. That a second converted score within the first ten minutes made it a healthy 0-14 lead.
Bowdon’s second attack, after the ill-fated first minute pressure, was effective as they swiftly moved the ball across field from the right wing to the left, eventually stretching Manchester so thinly that a score was made in the corner, impressively converted from the touchline to halve the deficit (7-14) with a quarter of an hour played.
Manchester were back on the attack from the restart and turned down an easy penalty themselves, perhaps chasing tries a little too early. That move broke down disappointingly, but minutes later McCartney had the posts in his sights and fired a very neat drop goal to get those three points after all, closing the first quarter at 7-17.
The next ten minutes were the most worrying of the game from Manchester’s standpoint as Bowdon stepped up their pace. Although the ball didn’t always go to hand for them, an opportunity to take a quick tap penalty caught Manchester out so that the half hour point was reached with Bowdon right back in the game at 14-17.
That proved to me the motivation for Manchester to really go for it however. The third try typified the way the forwards and backs have combined so well this season, when McCartney made ground and then sent a looping pass out to James Brodie, where else but on the wing! With little room to manoeuvre, Brodie uncompromisingly headed straight on, bouncing a couple of defenders until he reached the corner. Day’s reliable boot opened the gap again to 14-24.
It had seemed too much to hope for, but minutes later, with half time approaching the crucial fourth (and bonus point) try was scored. Joe Houghton did the hard work, making ground and committing the Bowdon defence, but no one would have denied Day the significant try (and inevitably the conversion) which took Manchester to the break 14-31 up.
Any nagging doubts that the hosts would rally were dashed when Anthony TiaTia, again ‘on a mission’ , burst into the Bowdon 22 in the first minute. Charlie Ding was in support so that a combination of a well-timed pass and a well-timed run, put Manchester out of sight at 14-38 once Day had added the extras.
Bowdon were reeling now and when a speculative kick wasn’t fielded cleanly, another try was grabbed by Dan Matthews when he powered the ball over the line for a daunting 14-43 scoreline with thirty minutes still to play.
Manchester weren’t quite celebrating yet but some, let’s say, more relaxed defending, did allow Bowdon in for a third score of their own which clearly rankled the team as they retreated behind the posts for the conversion (21-43).
Manchester rightly made the last impression on the scoreboard however with their seventh try. A superb break by Ding from half way was only just stopped by a recovering defence. His supporting three-quarters were in close attendance, so that Ding had only to choose between Houghton, Day and Matt Davies to be the try scorer. Davies it was, Day converting to bring up the half century at 21-50 with just ten minutes to go.
The game finished very loose as Bowdon still had a sniff of getting a bonus point of their own and Manchester looked as if they fancied another try or two to round the season off. As it turned out, neither side added to their tally, but Manchester knew that they had the win, the bonus point and therefore the league title in the bag.