On an awful day for rugby, Manchester defied the elements with their enterprising play, fully deserving the win over a fancied Northwich side.
After a few minutes of testing each other out in midfield, Manchester had good field position with an attacking lineout. The lineout remained solid throughout the game and as Manchester pressed, Northwich crept offside allowing Doug Day to open the scoring with an easy penalty (3-0).
Manchester were by now dominating the early exchanges with Matt Beasley and Richard McCartney linking well to pose a constant threat. Drawing Northwich to their right, McCartney kicked crossfield from the 22 to Day on the opposite wing. It was an awkward chase but Day got his hands on the ball first as it bounced into the in goal area, converting his try to 10-0 in as many minutes.
It took more than a quarter for Northwich to exert any pressure in Manchester’s half but a fine try was scored when they finally moved the ball wide with good hands in poor conditions, stretching Manchester too much to prevent the gap being closed to 10-7 after 20 or so minutes.
The half finished with Manchester well on top in terms of territory and possession but not quite able to make the killer blow with a number of knock-ons at crucial moments in the wet and slippery conditions. Confidence was growing however with a number of players settling into unfamiliar positions; Tom Fantom at hooker and Charlie Ding as flanker looking as if they had played the whole season there.
Manchester chose to ignore the weather again from the whistle with their running game proving a handful for the opposition who were forced to infringe to stop the attacking momentum. With a series of penalties being given in the 22, Manchester chose the points to increase the lead to 13-7 and then five minutes later, to 16-7, thanks to Day’s trusty right boot.
Although Northwich managed to sustain their attack for a while, Manchester’s defence was well up to the job and gradually pushed up out of their half. A breakaway try seemed a certainty however when Manchester missed one of their few tackles but Day tracked back at speed, conceding a penalty which could only be for holding on as he appeared to be wrestling for the ball. The last quarter was therefore reached with a slender 16-10 lead.
Manchester seemed by far the more likely team to score with the defence in no mood to let the lead slip now. The pattern of the game meant that possible tries were being exchanged for penalty kicks however, and so it proved with ten minutes to go when Day was again called on, following yet another defensive infringement. The resulting 19-10 lead, in tricky conditions and with a gritty and determined team to defend it, was never really challenged to the final whistle.
This was an excellent performance as the odds were seemingly stacked against a home win at the start. Eighty minutes later at a damp Grove Park, it was the visitors who proved unable to cope with the expectations or conditions, Manchester moving near to mid-table in what has already been an up and down season.