Tough at the Bottom…
With both sides needing to improve their league position, this was an important game. Two good wins at home against Rochdale, one in the Cup, made for a confident trip.
Rochdale looked nervous from the start and when Manchester were awarded two simple penalties in the opening minutes, the confidence was there to run and then scrum rather than take the points, neither of which came to anything.
The home side remained pinned in their 22 however, the posts option taken after eleven minutes for Doug Day to open the scoring at 0-3. A superb try soon followed when Zak Round, Anthony TiaTia and Sam Davis combined to carve through the defence before Matt Beasley was able to finish the move off, converted to 0-10. A long penalty by Richard McCartney completed a very promising first quarter with Manchester 0-13 to the good.
Ominously Rochdale then ventured into Manchester’s half for the first time and found no one at home, so that a run through the middle met little resistance. As the gap closed to 7-13, Rochdale settled and looked far more confident, passing the ball well and stretching Manchester’s defence at times. A penalty kick to goal was well taken and it was back to 10-13 after half an hour.
A good flowing move by Rochdale resulted in a fine try in the corner as Manchester were unable to deal with the hosts’ speed. For the first time the home team led at 15-13, but this was quickly corrected back to Manchester’s advantage at 15-16 with a Day penalty as half time approached.
Manchester started the second half as they had the first, and an early try by Dan Pym using his pace and strength should have calmed any nerves as the gap increased to 15-21.
Rochdale settled quicker in the second period however and a poor exit from defence was seized upon, so that a try was scored in the corner, very well converted from the touchline to 22-21 to edge the lead once again. The score restored Rochdale’s confidence and, with the benefit of a penalty advantage, the ball was moved around enterprisingly with Manchester's defence struggling to catch up, eventually opening a significant gap for the first time to 29-21 with half an hour to play.
The third quarter gave Rochdale an advantage when a yellow card for a deliberate knock on was shown to Manchester, the resulting penalty making it 32-21. With their bonus point in the bag, Rochdale just needed to consolidate now, whereas Manchester found themselves chasing the game. A lack of composure meant that Rochdale had an easier time of it than they could have reasonably expected. They were in fact very nearly out of sight when yet another dropped pass in attack was hacked upfield by the Rochdale defence. It was only thanks to a quick retreat by Harry Lewis that a try was saved so that Manchester stayed in the game, although time was now ticking away.
Opportunities were disappointingly wasted with lost attacking lineouts and a penalty to touch being kicked dead, situations that Manchester generally capitalise on, resulting in a frantic but ineffective last quarter. Nonetheless a late try by Mikey Williams from the base of a five metre scrum (32-28) gave hope of a twist in the tale.
Unfortunately the restart was poorly dealt with and the last play saw Rochdale in possession from a lineout in Manchester’s half. A well-controlled driving maul moved towards the visitors’ line at speed, and although the likely penalty wasn’t conceded, the ball was released from the back at just the right time so that Rochdale had the final word, rubbing salt into Manchester’s wounds with a well earned 37-28 bonus point victory.