The Late Show...
Manchester had the better of the opening exchanges with attacking enterprise being let down by poor handling at crucial points, on a couple of occasions with the line in sight.
Northwich seemed to be taken aback by Manchester’s attacking intent and took a while to settle. Frustratingly they were let back into the game not so much by turnovers but by the ball being given away on a number of occasions – although the endeavour was there, all seemed a bit rushed. When Manchester were called upon to defend however, everyone stepped up and the defensive line looked safe. Northwich clearly thought so too and had no hesitation in going for the posts as the end of the first quarter was reached, breaking the stalemate for a 3-0 lead.
The second quarter continued in much the same vein with Manchester’s attack stuttering but Northwich not really threatening as they struggled in the set pieces. With Northwich’s scrum struggling and their lineout being harassed by Sam Davis and Jake Stewart, any move was stopped at source – Manchester’s however seemed to be stopped whenever they got near the try line!
The half closed with Northwich just failing to double their lead with a penalty striking the upright so that the single earlier penalty separated the teams at the break.
After all the hard work of the first half, Manchester blotted their copybook with a knock on from the restart, Northwich winning the resulting scrum and moving the ball to the far touchline for an early score in the corner. An excellent conversion increased the lead to 10-0.
Worse was to come when a yellow card was then shown for an illegal tackle followed by what seemed to be a reversed penalty which Northwich very happily slotted between the posts for a 13-0 lead with the half barely started.
Manchester held on and came right back into the game once up to their full complement again. Northwich found themselves stuck in their half but a well organised defence held firm. The hosts held Manchester up on the line two or three times, a big appeal from Manchester suggested one of the groundings was good but the referee wasn’t so sure and the half hour was reached with Manchester still a couple of scores down.
Another confident appeal on the well battered Northwich line with ten minutes to go didn’t convince the referee and there seemed a real danger that Manchester’s territory and possession were going to remain frustrated. An attacking scrum from a held up decision was finally too much for the Northwich pack however and James Brodie was able to carry the ball over. A touchline conversion by Doug Day gave real hope as the gap closed to 13-7.
Northwich realised they were in trouble and it really felt as if they were hanging on as the game entered the last few minutes. With two minutes to go a kickable penalty was sent into touch rather than Manchester gambling on taking the points and fielding a restart. The forwards rewarded that decision by catching and driving the maul infield, the impressive Mikey Williams very deserving of the score to make it 13-12 with the conversion to come. Day’s nerve held yet again and for the first time, with a minute to play, Manchester were in front 13-14.
More drama was to come when a long range penalty was attempted by Northwich but when that fell short, Manchester kept their composure to close out a deserved, if very late, win.