Smash and Grab…
A strange game ended with the pack being shuffled at the bottom of North One West as Manchester failed to close out a game seemingly won at half time.
A bright start by Manchester was almost immediately converted into points with a good penalty kick by Doug Day (0-3). With AK stuck in their own half it was a matter of time before the first try came however, courtesy of a quickly taken penalty by Matt Beasley. It looked as if Beasley would make the line himself but when stopped, the ball was recycled with Sam Davis feeding Jake Stewart to make it 0-8 with quarter of an hour played.
The first quarter passed with the hosts only entering Manchester’s half with their restarts and when they did, an easy penalty was turned down, the scrum as opted for was lost, and Manchester were back on the attack. Almost a full half hour of pressure was rewarded with a second penalty by Day to take it 0-11.
The last ten minutes of the half became fractious, first with a fracas off the ball which forced the referee to stop play and then, minutes later, when scrum half Beasley was assaulted. The referee had no hesitation in showing a red card, giving Manchester a numerical advantage as well as a healthy scoreline. The period of madness closed with a frustrated home side being marched back 10 metres as they continued to complain about the referee’s decisions, this time about a penalty award, making it easier for Day to slot over for a 0-14 advantage.
That really should have been it for the half but the stoppages allowed enough time for AK to get on the scoreboard with a late penalty of their own to turn round at 3-14.
At this point Manchester looked well in control and when the half opened with a first minute penalty to make it 3-17, it seemed that the match had slipped away from the home side. That was not to be however as a fired up AK retaliated against that set back by kicking a penalty to touch and then battering the Manchester line for a couple of minutes to close to 8-17.
With their first half aggression now converted into action, a second try was scored within the first ten minutes to make it ‘game on’ at 13-17 and Manchester clearly needing to settle down. The hour mark was reached with Manchester trying to do just that but the storm had not been weathered. A yellow card for the visitors evened up the numbers but when a second one was appealed for and given, Manchester found themselves temporarily down to 13 and AK could smell blood.
Having already carded two Manchester players, the referee then felt compelled to award a penalty try to the home side as Manchester resisted a drive towards their line out wide. With no need for the conversion, AK found themselves ahead for the first time at 20-17 with 10 minutes to play.
Manchester were of course not content to settle for a losing bonus point in a must-win game and tried hard to play themselves out of their predicament. With the AK defence giving no room for Manchester to play the ball, it became increasingly difficult to gain territory so that the match approached full time with Manchester stuck in their 22. One last effort to break out was made but an optimistic pass was spilled so that AK found themselves with an attacking scrum as the last play of the game. The smash and grab of maximum points was completed as the hosts pressured the Manchester line for a bonus point try, at the same time denying their visitors even a losing bonus consolation. That last minute score made it an unlikely 25-17, allowing AK to leapfrog Manchester to set up a tense three-way scramble to escape the relegation places along with Carlisle.