Manchester 33 v Anselmians 31
By Tim Harper
Another vital home win
1st XV v Anselmians
Weather: dry overcast with a very strong wind towards the cricket pitch
With Chris Saena (Enna) our flanker suffering an injury in warm-up there was a late change to the home side. Alex Marchley (ex-Glossop) made his first start for Manchester on the wing, with Tyrrel moving back to his more familiar blindside flanker position.
Manchester started brightly, opting to play downwind and kicking deep into the 22. Anselmians safely collected and gave early notice that they, like Manchester would be spreading the ball wide at every opportunity but after a few phases with little territory gained they knocked-on. The resulting scrum saw some quick driving up the inside centre channel with a loose offload fortuitously coming off Luke Tyrrel’s foot, who was able to regather and canter through for a simple first try, Doug Day converting. 7:0 to Manchester within 4 minutes. A far better start than usual!
Receiving the kick-off Manchester set off running through phases and gaining territory but were eventually penalised for not releasing in midfield. Anselmians kicked for territory to touch and subsequently surged up field with their very fast right wing Adam Bramhall , a notable obvious threat, but the defense held.
However, another penalty for offside in midfield resulted in another kick to the left corner and Anselmians scored from the driving maul. Against the near gale force wind it came no surprise that the conversion was missed. 7-5 after 7 minutes.
From the kick-off Manchester regained possession and continued to show good recycling with Karl Higginson and James Brodie gaining valuable yards pressing into the Anselmians 22 until another knock-on broke their continuity. From the scrum Anselmians kicked long but Manchester counter attacked with Doug day and Harry Lewis working well together. Harry lewis eventually showing his pace and strength to put Manchester two tries up with both converted, 14-5 after 12 minutes.
The restart saw the ball go straight into touch but the home side were unable to take advantage from possession as it was becoming evident that Anselmians midfield defence was solid with both their captain (the inside centre) and their blond openside making big hits. After repeated failure to get over the gainline hesitancy resulted in a call of crossing against Manchester. Anselmians kicked to the corner but were temporarily unable to score from a maul, knocking on near the line. However, Manchester surprisingly tried to run from deep in their 22 rather than take advantage of the wind and were penalised for holding on within their 22. A second corner-ball resulting almost inevitably in a try from 5m lineout and maul. The conversion made the score 14:12 to the hosts and the pattern of the game was set.
Both sides were making too many errors and both seemed well capable of scoring if they managed to cut those errors out.
Manchester pressed forward after getting a turnover from the kick-off and slowly advanced upfield; they too gained a penalty of their own and tried to emulate Anselmians with a kick to the corner and driving maul, but were held. The ball was repeatedly driven forward by the pack but lost in contact and Anselmians kicked to touch to relieve the pressure.
The weather had already influenced the nature of the game a little but when it really intervened it did so to great effect! With Manchester attacking, from what appeared to be a reasonable long flat pass from the lineout the ball suddenly behaved more like a feather and floated up high into the air and drifted straight into the arms of the Anselmians Captain Sam Russell . He seized it gleefully and ran the ball-in 80 metres untouched, from inside his 22 muchto the amusement of the travelling support. With an easy conversion the visitors were suddenly winning 14-19!
For the rest of the half Manchester were repeatedly frustrated by the solid mid-field defense of Anselmians preventing them setting up quick go forward ball. An injury to Zak Round from one of those hard tackles saw him go off for treatment . Luke Tyrrel moved to wing, Alex Marchley moved to centre and Luke Boon joined the back row from the bench. These two factors combined to disrupt Manchester’s midfield and any attempts to bypass the centre with any longer miss-passes frequently strayed in the wind.
On the other hand any danger from repeated recycling by Anselmians seemed to eventually be neutralised by Tom Fantom or Charlie Ding gaining turnovers or penalties for holding-on in the tackle.
The game was v much in the balance.
Facing a howling wind and a five point deficit in the second half Manchester could only hope Anselmians would not make more telling use of the conditions. It felt like at least like a two score wind!
Home supporters concerns were further heightened when possession was lost in contact wide-out early in the second half. The visitors taking full advantage with the same dangerous winger eluding would be tacklers to further stretch the visitors lead. The second half had barely started and Anselmians were deservedly 12 points up and had gained a bonus point for 4 tries. Two of them gift-wrapped! 14-26!
Manchester then seemed to focus a little better on getting over the gainline. Two factors then seemed to turn the match in the home sides favour. Firstly Zak Round recovered sufficiently to be reintroduced and broke through to score wide out. 19-26.Then the Anselmians openside who had been ignoring the referees repeated instructions at the breakdown and slowing the ball illegally, was yellow-carded.
At first Manchester were unable to take full advantage: victims of their own handling errors, but eventually pressure told and the absense of the strong openside smash-tackler enabled Joe Williams to break through in the centre to score. Doug Day converting, Manchester were level midway into the second half, and had secured a bonus point.
Manchester continued to press home their man advantage with good recycling work by the pack eventually making enough space for Zak Round to again break through with a good hand-off to score under the posts. Manchester 33 Anselmians 26. A very costly 10 minutes for the visitors.
With the return of their strong openside Anselmians showed their mettle with renewed effort to get far more than a point or two out of the game. They came close to scoring and forced a deliberate knock-on from Alex Marchley who was rightly Yellow-carded in his first game for the club, in an otherwise solid performance, saving an almost certain try.
Anselmians did not suffer the injustice for long however as they were then able to work the blindside of the next scrum to break through in his absence to bring the score to 31-33. The missed conversion from a very difficult angle turned out to be highly significant.
Full of determination and a man advantage they continued to dominate the last few minutes and even had a long range penalty attempt go wide as they attacked right up to the final whistle. Eventually, however, they had to settle for a narrow loss having earned themselves two well-deserved points.
Anselmians are a decent side and certainly don’t deserve to be in their current league position. They should soon get their first victory if they keep 15 players on the pitch.
Manchester will know they again made far too many simple handling errors and failed to play appropriately in the windy conditions. Nevertheless for determination alone, they certainly deserved their bonus point victory.