Manchester 35 v Blackburn 29
By Tim Harper
Manchester Show Their Metal
The opportunity to move up the league was taken with both hands in this home fixture against a strong Blackburn outfit that had done the double against us last season.
Fielding a fairly strong side despite missing 2 or 3 pencilled-in starters, Manchester elected to receive, the kick-off was lost to the athletic Blackburn Locks, but Manchester started defending strongly with Brodie gaining an early jackal turnover on his 22, Slipping immediately into gear the home side worked their way up beyond half-way running two or three very effective go-forward playbook phases before they themselves fell foul of the referee for holding on. The resultant penalty for the visitors was cleared to touch just into Manchester territory.
With their lineout working well giving quick clean possession the visiting backs apparently hadn’t got off the proverbial bus and fumbled, losing the ball on the floor, a perfect gift for Luke Tyrrel who hacked-through and gave chase; easily winning the race, he gathered the ball ten metres out and cantered through to the left of the posts, Try duly converted by McCartney to give Manchester a 7:0 lead.
Blackburn now woke up and from the restart started to exert significant pressure, showing early evidence of both good close interplay amongst the forwards and considerable pace in their backs. However, as soon as there was a sniff of a turnover Jay Saena showed more of his kiwi skills in jackaling to win a penalty.
A good touch made by Mccartney just into the opposition half should have resulted in further Manchester pressure but the first of several own-lineout losses gave warning of one of the hurdles the home side would need to overcome to run out victors.
The unexpected possession and space permitted the visitors to give the ball real width. Winger Josh Riley showed true pace in outflanking the home defense before linking with his fullback Alex Taylorson to score reply wide out. Conversion missed. 7-5.
With clear evidence of the opportunities wide-out Blackburn started to play an increasingly expansive game pressurizing Manchester deep into their own 22. Manchester unable to relieve pressure, even after gaining penalties, because of two more lost lineouts.
When they did start to retain possession the Manchester backs and forwards did pick-up from where they left-off in the last match with Luke Tyrell again showing the danger he presents in broken field possession, running in a try between the posts from midfield. Conversion Doug Day: 14-5 after 25 minutes.
Blackburn were far from broken so early in the match and renewed their determination to play expansively, breaking through with good back interplay only for last man Alex Marchlewski to almost miraculously hold up the potential try-scoring wing. The relief, however, was short lived, as it was becoming apparent that the visitors had the advantage at the scrum. A series of 5 metre scrums eventually allowing Sam Gale the Blackburn 8 to pick-up and crash over, Extras by Alex Taylorson. 14-12.
It was then the home side’s turn to show their mettle, Jay demonstrating good power and handing-off ability when playing centre in making a stirring 30 metre break. Quick effective recycling eventually picking out a rampant red-bearded rugby novice in Mike Jordan, who showed some of his considerable potential in hitting the line at speed and powering through for his first try for Manchester. This and several other such runs made his post-match MOM award very fitting indeed. Conversion Doug Day, 21:12 around 32 minutes played.
Manchester repeatedly tried to run the ball out of defense, all too conscious perhaps of their dysfunctional lineout. The dangers of such a strategy became immediately apparent with any turnovers or errors immediately redoubling that pressure. The pressure was telling and penalty strewn. This time an adjudged failure to move back onside after a five metre scrum penalty lead to 10 minutes in the bin for Joe Houghton.
Blackburn took full advantage at the penalty, taking a scrum option with a quick switch in play with the excellent Blackburn fly-half Marc Maher going in unopposed on Joe’s wing. Converted by Taylorson. The match finely balanced 21:19 at the end of the half.
The second half started with the home side taking it’s turn to fail to awake to the task in hand;early possession for the visitors left Manchester reverting to a pedestrian drift defence. Fatal against one of the quickest backlines Manchester have faced this year as the visitors easily rounded first phase cover enabling Josh Riley to make his impact from the bench with a well taken wingers try.
The signs were ominous for the home side with the visitors ahead for the first time in the match. 21:24 only 5 minutes into the second half.
This concern was perhaps misplaced given the confidence of the home side, which for the first time this season gave a full 80 minute display of positive winning rugby.
This confidence seemed to regalvanise the home team which, following some half time words of wisdom, were beginning to gain at more parity in lineout possession. Initially, after some good phased play and having won a penalty for failing to release in front of the posts, Doug Day elected to even things up. 24:24 at 10 minutes in. Then with a second such opportunity and still a man short, they regained the lead. 27-24.
Joe Houghton returned to the field further bolstering morale and the effect was immediate. Joe Williams powering through at outside centre. Doug Day unlucky with the conversion coming back off the upright. 35-24.
Charlie Ding then made his habitual quick dart for the line with a quickly taken penalty and was indeed successful according to the opposition linesman, but sadly the ref had stayed watching with the Manchester pack in awe at “the quality stepping” of the Manchester captain, and decided he couldn’t possibly award the try as he was twenty metres behind play.
This moreover was not the only decision to go against Manchester, the ref unfortunately failing to spot a clearing kick by Marc Maher on his own 22, had hit his own man (accidental offside!) rather than the called “touched”, resulting in the Blackburn backs being able to regain possession and after swift interplay run in a breakaway try to bring the score back to 35-29.
This resulted in an exciting last 5 minutes with a determined visiting side seeking to win it at the death following the gift.
Manchester, had other ideas, their strong defence holding ot the visitor to earn a vital win.
Manchester deservedly won a bonus point, taking them to mid table and can even hope to get into the top four should they continue to improve at this rate.