A tough first encounter, in a tough month of three away games on the trot, ends in disappointment, but not dismay.
Sedgley Tigers, to some degree, provided the answer to last week’s question, unanswered by the surprise eclipse of National League Three South West opposition, Oxford Harlequins RFC. Sedgley Park RUFC, finishing fourth last season in National League Two North and in the promotion race up until Christmas, provided the stern test many viewed as a measure of ‘Street’s future in a really competitive league; probably the most competitive for many seasons, with the likes of ambitious Ampthill and District re-joining the North Division and solid Stockport RUFC; who hammered Sutton Coldfield RFC in the May play-off game, taking the third promotion slot and adding to an already formidable list of performers, writes Bob Harcourt.
An edgy start by ‘Street at Sedgley’s Park Lane headquarters on the northern outskirts of Manchester was understandable, but not helpful, in this first of the season performance at Level Four, as the visitors weathered a pacy, powerful start by the experienced home outfit. Good, gutsy defence enabled ‘Street to eventually settle, as Park found it difficult to make an early break through. From that home pressure came a three minute off-side penalty in front of the sticks; converted by outside centre Matthew Riley for 0 – 3. Unfortunately for the Coventry outfit, a chance to equalise ten minutes later for ‘Street’s debutant fly-half, Benjamin Cooper saw the ball sail wide of the posts. With only three back row forwards fit or available, ‘Street could ill-afford to lose one of their starters, so, when blind-side Alex Beddows trotted off just before the end of the first quarter with a wrist injury, replacement hooker Mike Worthington was called upon to take Beddows’ place. Three minutes later tight-head prop Rob Dugard was penalised and warned for making overly physical contact with a would-be tackler! [Called by a touch judge]. From the resulting touch kick, line out and passes, scrum half Callum McShane sniped through the blind-side defence wide left. Riley missed the extras and to add to the disruption, Dugard was yellow carded before the restart for persistent offending; 8 – 0 after 24 minutes. From the re-start, Cooper had a second penalty chance as Park’s catcher failed to release tackle ball, but again, the ball sailed frustratingly wide of the uprights. Scrum half Nick Thatcher pulled off a great cover tackle on the marauding Matt Lamprey, as Sedgley understandably found space down the left touchline whilst the visitors were still one player short. With the break approaching, Tigers delivered a sustained attack but ‘Street’s defence held strong to force the home side to take advantage of a long offside ‘advantage’ after Street had knocked on. Riley slotted his second easy penalty kick from in front of the sticks, 11 – 0 with 33 minutes on the clock. Looking more and more settled, the visiting boys in red put together some good passages of play and from a late first half surge got to within four metres of the Park line, before a home defender failed to release the ball carrier in the tackle. No roll away ordered, No advantage played (as previously afforded the home side for their two penalties) and No yellow card – instead, Ben Cooper brought first points for the visitors with a close in, consolation, penalty, 11 – 3.
Half Time: Sedgley 11 – Broadstreet 3
Broadstreet needed a good start to the second period and a good start they provided. Lock Matthew Solomon took the restart kick out of the air from Sedgley providing possession, built upon by a kick to the left hand corner. A very long Sedgley overthrow was gathered by scrumhalf Nick Thatcher who jinked through and below the cover and round under the posts to score after just two minutes played. Cooper converted to take ‘Street to a point behind. 11 – 10. An un-necessary off-side penalty was conceded by a visiting forward on the re-start and Riley punished the indiscretion with his third three-pointer, 14 – 10. A good few minutes of play from the home side earned them a kick to the corner penalty lineout, but ‘Street’s forwards gained the advantage as Park were driven back to concede a penalty themselves. From possession at the ensuing lineout, the Street pass back to the off-balance receiver, under pressure sliced the relieving kick directly to the Sedgley backs who spun the ball across the field to the left flank, where Andy Riley found a two on one for an unconverted try at the end of the third quarter, 19 -10. After a kicking duel deficit some three minutes later ‘Street found themselves back on defence in their 22 metre area, but, the veritable Will-o’ the Wisp – full back Will Owen - scampered out of defence and launched himself on a long range attack down the right flank, out-pacing a posse of Park defenders to time a two on one pass to his equally pacy colleague Jeff Gregson who, looking to round to the posts, was ankle-tapped by a flailing cover back defender to keep the score out wide. Cooper, as a result, was unable to convert; 19 – 15 with the final quarter to go. Play see-sawed as both sides looked to claim the outright victory, but it was the home side which prospered when taking advantage of a speculative chip out of defence from the promising Cooper. Tiger’s full back Richard Wainwright claimed the ball first and caught ‘Street’s defence on the hop, as it struggled to convert from attack mode. A three to two allowed, yes, him again - Andy Riley to exploit the stagger to score out wide on the right. He missed the conversion and with just minutes remaining despite ‘Street’s endeavour to salvage a deserved point, a visitor’s knock on ensured that Park were home and dry!
Final Score: Sedgley Park 24 Broadstreet 15.
Despite a shaky start and a little over-eagerness at times, this was a solid on-the-road team performance from a squad fielding eight newcomers. With some of last year’s frontrunners to return to contention and experienced additions soon becoming available; some 14 players in all, competition for places is going to hot up in the coming weeks.
Squad: Pendleton, Pearl, Dugard; Tucker, Solomon M; Beddows, Zutic, Wood (Captain); Thatcher, Cooper; Elvers, Tilsley, Murray, Gregson; Owen. Dodd, Foreman, Worthington, Page, Walsh.