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Young Guns too much for high flying Oswestry
Knutsford 2nd XV have managed to break their recent poor run of results with a 13-12 win against their counterparts from Shropshire, who are enjoying their season riding high up the league in 3rd place. The game, which in the end had to be played at Wilmslow RUFC’s ground due to a flooded pitch at Mere Heath Lane, was a tense and exciting show-down between two highly competitve teams. Through a combination of strong defence and slick attacking play Knutsford made the most of their domination of territory and possession to win the game with a penalty 3 minutes from the final whistle.
Though the preparation for the game had been difficult due to the relocation and last minute line-up changes, Knutsford started well and dominated early on. However the huge Oswestry pack was out-muscling the Knutsford 8 in the scrums and managed to score a converted try from the base of a 1st half scrummage. Knutsford learned the lesson of the previous week and took the points when they were on offer to claw back 3 points from a James penalty from the left touchline. Oswestry also saw the value of taking points early on, yet the Oswestry kicker did not have James’ accuracy and distance and missed his attempt. This one-sided shoot-out would prove crucial for the outcome of the game. The Knutsford pack were performing extremely well dispite the size differential. A brand new frontrow combination saw Kemp starting at hooker for the first time and newboy to rugby James Holloway lining up at loosehead. They both did well, with Kemp in particular showing his usual combination of great tackling and puppy-dog enthusiasm for running at the opposition.
Despite losing the destructive veteran Greg Sawyer early on the back-row played out of their skin. 18 year old Max Crawford seems to have found his natural position at blind-side putting in a man of the match performance. In recently arrived James Hamilton, the 2nds seem to have found a genuine ball winner at the breakdown to add to the riches they already possess in the back-row. Fuller, normally a winger, came on for Sawyer in the back-row and made an instant impact with great running and tackling. Another veteran, John Daley who started at 10 but later moved into the pack was excellent on his return to the side and had a successfull afternoon in combination with Hamilton in winning much seemingly unwinnable ball on the floor!
Knutsford maintained their pressure sticking well to the game plan and went into the 2nd half 7-3 down. Oswestry controversially scored an unconverted try early in the half after a clear forward pass. Knutsford knew however that they had the weapons to win the game on the bench in the form of the Kelly brothers. They brought a combination of strong tackling, flair and powerful running to add to Knutsford’s already aggressive attack. The changes had immediate impact as Knutsford mounted assault after assault on the Oswestry line.
The pressure finally told when, from a quick tap penalty in the Oswestry 22, slick handling saw 17 year old fullback Lawrence James go over in the corner. He scored his 2nd left touchline kick of the day to make the score 12 -10. Knutsford knew that they were within striking distance of winning the match and kept up the pressure with strong running from James, the Kelly brothers and winger Thompson. Russell Finn had another strong game to keep up his fine recent form in tandem with youngster Elliot Lee. The pack along with the excellent Nick Webb at Scrum-half turned the afternoon into a nightmare for the Oswestry 9 and stemmed the flow of ball to the Oswestry back-line forcing the Shropshire team to channel their attacks through the huge pack. This probably lost them the game as runner after runner were put down by the youngsters in the Knutsford forwards.
Knutsford worked their way up the pitch with minutes to play and gained a penalty from a James break 30 metres in front of the Oswestry posts. This was exactly the opportunity they were looking for to win the game. James cooly slotted the kick for 3 points to make it 13-12 to the blues. Knutsford thought that they’d done enough, but in the dying seconds the octogenarian referee gave another controversial decision by awarding Oswestry a penalty 30 metres in front of Knutsford’s posts. Knutsford couldn’t believe that they were going to lose in exactly the same manner 2 weeks running! Fortunately the slight breeze was sufficent to put the Oswestry kicker off and he put his kick wide. The younger Hamilton brother, Bob calmly caught the kick and put the ball high into touch.
The satifaction of winning was obvious as the final whistle blew. The victory made all the sweeter due to the last minute efforts of team manager Neil Clark and tall coach Geoff Crawford to get the game staged. Clark later quipped that the stress of a late venue change had him pulling out his hair all night! Clark also added that he is extremely pleased that the team’s performances were improving dramatically week on week and that the younsters were all finding their feet and they were discovering their best positions. The progress of the team is highlighted by the fact that Knutsford lost away to virtually the same Oswestry team in the opening weeks of the season 31-7. Roll on next week at Didsbury Toc H.
Beware – there are new sherriffs in town by the name of Crawford, Hamilton and James!