Holmes Chapel step up to the mark.
With no 2nd XV fixture, plenty of supporters joined the team on the bus to play their part in what turned out to be a great day for the club. Joe Maddock was named as a replacement after a string of good performances for the 2nd XV, with new boy Ged Wragg making his 1st XV debut on the wing. Wragg he was to be one of Chapel’s best performers, putting in an outstanding display in the difficult conditions.
Some early over-exuberance from the Chapel forwards led to Chorley gaining territory through penalties, before being awarded the chance to grab an early 3 points. The kick went narrowly wide, but this had given Chapel a wake-up call and they stormed back into the opposition half. Good lineout ball was being won by Jim Ainsworth and Jon Griffin, as the visitors looked to put points on the board. Conditions were far from ideal for running rugby, with wind, rain, and an extremely muddy pitch leading to some old fashioned tight rugby from both sides.
Chorley’s game plan revolved around their big forwards driving round the side of rucks and mauls; however the Chapel tacklers were smashing them backwards and stopping them from gaining momentum. This aggressive defence was led by Paul Watson who was making some massive tackles round the fringes. Andy Fyffe, who kicked brilliantly all afternoon, was giving the visitors great field position, which was vital in the poor weather conditions. Doug Canavan put Chapel 3-0 ahead with a mid-range penalty, and soon afterwards they scored their first try of the afternoon.
Mike Cottam broke from the back of a scrum but he and Ed Meyrick were given no room for manoeuvre by the Chorley defence. Despite this, Meyrick managed to pass the ball to Wragg who provided a fantastic finish to beat the attempted tacklers and score the try near the corner. Canavan stepped up and banged over the conversion for a 10 point lead. Before half time the visitors scored their second try after some good pressure by the pack created an overlap on the left hand side. The Chorley defence tried to rush up and close off the opportunity but Cottam threw a superb looped pass to Lee Cagna who stepped inside the last man to score. This time the conversion was missed but Chapel were good value for their 15-0 lead at the interval.
Chapel expected the second half to be a challenge as they were playing up the slope and the home side seemed to step up a gear immediately after the break. Most of the early play was in the visitors’ half but without causing any real threat to the try line. Within 10 minutes of the second half Chapel were reduced to 14 men when tempers frayed after a scrum and Wayne Scott was shown the red card following a scuffle with his opposite number. Chorley took the 3 points from the resulting penalty and were soon back in a similar position in the Chapel half.
Chapel’s reshuffled 7-man scrum was creaking and the home side drove them backwards in the mud, leading to a penalty for the visitors’ backline not retreating. The home side saw their chance and opted for another scrum, with the intention of going for a pushover try. However the introduction of Jack Baskerville into the second row evened up the set piece battle and this time the pack didn’t budge. Chorley were forced to try and move the ball wide but the Chapel defence were all over them and the danger was cleared.
This defensive effort appeared to galvanise Chapel and soon it was impossible to tell which team had the extra player. Chorley’s ball carriers were becoming isolated as their big forwards tired, which allowed the Chapel back-row to force turnovers and penalties to huge cheers from the sidelines. A long-distance penalty attempt from Canavan just missed the target, but there were no further try-scoring opportunities and Chapel saw out the match for a great victory.
The result was reward for Chapel’s positive attitude under challenging circumstances, and the fact they stuck together to grind out a result when things weren’t going their way. Although players and spectators alike made sure they enjoyed the victory, Chapel know the tie is not over yet as the return leg will be played at Station Road in February where they will look to finish the job.
1st XV Captain Ed Meyrick said “I thought the lads really stepped up to the mark in a competition we would very much like to progress in. Our coach Jonny Kennedy has been working very hard on improving our defence and team work and that really showed today. I think we are really starting to click as a squad now and hopefully we can continue this form into our forthcoming league and cup games”.
Next week both teams are back in action away from home in tough league matches. The 1st XV travel to Helsby, in match they must win to keep pace with the leaders in South Lancashire / Cheshire 3. The 2nd XV will also be looking to stay in the promotion race as they take on Ashton-on-Mersey 3rd XV. The next rugby at Station Road will be on Saturday 5 December when the 1st XV play Helsby again, this time in the Cheshire Plate.
Chorley 3 – 15 Holmes Chapel
Holmes Chapel RUFC would like to thank Wymans Ltd and Hopewiser Ltd for their continued support.