Wilmslow 21-24 Kirkby Lonsdale

Winning Wobbles at Wilmslow
A personal view by Cammie Hodgkinson
There was no wind to speak of and the sun was cracking the flags at Wilmslow’s Memorial Ground as proud new Skipper, Dave Barton, led his Kirkby Lonsdale team out onto the wonderfully prepared pitch and in front of a large crowd of knowledgeable and intelligently biased supporters from both camps.
For many recent seasons the Kirkby team had almost picked itself from the hard core centre group of players who had  represented the club through the mini and youth section and into senior rugby where they swept all before them as they advanced up the league structure. But with retirements and career moves that original hard core is diminished this season although new juniors are coming through and it was a new look Kirkby side that followed Barton onto the turf, not just in personnel but also in position.
There were 1stXV league game starts for Alex Briggs at 2, Ross Hobbs at 3 and new face James Thompson at 4, young veteran Harry Huddleston moved from the wing to start his career at 9 with Barton moving from 10, where his reputation went well before him, to 12. Another new face, Mike Fearon, was at 10 and Lewis Williams at 11 with yet another new  face on the bench, the considerable one of James Barker, ex number 9 Ben Walker started at 15.
So, player coach and number 13, Scott Armstrong, had plenty to keep his eye on as Wilmslow kicked off playing left to right in front of the clubhouse and he would have noticed that Kirkby didn’t catch it cleanly. In the scramble to secure the ball Wilmslow drove Kirkby off it and the home side had possession in a good attacking position which they used well to pin Kirkby deep in their half for the first fifteen minutes.
But, although they came close Wilmslow didn’t use their possession and position well enough to score and when some decent possession came Kirkby’s way they were off with a clever break from Fearon who ran out of his own twenty two. Approaching half way he chipped over the cover defence into space where Kirkby’s pocket rocket number 7 Stu Storey gathered, knocked a couple of defenders out of the way, made ground into the home twenty two and then slipped the ball inside (yes he passed it!) to Huddleston who scored the first try, unconverted but with twenty minutes on the clock  Kirkby led 0 – 5 from their first attack.
This seemed to settle the jittery start Kirkby had made, they were coming more and more into the game and should have extended the lead with a kickable penalty but the ball drifted wide. With half time approaching and in the circumstances of new players settling in Kirkby would probably have been happy with that lead at the turn round, but Wilmslow got a move going down their left which put their winger in by the flag from what looked, from Kirkby points of view, like a suspiciously forward pass. The conversion was good, intelligent bias from the home supporters was not withheld and Wilmslow had the advantage at 7 – 5 when the half time whistle went.
Kirkby reshuffled at half time with James Law, Barker and Tom Pickthall coming off the bench but it wouldn’t have been in their plan that Wilmslow scored in the second minute of the second half, extending their lead to 14 – 5 with the conversion and now we would see what Kirkby were made of, we didn’t have to wait long. Five minutes later Fearon was  again involved in a move down the left which ended in a try for the irrepressible Storey, again the conversion missed but Kirkby were back in one score range at 14 – 10, the difference between the two sides at that point being the two missed conversions.
As the end of the third quarter approached Kirkby regained the lead following a sustained period of pressure in the home twenty two and it was hugely fitting that new skipper Barton was the scorer with a typically bullocking charge over the line. Settling down now Williams this time added a good conversion to make it 14 – 17 and the match was still very finely balanced.
Wilmslow sent on the cavalry, fresh legs under heavy bodies and their forwards laid siege to the Kirkby line who soaked up the pressure of waves of attack and prevented a score but defenders were drawn in. Wilmslow whipped the ball down the line from their left touchline into mid-field where their full back, Ben Day, ran on to a pass at flat out pace and broke through to score a great try under the posts. The conversion putting Wilmslow back in the lead at 21 – 17 with only minutes to play, but it wasn’t over.
Wilmslow caught the Kirkby restart and tried to run the clock down with a series of picks and drives but Kirkby tackled like demons, the home side couldn’t get out of their half and when they infringed Kirkby had the ball and one last chance. The result of this see-saw game was now compressed into these pressure cooker final moments where Kirkby had to keep the ball as the game went into time added on. One error and it was over for them but through forwards and backs  they securely and skilfully made progress towards the home line, the winning and bonus point fourth try coming from the heroic number 5, Craig Galbraith, who forced his way over to ground the ball. Williams conversion sailed through the posts to add the extras as the ref blew the final whistle with the score 21 – 24.
It was a close encounter and exactly the four try bonus point winning start Kirkby wanted for the new season, Wilmslow thought they should have won it and they could have – but they didn’t.
1   Dan Thompson
2   Alex Briggs
3   Ross Hobbs
4   James Thompson
5   Craig Galbraith
6   Dave Maka
7   Stu Storey
8   Alex Rogers
9   Harry Huddleston
10 Mike Fearon
11 Lewis Williams
12 Dave Barton ( C )
13 Scott Armstrong
14 Harry Ralston
15 Ben Walker
James Law
James Barker
Tom Pickthall

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