How Anselmians saw the game.
So this was it. The top of the table clash. Broughton Park were unbeaten since the first day of the season and have been collecting bonus points for fun. Anselmians, in a rich vein of form, were looking to extend their winning run. On a crisp, sunny day with a wide, well-grassed pitch, it promised to be a cracker. Except that it wasn’t.
Whether the Saints got stage fright or were intimidated by the impressive set-up, we can only speculate. Certainly, when they were awarded a penalty straight from the kick-off, they could not have imagined what followed. Full back Iain Taylor slotted the three points and Anselmians were ahead 3-0 before some spectators had finished their lunch.
Within fifteen minutes all had changed, partly through the work of a heavier Park pack, but largely by loose tackling and poor decision-making by the visitors. An Anselmian error gifted returning stand-off Ronan O’Brien a long kick deep into the Saints 22. From the lineout, the Park forwards steamrollered over the line and it was O’Brien who was credited with the try, which he smartly converted. 7-3. Handling by both sets of backs was not assured and many final passes were spilled. One exception was a Park move that saw centre Jack Kelly neatly step inside the thin Anselmian line to score unopposed at the posts. O’Brien’s conversion was a formality and, at 3-14, the Saints game plan was unravelling. However, worse was to follow. Less than a minute later, an attempt to run out of defence by Anselmians saw the ball spilled into the grateful hands of speedy Park winger Ade Titiloye, who, not believing his good fortune, scampered unopposed to score the simplest of tries. O’Brien conversion was a formality and the visitors were adrift 7-21 largely by their own hand.
There was still over an hour to play.
Park were quicker to the breakdown and winning every lineout. What scraps Anselmians won were squandered by wrong decisions or good defence. Andy Cummings, Saints’ stand-off, saw a kick blocked and another Park attack was only stopped by the referee’s whistle. The introduction of Kellum FRIDAY into the Anselmian pack made subtle changes to the direction of the game. The scrum became tighter, the tackling sharper and ground was gained in loose play. A series of Anselmian penalties led to the Park faithful resort to ironic cheers, but the direction of the game was changing. Park were being penalised because they were under increasing pressure from an Anselmian side that now confronted their task. Quitadamo, Costello and, above all, Friday were notable for their work and skipper Hearn, playing out of position at hooker, was putting a shift in. In the backs Russell, Bramhall and Hough all made penetrative runs. On 38 minutes Park’s O’Brien who had hitherto been a controlling force, was sin binned for kicking the ball away. Immediately. Saints ran the ball and Andy Cummings, choosing an acute line, sliced through the Park centres to score. Taylor converted and, at 21-10 at half-time, Anselmians had done a little to repair the damage of the first quarter.
Anselmians began the second half as they should have started the match. Russell released Tom Campbell on a strong run which realised another penalty. Saints ran it, but the final pass was poor. A Park forward pass yielded another Anselmian penalty and this time Taylor made no mistake in slotting over a 30 metre kick. 21-13. Park’s stand-off O’Brien returned and Anselmians had scored ten points in his ten-minute absence, but a long pause for an injured Park player stopped any fluency the Saints revival was developing.
Restored to 15 men, Park began to attack but Anselmian defence was resolute. Russell and Hough were making probing runs and there was even some light relief when Iain Taylor threw a pass so wild it flew directly 10 metres behind him. This amused the Park crowd who were becoming more vocal at the perceived injustice of the penalty count they guessed was three to one in Anselmians favour. Serendipitously, Park were caught offside in the centre and Taylor scored his third penalty to bring the score to 23-16.
Anselmian support began to whisper about an unlikely victory, similar to the miracle at Southport on the first day of the season. Their hopes were further raised when, after good combinations from Cummings, Russell and Hough, Park were again caught offside. Once again, Taylor stepped up, scored and, at 21 -19, with twenty minutes left, the Anselmian support believed the force was with them.
A rare Park penalty drew loud and ironic cheers from the home crowd, but a strong run from Hough out of defence soon silenced them. Saints were forcing errors in the Park defence until a hugh clearance kick by centre Jack Kelly relieved the pressure and halted the Anselmian charge.
The game changed when O’Brien sent out a long pass across the Saints 22, a tackle was missed and Joe Noone scored at the posts on 67 minutes for another bonus point. O’Brien goaled the conversion and with the score now 28-19, the Anselmian effort understandably stalled. After the first twenty minutes, Park had not threatened the Saints line for an hour. Anselmians responded with the best move of the game sweeping forty yards down the Park right but, once again, the final pass was poor. Park came again and, when winger Titiloye caught a clearance kick and set off, only a desperate tackle prevented another score. Park descended on the loose ball and ferried the ball out to Noone to score a replica second try. O’Brien converted and the whistle blew on a five-point Park victory.
Anselmians can take some comfort that they recovered after their initial setbacks and, in fact, were the better side for most of the second half. Unfortunately, they were outscored five tries to one and it is a bitter lesson that coach McKinney and his team will have to deal with.