Saturday 27th January 2018
North Premier Division
BIRKENHEAD PARK 5 – 14 LYMM
Report by Andy Leach
Lymm Dig Deep
On paper, this away fixture at Birkenhead Park was likely to be a shoe-in victory for Lymm given the relative table positions of the two teams and their 40-0 success in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. However, in reality with Park’s recent improving form, aided in part by the transfer in allegiance of the Titherington brothers to Park from Lymm, combining with the absence of six of Lymm’s most experienced players on the alpine ski slopes, it was going to be anything but. As a consequence, Coach Fletcher had to dig deep into his senior squad reserves, promoting a number of regular second teamers, who when it mattered most, rose to the challenge in helping Lymm deliver, arguably, one of their most professional and clinical performances of the season.
Lymm’s starting XV showed 7 changes, 5 in the pack, from the previous outing at Wirral. The bench of Rasheed, Yates and Shard were all promoted to start; absentees Watson, Hand and new dad Tom Bray were welcomed back, and University student Joe McGrail answered Fletcher’s call, travelling back from London for the match – and presumably to get his washing done! The bench included debutant Luke Richards, who had started playing at Lymm at the age of 6, in the week of his 21st birthday.
Thanks to the efforts of the Birkenhead grounds staff, the pitch was playable, albeit the conditions looked heavy, something which was unlikely to favour the smaller and lighter Lymm squad. Park elected to play with the wind on their backs in the first half and they definitely enjoyed the better of the field position in the first 40. In the early exchanges the relative strength of the Park set piece was evident and, in conditions which were likely to increase the scrum count, this didn’t auger well for Lymm. From Lymm’s perspective they seemed focused from the off, approaching everything with a no-nonsense, steely determination. The three aspects of Lymm’s play, which especially impressed this correspondent were:
- Defence was as good as it has been all season, with Kimber, the Brays, Ashall and Yates to the fore. Park were often stopped dead in their tracks and, on occasion, sent backwards by Lymm’s strength in the tackle.
- Lymm used their kicking game to great effect. On a day when field position was so important, Redfern and Shard used their siege-gun boots well, often making significant yardage to put a spring in the step of their tireless pack.
- Lymm dictated the pace of the game. Learning from the tactics employed against them at Wirral, Lymm took their time to get things right at set pieces, something that did seem to get under the skin of their opponents as the game progressed.
After 15 minutes, McGrail took a heavy knock to his shoulder and was forced to leave the field, resulting in Fletcher having to shuffle his pack of cards still further, moving Sutherland to his more accustomed position in the back row, Rasheed into second row and Richards joining the fray on the left wing.
The game was largely being played out in the middle half of the pitch, and it wasn’t until 30 minutes had passed that Lymm enjoyed their first foray into the Park 22. Lymm did make this rare period of pressure count, being awarded a penalty on 35 minutes which Nolan converted from directly in front. 0-3
Half Time: BIRKENHEAD PARK 0 – 3 LYMM.
Now able to enjoy the benefit of the conditions, Lymm started to look increasingly threatening, spending more time in the Park “red zone”, whilst as time passed the threat from the Birkenhead set piece seemed to diminish. After 45 minutes Lymm were awarded a second kickable penalty which, again, Nolan converted. 0-6. Then, 5 minutes later, Lymm lightened the gloom of this January day with a try which would have been considered outstanding on a sunny Saturday in April on a firm pitch. From a line-out on halfway, the ball quickly made its way to Redfern, who executed a clinical run-around with his inside centre, creating the extra man. Richards ran a great line outside Redfern to take his pass and inject real pace into the move, before passing to Nolan on his outside. The pass probably wasn’t Richards’ best, but Nolan gathered the ball from his boot laces without breaking stride to outpace the cover defence and score in the corner. Nolan was unable to add the extras. 0-11
Then, for the third time in their last two matches, Lymm paid the price of having a penalty, previously awarded in their favour, reversed. On 60 minutes there appeared to have been some “handbags” which the referee resolved by sending Redfern and a Birkenhead prop forward to the sinbin. He also decided to reverse a penalty he’d previous awarded to Lymm in Park’s favour. Park kicked for touch and then benefitting from another penalty award, elected not to take the three points on offer but to kick to the corner. From the ensuing line-out Park were able to orchestrate a try from a clinical “catch and drive” which Lymm were unable to defend. The conversion was missed. 5-11
With Park now within a score, hope was building in the ranks of the Merseyside support. However, this was short lived as Shard’s outstanding restart, pinned Birkenhead back in their own 22. After 65 minutes, Lymm’s relentless pressure on the home defence, then resulted in another penalty award, which Nolan converted with aplomb. 5-14
In the final stages of the match, Park had one further period of pressure in the Lymm 22, but Lymm’s defence held firm and the threat was blunted. Lymm finished the stronger and, in the final throes Ashall had one outstanding 50m line break but, unfortunately, the referee adjudged that there had been a knock on as the Lymm support runners tried to capitalise on the opportunity this had created.
Full Time: BIRKENHEAD PARK 5 – 14 LYMM
For the Lymm faithful this was, in many ways, one of the most pleasing performances of the season. A number of players showed the strength in depth there is currently in this Lymm squad and put their hands up for further opportunities at the higher level. Coach Fletcher and his team will certainly have some selection conundrums in the weeks ahead.
Fletcher commented, “I’m really happy with the win especially with all the changes to the team. The boys who came in did superb especially Luke Richards on his debut.
“With the Titherington boys now playing at Birkenhead, there was always going to be that little bit of added rivalry. I think it actually gave us the boost we needed, it made our defence step up another level.
“I’m praying that the weather is kind this week, so we can actually train & play at Lymm – fingers crossed. Many thanks to all for the travelling support that we had, especially Alban Booth, over from the USA, who played for the club from 1960 to 62. It was also great to see all the 2nd team lads there watching.”
Next Saturday Lymm are at home to Kendal KO 2.15pm
Squad : 1) Gav Woods, 2) Adam Bray(c), 3) Matty Hand, 4) Joe McGrail, 5) James Yates, 6) Aaron Rasheed, 7) Jake Ashall, 8) Joe Watson, 9) Tom Shard, 10) Scott Redfern, 11) Ali Sutherland, 12) James Kimber, 13) Tom Bray, 14) Rich McEvoy, 15) Cormac Nolan, 16) Kieran O’Callaghan, 17) Rhys Jones, 18) Luke Richards.
Referee: Thomas Hurdley – Leicestershire Society & North Group
PHOTOS BY JOHN McGRAIL