TOC H 20 – 12 WEST PARK ST HELENS
Toc made it through to the semi-finals of the League Cup after a strong defensive performance at home.
A much changed Toc side scored four tries against a fluent West Park to give themselves some decent momentum going into big league games next week against leaders Widnes and West Park again in a fortnight’s time.
All Didsbury’s scores came through the backs - but it was the mammoth effort of the front five that was the main difference between the two sides.
The pack’s scrum dominance was evident from the first few minutes - but also away from the set-piece, Jonny Naish, Andy Alexander, Suli Derregia, Mark Chambers and Jonathan Beardmore all put in big shifts to provide the backs with plenty of good, quick ball.
They didn’t always use it wisely - but certainly troubled the opposition at times and worked hard to create several good scoring opportunities, especially in the first period.
Winger Matt Jones got a brace – that’s six in three games for him – and fly-half Seb Sheratte and centre Chris Morgan snuck in for the other two.
The only down side for Toc on Saturday was a hamstring injury picked up by Morgan in the last play before he was due to be replaced. That took the gloss off a decent but hardly flawless Didsbury performance.
Playing into a healthy wind, the home side lead 15-7 at the break - but felt at half-time as if they had created enough opportunities to be in an even more commanding position.
Scrum-half Josh Vize came closest but knocked on over the line and Didsbury gave away some silly penalties when camped in the West Park 22. Better accuracy in key areas is what Toc have craved all season - and they needed better here.
Still, at times they looked sharp and, despite the poor weather conditions, the game was a decent spectacle because of the sure footing and speed afforded by the perfect artificial surface at MMU.
It seemed to suit West Park’s backs, too, who are strong, organised and adventurous. Their opening try was probably the score of the game.
Trailing 15-0, their centres combined neatly from a scrum to slice through the Toc line and the move was tidily finished off under the posts.
From that moment on, Didsbury’s defence got noticeably more organised and any further line breaks were scarce.
But they always had to be diligent and defend well because the visitors always looked threatening with ball in hand, especially in wider channels, where for the most part they were well-marshalled.
It was probably the most composed Toc have looked without the ball for some time – but they were under pressure with about 10 minutes to play after seeing seven consecutive penalties go West Park’s way.
It was during that period of the game that their second try came - their hooker or scrum-half diving on to a stolen ball by Alexander from a lineout five-metres out.
As was the case last week against Littlebrough, Didsbury’s level had again dropped in the second half. They were a bit more settled after Jones raced into the left corner for his second to make it 20-7 - but they still struggled to get much going.
The last half an hour was a bit scrappy and ill-tempered. Didsbury clearly felt their dominance at the scrum wasn’t being suitably acknowledged by the referee and West Park clearly had their own qualms. The poor guy probably took himself off to a quiet, dark decompression chamber post-match given the amount of assistant referees playing on the pitch.
The truth is, in terms of consistency, he was one of the best officials Toc have had in the past couple of seasons. And this wasn’t an easy game to manage by the end with scrapping players and seemingly everyone – coaches, crowd and spectators included – all voicing their irrelevant opinions.
Ironically, there was a football match taking place on the adjacent pitch where the players were far better behaved.