Following their defeat at the hands of Oldham last week, Didsbury were looking to get their positive start to the season back on track against old foes Littleborough on Saturday. The men from Hollingworth Lake have proven a tough nut to crack in recent years and it could be argued that one particularly poor away defeat three years ago, in which Toc lost by over 30 points, was a line in the sand moment and a catalyst for the positive turnaround in performance that the team has seen since.
That Didsbury team was a very different one to those in the shirts now, however the home side were wary of the visitors: Littleborough always bring a real intensity and physicality to their rugby and after a couple of close losses, were unlucky to not have more points on the board in the newly formed Lancashire ADM Premier Division.
Toc made a couple of personnel changes to last Saturday’s team, welcoming back in Harry Jones at hooker and Jonny Naish at tighthead, whilst Andy Alexander stepped in on the blindside. In the backs, Seb Sheratte came in for Neil Wilkinson at 10, whilst Ben Rothwell came in at 13 for Elliott Hagan.
The first 10-15 minutes of the match were testy, with neither side gaining the upper hand, however it was already becoming evident that Toc had a noticeable edge at the set-piece, with the scrum in particular starting to do some real damage. The deadlock was broken midway through the first half, when a flowing backs move ended with winger Tom Makin stabbing an intelligent kick past an onrushing defence, which scrum-half Josh Vize gleefully dotted down for a 5 pointer. Kicker Rory Gibson was unable to improve the score, but made amends 5 minutes later when he scythed through the Boro defence to maintain his strong scoring start to the season. The score was converted and Didsbury then started to up both the pace and intensity of their play; some pulverising carries from an increasingly dominant pack put the home side firmly on the front foot, with Will Rayner, Harry Rigby, Andy Alexander, Jonathan Beardmore and Jonny Naish prominent.
Another linebreak led to a 5m scrum and powerful surge from the Didsbury 8 sent Boro back over their own line, only for skipper Harry Rigby to knock the ball on in the act of scoring. The relief was short-lived however, and an alert Vize was the beneficiary when the away side’s defensive scrum was immediately shunted backwards; the ball squirted out and he scored his second of the match. The conversion was missed, but Didsbury weren’t finished and Jonny Naish scored the final try of the half after Toc turned over a Littleborough lineout on their own 5m line.
24-0 at half-time, with a BP in the bag and Didsbury had every reason to be pleased with their work to date.
The one way traffic looked set to continue in the second half when Gibson scored his second with a smart finish in the corner, following a superb 20m pass off his left hand from centre Luke Richmond. After the touchline conversation was made, it looked as if a rout could have been on the cards, however, Didsbury’s intensity started to drop and passes suddenly started to go to ground.
However, real credit should go to Littleborough for their response, they started to get their patterns going and some fine play from both forwards and backs got around and through Didsbury on several occasions and they were rewarded with two quick tries for their efforts, taking the score to 31-12 with 15 minutes to go.
However Didsbury were to have the last word and topped and tailed the game with two excellent finishes from centre Ben Rothwell, taking the final score to 41-12.
All in all, a very solid performance against a side which had won the last 4 meetings between the clubs. Coaches Peacock and Beardmore will be pleased with the performance of the pack in particular, however will again be frustrated that some of the execution was poor at times, in particular out wide. 3 wins from 4 in a new league undoubtedly represents a good return from September’s matches, however it doesn’t get any easier from here: next week brings a tough away trip to Widnes, a side that Didsbury haven’t played in over a decade. Toc will travel with confidence, but know that they will have to be at their best to get anything from the game.
Man of the Match: Will Rayner