Toc put in one of their best performances of the season to win with a bonus point at MacPherson Park on Saturday.
Things didn’t start well, losing star winger and destructive ball-carrier Chris Morgan in the warm-up. That misfortune left the team with no backs substitute - but Ben Platt effortlessly slotted in and put in one of the best individual performances of the season.His was one of several top displays which saw Toc lead 33-7 at half-time at MacPherson Park, a ground at which they often struggle. It was a blistering opening forty.
The second-half gave a much closer reflection of how Didsbury envisioned the game panning out - it was a much more open affair - but by then the damage had been done. Toc’s strangling, suffocating efforts in the first period had squeezed too many points away from the home side.
MV were simply starved of possession and territory and put under huge amounts of pressure defensively. At one point they were down to the 13 men and there was a grim inevitability about the penalty try they conceded after some big scrum pressure close to their line.
From the outset this was a clinical, accurate Toc performance and, in truth, it has been long overdue. In several matches in November they have not been close to their best.
Hooker Harry Jones set the tone with some typically strong running and it was he who opened the scoring after scything his way over from the 22 for the first of six Toc tries.
It became quickly apparent that the visitors’ athleticism and speed would cause MV some problems. They were also dominant at the breakdown and generating plenty of quick ball.
That said, for all Toc’s attacking efforts in the opening exchanges – they were camped in the Trafford 22 for much of it – it looked as if MV were standing up to the barrage pretty well. Toc’s accuracy and discipline gave them no respite. Trafford went down to 14 men, then to 13 as the pressure grew.
The scrum situation was a strange one. At times Toc were totally dominant yet at others it was Trafford who were in the ascendency. It was in one of Toc’s dominant periods that they were awarded a penalty try to go 14-0 up. It came shortly after a huge scrum had seen Trafford driven back ten metres before a knock-on from captain Harry Rigby prevented a seemingly inevitable five pointer.
Toc are certainly making the most of having a competitive and often dominant pack this season. For the past few years they have relied on enterprise and the willingness to play some wildly open rugby to create scoring opportunities.
But there is a sturdiness among the current set of Didsbury forwards who are punching well above their considerable weight in this division. There is much more to come, too.
Another eye-catching, dominant performance in the front five from Will Rayner saw him gallop in from 21 metres to make it 21-0. In his short time with the club he has become an influential and integral player, both on and off the pitch. Unfortunately, the 21-year-old picked up an injury late in the second half which will see him out of action until the end of January. He will be sorely missed - but his injury at least coincides with the return of one of Toc’s leading performers in recent seasons. Owen McIntosh played his first game since the start of the season and picked up where he left off.
It was in broken play that Toc were making themselves most felt and with 15 minutes to go in the first-half they were finding plenty of pockets to pick in the Trafford defence. Didsbury’s dominance and efficiency at the breakdown was allowing wave after wave of pressure.
Sometimes they probed in wider channels through their back three, with full-back Rory Gibson pulling the strings; at others they were unapologetically direct. Either way, Trafford were always being made to work very hard defensively.
Ever-impressive scrum-half Josh Vize was fizzing the ball all over the place and had a wealth of passing and running options at his disposal.His kicking game was also working well and a neatly-judged box kick yielded a mistake in the MV back field, which allowed evergreen fly-half Neil Wilkinson to scamper through. He got there - just - after a neatly-timed pass from the tireless James Howarth.
On the rare occasion that Toc lost possession there was a pleasing hunger to win it back. The appetite of flanker James Plested, MMU’s finest, was most noticeable. The youngster put in his best performance of the season, which he capped off with a well-deserved second-half try. Toc didn’t have it all their own way. With 20 minutes gone it looked as if MV might edge back into contention after their first foray into the visitors’ half.
A couple of needles penalties put them within scoring range of the Didsbury line and after an exhausting series of pick and gos they eventually smashed their way over. The conversion was slotted via the classy boot of their classy captain and scrum-half.
At 21-7 it was game back on - but Toc replied almost immediately from the kick-off through Mark Chambers, who snaffled his first try of the season from close range, leaping in to the corner unopposed from the back of a ruck. It was surely a hammer blow to MV so soon after getting back some momentum.
Even leading by 26 points at half-time, Toc were conscious of being complacent. Earlier in the season Trafford somehow won from a similar half-time position at home against West Park St Helens, arguably the best side Didsbury have played in the ADM Premier. It was also clear - despite having such limited possession - that MV possess in their ranks some potent runners and very clever ball players. All of them looked a much greater threat after the break.
Toc did drop off a bit, and got a bit lazy with their discipline, but they were made to defend properly against some strong attack for decent stretches in the second-half. Some of the defending, in particular from Jones, winger Ben Platt, centre Elliott Hagan and captain Harry Rigby was bruising. Toc might look to the scoreboard and see another 20-odd points conceded on the day – but it was a very impressive defensive effort at times.
At the half way stage of the season, the 1st XV are now tied second in what is shaping up to be a seriously competitive division. With a number of quality players to come back into the frame, Toc look in a healthy place ahead of Aldwinians, who caused them plenty of problems at Ford Lane earlier in the season.
Next game: Aldwinians (A) 2:15pm.