It’s rare that Toc are starved of possession to the extent they were on Saturday - but they had noticeably less ball at Green Lane than in any other game this season.
Moor were dominant for long periods in terms of possession and territory - but at no point was that reflected on the scoreboard.
They were made to work exceptionally hard by a hungry Toc H who were looking to bounce back after agonisingly narrow defeats to the league’s top two.
Moor caused plenty of problems, just as Widnes and West Park had done, but Toc’s doggedness and determination proved the difference.
This was the strongest squad that Toc had fielded this season.
Owen McIntosh and Will Rayner finally lined up together in the second row and hooker Harry Jones came back in after missing a lot of 2019 through injury.
Jonny Naish, Andy Alexander and captain Harry Rigby also started in the back row for the first time this season and Jonathan Beardmore and Mark Chambers added some power and finesse to the front row.
Toc knew it would be a tough battle up front - but given the personnel they were confident of matching up well against a big Moor pack.
It was a hell of a tussle. Didsbury eventually got the upper hand in the scrums while Moor had their best success at the breakdown.
Toc’s backs, meanwhile, were merely bystanders who had to make a lot of tackles. The home side were awarded (at a conservative count) 18 penalties, which obviously allowed them plenty of good attacking field position.
Some of those calls were fair enough - but one couldn’t ignore the loud, ironic cheers from the Toc support when their side was finally awarded a penalty of their own.
The uneven penalty count also made for a stop-start game which took on a familiar routine. In the simplest of terms, Didsbury basically felt like they had spent the afternoon defending driving lineouts, scrummaging, closing down Moor’s back three, chasing box kicks, tackling everything that moved and, every three or four minutes, being marched back ten metres. Only one penalty was for dissent, which was a good return.
It was a strange game. A cloudless blue sky and near-perfect pitch hinted at a fast, open match which is exactly what Toc craved. But with so little ball they found it impossible to build any momentum. In the words of fly-half Neil Wilkinson: “I remember passing the ball once”. Right-winger Ben Platt didn’t touch the ball.
So, it was something of a surprise that the visitors led 19-0 at the break, especially after spending ten minutes with 14 men when hooker Jones was penalised for a high tackle.
Didsbury mustered only a handful of visits to the Moor half in the first period - but were accurate when they did get some territory.
Outside-centre Tom Makin was the grateful recipient of that solitary Wilkinson pass and ran a lovely line to slide in under the posts for the opening score. Shortly afterwards scrum-half Josh Vize capitalised on Toc’s best passage of attacking play to make it 0-14 after sneaking over from close range.
Moor’s attacking game and aggression at the breakdown was causing some problems and their ball retention was proving effective and frustrating.
But they were also feeling the pressure of that tough Toc defence, which eventually forced them to play riskier stuff in wider channels.
With a quarter of the game gone, Toc’s backs had started reading the Moor attack pretty well and set about making things even more challenging.
Makin almost snaffled an interception early on - but the ball didn’t quite go to hand. Winger Matt Jones then did pick off an interception before being caught and penalised, and then full-back Rory Gibson successfully pickpocketed the Moor back line to race in from half way. That was a big momentum shift with Toc under some pressure at the time.
Didsbury started the second half brightly enough and, after a rare turnover in midfield, winger Jones was neatly put away to race in from distance. A couple of other decent counter-attacking opportunities presented themselves - but Toc’s decision making and execution let them down.
That brief flurry of open rugby was short-lived and Toc were soon back to defending. Moor’s pack finally broke through after a series of pick-and-gos following another well-organised lineout drive. With about 15/20 minutes to go they added a second after some neat play in the left corner.
A gift of a penalty from a kick-off (accidental offside) saw Gibson add a very welcome three points from bang in front and that was enough for some breathing room as two tiring sides battled against the clock.
This win sees Toc complete a rare league double over their local rivals. It should be noted that the two matches have been played in a good, competitive spirit and both sets of players have clearly earned each other’s respect. Moor’s hospitality was, as usual, excellent.
This was the last of Toc’s away games this season - Trafford MV, Tyldesley, Liverpool St Helens and Oldham are still to come.
No game next week.