WORDS: SEAN SUNDERLAND PHOTOS: BRUCE MYERS
Chester Senior Colts 17-22 Rochdale Senior Colts
SUNDAY 5th February 2023
Rochdale Colts travelled to Chester on Sunday, looking to build on their previous week’s success with another victory in the top league, but knowing this would be a different kind of examination. Chester play on a 4G Artificial Pitch and their game is built around a fast and expansive back line, in complete contrast to Rochdale who prefer a more direct route through their forwards.
After an initial scare saw Chester go almost the full length of the pitch, Rochdale set about their business and, after several successful lineout drives, Declan O’Loughlin bounced off a couple of would-be tacklers to power over close to the posts (0-7).
This spurred Rochdale on and they were soon back on the attack. The next score was right out of the top drawer; after two strong forward carries, James O’Connell burst through the defence, a nice inside ball from Mitch Holt put Ben Sunderland
through another gap and, after a couple more slick passes, Ben Kershaw crossed in the corner (0-12).
Chester could have folded under this pressure, however, they stuck to their game plan and started moving the ball wide to get some traction in the game. Their efforts were soon rewarded with a kick at goal to open their account (3-12). Rochdale scored next after some strong defence resulted in a penalty 45m out which Tom Shaw impressively slotted with ease (3-15).
Chester began to press more and, after several penalties, were able to crash over from close range (10-15). The game was being played in the middle of the pitch with neither team wanting to concede territory. In the final play of the half, a Rochdale backs’ move broke down and the ball sat up for the Chester centre who gladly accepted the gift and sprinted clear to score under the post (17-15).
Rochdale could consider themselves unlucky to be trailing at the break but they didn’t dwell on it and, straight from the restart, put the home side under pressure. Despite the territorial advantage, Rochdale were struggling to break down a strong Chester defence. Chester were happy to clear their lines when the opportunity arose but never strayed too far from their open expansive game, running the ball more often than not. It took some individual brilliance from Paddy O’Loughlin, who tore through some would-be tacklers scattering them in his wake, to break the deadlock and crash over the line (17-22).
So, for the second week running, Rochdale took a slender lead into the final quarter and once again they were up to the challenge. Some outstanding defence close to their own line kept an invigorated Chester at bay. The ferocity of the tackling finally took its toll and, after a Chester knock-on, Rochdale cleared from the ensuing scrum to finish the game.
A really excellent contest displaying all that is good about the game with Rochdale taking the spoils and the outright lead in the Lancashire A League. Garrett Myers put in a massive shift and Jacob Jackson made some telling contributions. Man of the Match went to O’Connell whose tackling, line-breaks and turnovers proved crucial.