WORDS: SEAN SUNDERLAND PHOTOS: BRUCE MYERS
Rochdale Senior Colts 15-3 Liverpool St Helens Senior Colts
With Rochdale’s League fixtures complete, attention was turned to the Lancashire Cup and a home semi-final fixture against Liverpool Saint Helens. LSH have been a mixed bag in the league this year with several players missing for county and Sale Academy duties. This being a semi-final all those players had returned and Rochdale faced a formidable challenge.
Having started slowly in the last two matches, it was imperative that the home team got out of the blocks quickly. There was no need to worry as Rochdale had come to play and, straight from the off, tore into their opposition. It mattered not whether they had the ball or not, the intensity of the play upset the opposition’s rhythm. The big LSH ball carriers were thundered backwards and with ball in-hand Rochdale made big inroads into the opposition territory. From a quick ruck in the opposition 22, Rochdale broke blind and Declan O’Loughlin put back-row Jacob Jackson clear to accelerate away and touchdown in the corner (5-0).
LSH still hadn’t settled and were again on the defensive. Strong forward carries and direct running from Will Simmons kept Rochdale moving over the gain-line and the LSH defence were struggling to reset. After more quick ruck ball, Zac Baker broke up the blind side again and sprinted-in from 20 meters out. Tom Shaw knocked over the conversion from the touchline (12-0).
This had been the start that Rochdale had been looking for but they knew the visitors would come back strongly. With the assistance of some penalties, LSH camped in the Rochdale 22 for long periods, trying to use their sizeable forwards to batter their way over the line. But Rochdale were up to the challenge, especially Garrett Myers and Olly Mills who were winning all the contacts. So much so that Rochdale drove LSH back from their try-line to the 22m with a succession of dominant tackles. It was a testament to the Rochdale defence that LSH chose to kick at goal when offered a penalty in the Rochdale 22. The penalty was successful and brought a conclusion to what had been a breathless and physical first half (12-3).
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with Rochdale starting brightly and LSH working their way back into the contest. The game then became a little scrappy with neither set of forwards being able to secure their own lineout ball. Rochdale’s front five of Myers, James O’Connell, Jake Hopkins, Aidan Lord, Ben Hankinson, O’Loughlin and Nathan Robinson were getting the upper hand in the scrums and secured a couple of strikes against the head, taking the momentum out of several LSH attacks.
The back row trio of Mills, Jackson and Ben Sunderland were also dominating at the breakdowns. As the half wore on, LSH began to dominate territory with the assistance of some unnecessary Rochdale penalties and the home team had to rely on their stonewall defence to keep the visitors at bay. LSH had some more kickable penalties which they chose to kick to the corner and attempt to muscle their way over and again Rochdale rebuffed all these efforts.
With the clock running down, Rochdale broke free from their own half and after an infringement Rochdale chose to kick for the post. The kick was fully 40m out and into a slight breeze but Shaw was up to the challenge and added to his previous tally clearing the bar by a couple a feet (15-3). That signalled the end of the game and Rochdale secured their place in the Lancashire Cup final for the second year running. Man of the Match could have gone to any of the forwards for a powerful performance or any of the backs for their resolute defence. Tom Shaw was the recipient for his strong carries, great defensive tackles and a top class kicking display.
Rochdale look forward to defending their title against Kendal on April 23rd at Heaton Moor RUFC, kick off at 3.00pm