WORDS: SEAN SUNDERLAND PHOTOS: BRUCE MYERS
Wirral Senior Colts 15-12 Rochdale Senior Colts
SUNDAY 12th March 2023
Rochdale’s Senior Colts played their final league game of the season with a tough assignment at Wirral, a well-established team in the North West. It was another road trip for Rochdale after their visit to Kendal the previous week. This is such a competitive league that four teams are still in contention for the Senior A Conference League title.
With the wind blowing from one end of the pitch to the other, Wirral chose to play into the stiff breeze. As expected, Rochdale used the conditions to pin Wirral back into their 22. After sustained pressure Wirral earned some respite when they cleared from a penalty. From the subsequent lineout they were able to get on the front foot with a forward drive before releasing their potent backs; great handling and excellent running lines saw the Wirral centre cut through the defence before feeding his outside partner who raced clear (7-0).
The score jolted Rochdale into action and they went straight back on the attack. The first wave of attack was repelled but from a subsequent maul just inside the Wirral half Ben Sunderland, the Rochdale back row, peeled away up the blindside. Sunderland fended-off the first tackler, opening up some space where he was able to accelerate away for a fine breakaway try (7-5).
Rochdale were in the ascendancy now and had Wirral pinned back on their own line. A succession of pick and drives from a well-skilled and disciplined pack saw Olly Mills finally burrow his way over from close range (7-12). The half end with Rochdale again on the attack searching for another score.
It was now a case of whether Rochdale could defend a 5-point lead into a stiffening breeze. It didn’t take Wirral long to camp in the Rochdale 22 and apply the pressure.
But, as Wirral had done in the first half, Rochdale defended with great determination driving would be attackers back from whence they came. With the wind on their backs Wirral continued to press and wait for kickable penalties which duly arrived. The Wirral 10 was pulling all the strings in attack and was more than capable of converting the opportunity (10-12).
Rochdale were able to relieve the pressure with strong forward carries and were rewarded with a couple of penalties allowing them into the Wirral 22. Despite the sustained attack, the Wirral defence again held out and, with the strong wind assisting, cleared well into the Rochdale half. These games turn on small margins and when Rochdale lost a man, to what seemed to be a harsh yellow card, Wirral took full advantage putting the kick into the Rochdale 22. Wirral went through the phases pulling the Rochdale defence out of position before converting the overlap into a try (15-12).
Rochdale were returned to full strength and this gave them the impetus for one last mighty effort. The forwards drove relentlessly at the home team’s defence, eating up big chunks of territory. Some excellent handling and physicality got them into the scoring zone but, despite several drives for the line, the Wirral defence again held out and Rochdale had to settle for a losing bonus point.
The result still has Rochdale at the top of the table but either of the two chasing teams know they just have to win their final game to snatch it away from them. Man of the Match went to Sunderland for a tireless performance, but frankly could have gone to any of the forwards. Special mentions to Garrett Myers, Mills, Declan O’Loughlin and Jacob Jackson who were relentless in both attack and defence.
This week sees Rochdale entertain Liverpool St. Helens in the semi-final of the Lancashire cup. This could be the last time this Rochdale Senior Colts team play together so there is a big incentive to continue on to the final.