A Curate's egg defined, but a derby win for the U14s
The U14s romped into a 27 point lead, let neighbours Ashton back into the game, but had enough quality to close the game out with some room to spare.
A full strength squad, a still if chilly morning, and a good wide pitch meant that this was a morning to have no excuses and to just let your skills and teamwork show.
The team lined up as follows
1 Ollie J; 2 Charlie H; 3 Ethan; 4 Dan; 5 Azzanne; 6 Yousuf; 7 Will C (c); 8 Jacob; 9 Will R; 10 Jack; 11 George; 12 Cian; 13 Robin; 14 Ollie B; 15 Tom; Subs; Oscar, Ali; Eoin; Charlie B; Alastair
The first 25 minutes were all MV/Broughton, with the normal achilles heal, our control of the breakdown, looking to be fixed. Will C, Jacob and Ethan were dominating the contact area, and quick distribution from Will R and Jack was allowing Cian and Azzanne opportunities to carry.
AOM were defending well, but looking stretched and from a penalty in their 22, following a high tackle, the two Williams combined, Will C crashing over following a quick penalty from his scrum half namesake. 5-0.
Two quick tries soon demonstrated the different qualities the team are now displaying. Jacob finishing a lovely team try following some good hands from Charlie H and Will C. Lead doubled to 10-0. Cian then scored a thriller, taking the restart in his 22, and dancing down the touchline brushing off the AOM tacklers and dotting down close to the posts. Jack nailed the kick and with 15 minutes gone, MV were outscoring the clock at 17-0.
Our early game plan was to try to move the big Ashton pack around and use the pacy outside backs, Ollie B in particular looked dangerous and he was a constant threat, always breaking the first tackle but never straying too far from support, allowing the MV back row to dominate. Dan offered a good target in the middle, pulling in the heavy Mersey forwards, whilst Will C and Jacob kept the ball moving, Will in particular made lots of short runs, all gaining 5-10 yards but meaning the Mersey pack couldn't settle into defensive patterns.
Jacob added a further 5 points on 20 minutes, the pack working well, providing tempo and continuity, building phases allowing Jacob a straightforward score. 22-0.
Good passing from Jack and Robin gave Yousuf some space out wide and he was too strong for the Mersey wing, and scored in the corner, 27-0 game over surely?
The team thought it was too, and whilst the first try AOM was excellent, some good footballing skills from their speedster Curtis, who controlled a loose ball and kicked through to score (27-5), the second, another good finish from Curtis, was more down to some poor defensive decision making and some half hearted tracking back. The winger given too much room allowing him to canter under the posts. The conversion meant the teams turned around at 27-12.
A good start to the half from MV, AOM had a line out on the MV 22, Ethan made a mess of the Mersey drive, winning a turnover and some slick passing found Jacob who scored after outpacing the Mersey backline. 32-12.
Job done. Surely...
Until 14 points in 5 minutes narrowed the lead to 6, two more tries for winger Curtis, the first following a peach of a kick over the top and some great pace and balance, both were under the posts, and despite the try count reading 6-4, the scoreboard was close, Mersey were within a converted try, match back in the balance, momentum with the visitors.
A final reshuffle followed, and MV redoubled their efforts, took back control of the game and managed to get their tackles in, Will, Dan and Ethan carried hard and Mersey found themselves on the back foot and unable to break out.
A late midfield scrum was won against the head and Will and Jack combined to give Cian a chance to use his pace and power, he duly delivered, outflanking the Mersey defence and scoring under the posts. Jack added a couple to extend the lead to 39-26.
Some back chat saw MV awarded a penalty restart, and the pack were able to build the phases, deep in the AOM 22 a final flurry of penalties allowed MV to add a final try, Cian again finding the line following some strong runs from the MV pack.
Final score 44-26.
A game won twice almost, a great opening third, a terrible middle section and a composed final passage.
Eye catching individual performances from Cian, Yousuf getting back to his best, Dan was aggressive and strong, Will leading from the front and Charlie H in his best display of the season, but the forward who stood out was Jacob, neat and tidy with the ball, strong carries and some great scores, in the backs Jack offered controlled distribution from 10, and without being flashy was at the heart of all that went well.
Thanks to John and his coaches for the game, and to the Ashton lads who could have easily buckled but came back strongly and deserved their scores in a game that was hard but played in good spirit.