A Win By The Sea
By David Crouch
Southport 10 Bolton 29
Bolton travelled over to Southport and collected their third win of the season. The last time the two teams played each other was five years ago in the Lancashire Cup, a very one sided match that Bolton won comfortably. This season, there was no expectation from the Cherry & Whites that a win would be as easy.
A number of Bolton supporters had made the hour journey to voice their support from the sideline, the weather was dry and the pitch was in fine condition despite the heavy rainfall in the build up. All in all, we were set for an entertaining afternoon.
The first half was keenly contested in all areas of the field with Bolton having the majority of the play in the early exchanges. Bolton were awarded a penalty in Southport’s twenty-two. Tom Swift, spotting a gap, took a quick tap and in the resulting play, Bolton almost scored, just a knock on from Chris Cockton letting them down with the tryline begging. The resultant scrum allowed Bolton to show the dominance they were to have in that area, but the home side were able to eventually clear their lines.
Bolton almost scored again, when Danny Joseph was put into the clear but was brought down just short of try line. Bolton continued to pile the pressure on Southport, but their defence was resolute and this eventually paid off when their fullback managed to cling on to a loose ball and run in a try from 30 metres out.
Spurred on by the score against the run of play, Bolton continued to hound the Southport defensive line and were awarded with two kickable opportunities. The usually reliable boot of Mike Mills failed on both occasions and with the 3rd penalty captain Rhys Pritchard opted for the corner. The forwards ran a slick lineout move, but despite Gaz Pritchards best efforts from close quarters, Bolton were held out and succumbed to giving away a penalty.
Bolton continued to dominate at the set piece, particularly in the scrum, however, the official had different ideas. On two occasions, the Bolton forward pack disintegrated the home forwards but were penalised both times for the 8 not being fully bound when trying to control the ball. A decision that confused home and away supporters alike and one that Bolton had to take on the chin and react to.
Despite the continued dominance, Bolton's frustration at the interpretation of the laws was starting to show and therefore it was Southport that were on the scoreboard next following an offside penalty that gave their fly half an easy 3 points on the 35 minute mark.
Bolton knew they had to contribute to the scoreboard before half time and following a talking to from captain Rhys Pritchard, they set about reatining the ball and earning field position. Bolton were starting to dictate terms in the contact area now, with Louis Critchlow and Tony McLaughlin regularly clearing out the ruck. This front foot ball allowed Owen McKenna a break following an offload from Cockton in the midfield. Owen linked nicely with Danny Joseph and a ruck was formed just 5 metres out near the right-hand touchline. The quick ball was moved to Cockton who swiftly shipped it on to Brownlow, who took advantage of his opposite number rushing up to sidestep and dot the ball down by the posts. Mike Mills found his range and was successful with the conversion.
Half-time score: Southport 10 Bolton 7
The talk at halftime was one of continuing to dominate at the set piece and ruck area and the 15 men in red clearly took it onboard as they started the second half showing the upper hand in almost every area of play. The sheer determination in defence rendered Southport unable to register a score in the second half whilst Bolton went on a ruthless mission in search of a bonus point victory.
In the forty-third minute, Bolton were awarded a penalty for an infringement and Mike Mills cooly converted it to bring the scores level. Bolton were now retaining the ball and their rucking game was very aggressive and proving difficult to handle. This speed of play provided a platform from which they could control the game.
Despite this, Southport continued to defend stoutly and it was only from a tired and dog-legged defence that Ryan McClusky was able to break the line in the 55th minute and make his way up the field. The ball found its way out to Joseph on the right wing who pinned back his ears and made a dash for the corner. Despite the covering tackles, Danny managed to place the ball down for a crucial 5 pointer and give Bolton the lead for the first time in the match. Mills wasn't able to convert from out wide.
Ash Cooper and Joe Speakman entered the game for Chris Lane and Jonny Stanfield and were tasked with making an immediate impact. Speakman clearly heard the request and was immediately involved, working some lovely interplay with McClusky to beat the home defence. Ryan took the final pass and coasted in for Bolton's 3rd score in the 62nd minute. Mills converted and the Cherry & Whites now had a comfortable lead and 18 minutes to hunt down the 4th try.
Southport, however, were in no mood to give it up easily and for most of the rest of the match, open play was honours even. Southport managed to defend Bolton's combination of Forward and Back attacks whilst also mounting their own wide attacks which were quashed by a resolute Bolton defensive effort. Then just a few minutes from time came a game changer. A Southport player was sent for the bin for some afters at the ruck, with Niall Murphy taking a kicking or two for his sins (he probably did deserve it...). Bolton kicked to the corner and looked to make the man advantage count from 5 metres out.
Southport defended the lineout well but Bolton retained possession and began to move slowly towards the try line through a series of tight rucks. Eventually the home defence relented and Mike Mills was able to pick up and go over from close range under the posts. He added the conversion to increase his personal tally to 14 and most importantly ensure Bolton went home with the full 5 points.
Final score: Southport 10 Bolton 29
After the game, Head Coach Dave Crouch ahd this to say: "Overall we played well as a team. In parts, the lads produced some very good rugby which was pleasing to see. Southport was clearly a well-organised side, but I felt we had the edge in most areas of play. Attitude and commitment from players this week has been so much better, which resulted in this very good win. I don't think many teams will be able to collect 5 points here at Southport this season."
Man of the Match: Gaz Pritchard