"Clowns to the left of Me, Jokers to the Right, Here I am, Stuck in the Middle with Lou"
By Rhys Pritchard
Experimental Bolton side come from behind and hold on for the win!
Bolton's first team made the trip down the M6 via north Wales to Winnington Park based in Northwich, leaving behind treacherous conditions to be met by dry but windy conditions and a decent playing surface. D.O.R. David Crouch had pieced together a team on Thursday night's training session and was confident in the players he had selected.
The highlight of the pre-match run through was VC Louis Critchlow, clearly very excited to be playing centre, had warmed up with his playing shorts on back to front, despite this, Bolton were up for the challenge ahead.
Winnington Park kicked off down-field with Bolton playing back up towards the clubhouse. Bolton started off brighter and were on the scoreboard within 5 minutes through the boot of Mike Mills with a penalty in front of the sticks, in the process putting his hip out, so he handed kicking duties over to Rhys Pritchard. Park had a chance to level the scores minutes later but the kick was pushed wide and Bolton held on to the slender 0-3 lead.
This was short lived as Winnington looked to work the short side from the resulting 22 drop out, the ball found their right winger out wide who beat the Bolton defensive line and put a neat grubber kick to go passed sweeping Will Bate. Park's winger gathered his own kick and dotted down to score the opening try of the game. Bate's was fuming, as he thought there was a winger covering further back. He was quickly reminded that Bolton had no wingers on the pitch at all. The conversion was missed but Park took the lead 5-3.
Bolton soon found themselves back under pressure, the only relief coming from Louis Critchlow, who had a personal tally of 4 turnovers in the first half. Park kept composure and were able to play the phases and eventually put a neat kick in behind. Galloping full back for the day Andrew Wood has no choice but to gather the ball and slide over his own try line to dot down, giving Park great position with a 5 metre scrum. Park's pack showed great control and power with the number 8 scoring with a push over try. Conversion was good, making the score 12-3 to the home side.
From the next restart Bolton retained possession and made good ground into Park's 22. Although they had possession there wasn't much structure to the play, A lose (forward) pass which Mark Chappelhow ducked under was gathered by Winnington's back row who ran unopposed from his own 22 metre to score a converted try. The score now 19-3 with half an hour played Bolton felt like they were in for a long afternoon.
A stroke of good luck from the restart saw Park's player fumble the ball backwards into touch giving Bolton the throw in at the line out. Rory Biggins found his man and Bolton's forwards marched towards the try line only for Tony McLaughlin to be held up by 12 men. Bolton still had possession 5 metres out with the put in at the scrum. Ben Cottam picked from the base who drew his man expertly then popped the ball on to Rhys Pritchard who found Mike Mills hobbling onto the short ball, Mills somehow found the whitewash for Bolton's first try of the day. Conversion smashed wide by Pritchard, score now 19-8.
Park kicked off, only for the ball to hang in the wind and not make the 10 metre line, Bolton opted for the scrum back on half way. Bolton looked to capitalise on this mistake, Cottam again picked from the base and passed to scrum half Pritchard who split the defence on the right side. He had Will Bate cut back on the angle with a neat inside pass, Bate was able to run in from 40 metres underneath the posts for a great try, Pritchard was good with the conversion, the score now 19-15.
Park didn't make the same mistake twice and made sure the next kick off went 10 metres. The remainder of the half saw ill discipline from both sides which was dealt with swiftly by the referee, back chat and appealing seemed to be the theme of the day. Some Cumbrian back chat saw Park able to kick for position from a penalty with the intentions of scoring from a maul. Bolton were able to repel this attack, holding Winnington up and winning the turnover. The scrum quickly turned into a penalty which Bolton were happy to tap and kick off the field of play to bring an end to an eventful first half.
Half time score: 19-15
Bolton knew the next 40 minutes would be a serious test, Will Bate kicked off deep but it was returned with interest. Missed tackles saw Park move into Bolton's half only for a wayward pass to bring an end to the attack. This seemed to wake Bolton up, they knew their defence needed to improve if they stood any chance of winning this game. This was made slightly easier as Park went down to 14 for mouthing off to the official, he did warn both teams that action would be taken if it didn't stop - for once Bolton seemed to take this on board! The next score was to come from a scrum inside Bolton's own half. The ball was shipped wide through the backs and Lou into the hands of Ryan McClusky, he did what we have seen him do on so many other occasions for Bolton and set off down the right side leaving Park defenders and his support for dead to score a great individual try. Conversion smashed wide by Pritchard - 19-20, Bolton took the lead.
Bolton's defence held firm through the next passage of play, the front five and back row tackled everything that came their way. Bolton managed to keep Park pinned in their own half who looked to play it through the hands. Pressure forced a loose pass and knock on, which was scooped up by Ben Cottam who sprinted 30 metres in to score under the posts keeping three Park chasers at bay. Mike Mills made a miraculous recovery from his dicky hip and stepped up to add the extras, the score now 19-27 to Bolton.
Both teams began to make changes, with Alex Charnock and Gareth Evans coming on for the famous Bolton double act of Higgins and Biggins, both putting in great shifts for the cherry and whites.
As soon as Winnington were back up to 15, they immediately went back down to 14 losing a man to the sin-bin for stamping at the ruck. Not to be outdone, Louis Critchlow decided to even things up and got himself a yellow card for a high tackle in the centres. From this penalty Park kicked deep into the corner and were able to score with a well worked maul, Bolton unable to keep the marching Winnington forwards out. The conversion was good from out wide taking the score to within 1 point, leaving a tense final few minutes.
Bolton attempted to see out the last minutes through the phases but Park had different ideas. They were able win a penalty for Bolton not releasing and Bolton found themselves back in their own half 5 metres out from their own try line. The pack knew what was coming and were wise to it. Tony McLaughlin sacked the first man to kill all momentum, the maul went down with no way of the ball coming out, the final whistle went and Ash Cooper emerged from the carnage, cradling the ball like new born child.
Final score: 26-27
Thanks to all the lads who stepped in to play on a difficult week for all three senior teams. This week is a game-free weekend - time for recuperation and recovery ready for the following week of league fixtures.