A Great Way To Finish The Season
By David Crouch
Bowdon 17 - 21 Bolton
Bolton travelled to Bowdon for the last league fixture of the season, Bowdon were guaranteed 2nd place and a play off for promotion regardless of the result. But if Bowdon got the victory and Rochdale did them a favour against their great rivals Altrincham Kersal, then Bowdon would take the league title.
The weather was quite deceiving, it appeared to be glorious yet there was a bitter cold wind in the air. Bolton had it on good knowledge from team stalwart and meteorological guru Gareth Evans that it would be 4 or 5 degrees warmer in Timperley - as they arrived at Bowdon Rugby Club, the weather hadn’t changed at all.
Bolton began their warm up focused on the task at hand, Alex Waddicar and Mark Chappelhow joined the team half an hour later – they both had a suspicious radiance about them which suggested they may have indulged in a Couples Retreat package at the Hale Country Club & Spa. Both strenuously denied the accusations, DOR David Crouch was glad they could made it, taking Bolton to a full complement of 18 players, but insisted he will be investigating their actions after the game. For now, they had completed the pre-match run through and were ready to play the last 80 minutes of the season.
Bowdon won the toss and nominated to play away from the Bouncy Castle End, with Bolton kicking off with the wind behind them. The first fifteen minutes was evenly balanced, both teams defences held firm with much of the game being played in the middle of the pitch. Bolton earned a penalty in Bowdon’s half for offside, about 30 metres out and slightly left of the uprights. Captain Rhys Pritchard opted for the kick at goal and turned around to give the ball to his trusted place kicker. Realising that neither were in the match day squad, it dawned on him he had made a mistake here, but there was no turning back. Pritchard tee’d the ball up himself and paced out a run up. The attempt left the scores at 0-0 and Bowdon with a twenty-two drop out once they’d retrieved the ball from the other side of the barbeque tent.
Bowdon began to apply their own pressure with a series of infringements from Bolton giving them good position to kick for touch and attempt to drive the ball over Bolton’s try-line. Bolton’s defence had other ideas and managed to repel each attempt including Ryan McClusky holding a Bowdon player up over the line. Bolton absorbed the pressure well enough to force the knock on from Bowdon and were able to clear their lines.
The halfway mark was fast approaching, Bowdon had possession just on Bolton’s twenty-two. A mistake saw Bowdon knock on in the tackle, the ball was pounced on by Alex Waddicar and secured by the industrious James Higgins who had a great first half. The ball was moved quickly to James Singleton who threw a flat pass to Will Bate in the centres. He drew two defenders in and found an offload off the ground to Rhys Pritchard, he then hit a gap and made a half break. He managed to free his hands and passed to Kieran Shacklock who had acres of space in front of him. He set off like a wild springbok through the highlands, fending off Bowdon players as he made his way under the sticks. Try converted by Jack Robinson and Bolton went into the second half with a slender lead.
Halftime score: Bowdon 0 – 7 Bolton
The second half began in the same manner with both teams evenly matched. Bolton had a good opportunity early on with a scrum on Bowdon’s five metre line. Bolton had the upper hand most of the afternoon at scrum time, they managed to get a push on heading towards the try line. Unfortunately, Ryan McClusky was penalised for jumping with the ball held between his feet at the back of the scrum. An illegal manoeuvre deemed the man with the whistle! Bowdon were able to clear their lines.
Bolton’s game plan was to keep it in hand this half as kicking into the wind was tricky. A set piece of the scrum saw Will Bate make an excellent break down the right side. He had Rhys Pritchard and Kieran Shacklock to the outside of him, with Bowdon’s try line looming. Bate’s threw a sublime 60 metre pass out wide, it’s a shame Shacklock was only 30 metres away and the ball went out of play into the car park for a Bowdon line out.
Crouch made a change in the back row with James Higgins making way for Gaz Pritchard who finally declared himself fit on the fiftieth minute after tireless work from the team of physios to ensure he could play. At this point the match was being played on Bolton’s 5 metre line with Bowdon’s throw in at the line out. Bolton tried to leave the attempted maul but were deemed to have engaged giving away an easy try for Bowdon’s first score. The conversion was added from out wide by the young fly half - the scores now level with half an hour to play.
Both Mark Aspinall and Mark Chappelhow came into the fray taking the places of Tom Swift, who had put in a solid performance out of position on the wing and Gareth Evans who ensured Bolton a good platform from the scrum all afternoon. Bowdon spurred on by their first score sniffed an opportunity, from quick ball they shipped it wide to centre who managed to make a break through the middle with some helpful screening. Leaving a two on one which they put away with great composure, unable to add the conversion the score was now 12 – 7.
Alex Waddicar re-started with the ball holding up in the wind giving the chasing Bolton pack something to compete for. The pressure forced the knock on and gave Bolton good position to mount an attack. Bolton were able to swing the ball from left to right through the phases. James Singleton made a telling break through the middle and found Shacklock out wide who was able to step inside, he was brought down ten metres out from the try line by some scramble Bowdon defence. Bowdon were able to turn it over, but the kick only made the twenty-two metre line leaving Bolton in good position to try again.
Chris Cockton found his jumper Louis Critchlow who had been reliable all day and the maul began. Twenty two metres later Ryan McClusky crashed over the tryline, a monstrous effort from the Bolton pack from which Bowdon had no answer. Rhys Pritchard surprised everyone including himself by adding the extras and taking the score to 12-14 with just under 20 minutes to play.
Bolton were able to secure possession from the restart and kicked the ball back down the pitch with a decent chase. A ball kicked out on the full gave Bolton good position again in the Bowdon half. From the scrum Gaz Pritchard picked up and charged making good ground, a couple of phases later Jack Robinson found himself trying to emulate the previous efforts from his number 8. He was brought down 5 metres out, but using his university educated mind, he cleverly left the ball on the ground, got back to his feet and picked it up to race under the posts! This caught all of Bowdon by surprise and gave Rhys Pritchard an easy conversion right in front, the score now 12-21.
Bolton had to see out the next 10 minutes of relentless pressure coming in from Bowdon who needed two scores of some sort to take the lead. Ash Cooper led the defence bravely all day, who had a personal tackle count of 78, 77 of which were legal. With the last play of the game, Bowdon’s right winger was able to score a try in the far corner which went unconverted.
Final score: Bowdon 17- 21 Bolton
Man of the Match: Will Bate who played a part in most of Bolton’s attacking play.
A fantastic effort by all involved and a positive finish the season, everyone stepped up and played their part. A special thanks must go to Bolton First Team Manager, Mark Down, who is stepping down from his role at the end of the season. Mark has worked along side David Crouch for the past three seasons, ensuring a smooth operation since day one.
Thanks to Bowdon for the great hospitality given to the past players and current after the game.
Best of luck in the play-off against our old friends from Cumbria, sure to be a great game.