When travelling to the rugby heartlands of Cheshire it is always advisable to take as many players as the rules will allow, and make sure they are familiar with the positions in which they are being asked to play. Unfortunately this week a combination of injuries, lack of availability and late call-offs meant that Bolton Colts travelled to Wilmslow with the bare minimum of players and only four backs. To then lose another before kickoff meant that Bolton knew they were up against it before the match had even started.
On a glorious afternoon and the big first team pitch Bolton kicked off and it soon became apparent that Wilmslow were keen to play an expansive game where they looked to offload the ball in contact at every opportunity. Whilst the visitors were still coming to terms with their defensive responsibilities in their unfamiliar positions Wilmslow scored a couple of early tries as their pacey backs used the space afforded them in the wider areas. Undeterred, the Bolton forwards grew into the game and began to exert pressure up front. Confidence grew as Tom Crook, Darren Robinson and Matt Moore carried the ball strongly and made inroads into the home defence, and Owen Patel in his first game ever at scrum half did an excellent job of linking the play and keeping the ball moving. Several phases of good ball retention and incisive running resulted in Crook diving over for a try well converted by James Evans, and at that stage Bolton looked to be in the game at only 12-7 behind. It wasn’t to be, however, as the home team re-exerted their superiority and extended their lead as a string of injuries further dented the visitors’ chances. Mention must go to Zak Grundy at full back who made a string of last ditch tackles as Wilmslow had a period of play where it seemed as though they could score with every possession. We must thank the players and coaches of Wilmslow who lent Bolton several players to preserve the match as a contest. One of these loan players scored a try mid-way through the second half after a break by James Evans, and this sparked a mini-revival by the visitors. It is to their credit that Bolton had the better of the final quarter as Joe McHugh began to make yards down the middle of the pitch, and it was only fitting that he should be the catalyst for Matthew Moore to crash over for Bolton’s final try.
This game marks the final contest in the preliminary phase; this round of matches determines in which league Bolton will play the rest of season. When the fixtures were published it was clear that Bolton would face some really tough matches against some very good, experienced teams and it has been a very steep learning curve for players and coaches alike. Although the team has yet to win there have been times in every game when they have been on top and played some good rugby. The key for the rest of the season is to build these phases of dominance into a complete performance. There have been enough good things in these early matches to provide encouragement for the team and supporters alike, the players maintain their enthusiasm for the game and the group knows that if they can get everyone fit and on the pitch at the same time performances will come.