Twickenham awaits for victorious Myerscough Rugby Academy
Teams: Myerscough College AASE Sale Sharks Academy vs. Exeter Chiefs AASE Academy
Fixture: AASE National League Semi-Final
Details: Kick Off 3:30pm on 14th March 2012 at Myerscough College Preston Campus
On a cold Wednesday afternoon at Myerscough College’s Preston Campus, the Myerscough College AASE Team (Sale Sharks Academy) hosted Exeter Chiefs Academy in the most important match of the season so far. The winner would book themselves a place in the National AASE final to be played at Twickenham in April.
It was the home side who started the brighter with kicker Ally Addy converting a penalty after only 3 minutes to give Myerscough an early 3-0 lead. 2 minutes later and Myerscough were pressing their opponents hard. A chipped kick over the Exeter backline was fumbled by the opposition fullback. Myerscough’s Sam Bedlow pounced on the loose ball to run in Myerscough’s first try of the afternoon. An easy score for the Myerscough winger gave Myerscough an 8-0 lead after only 5 minutes.
10 minutes in and Exeter finally got on the score sheet. The referee awarded a penalty after the Myerscough forwards were adjudged to be illegally handling the ball in the ruck. An easy 3 points to Exeter made the score 8-3 to the home side. 30 seconds after the restart and a second chipped kick over the Exeter backline again caused their fullback problems. In an almost identical fashion to their opening try, Myerscough’s Harry Pilkington picked up the ball and ran for the corner, but this time was pulled up short by a saving Exeter tackle.
On 15 minutes, England Colleges’ scrum half Harry Pilkington showed his class again. Receiving the ball from the ruck, Pilkington showed great turn of speed to break the Exeter line. Once clear, Pilkington ran past 3 Exeter defenders with ease, grounding the ball in the corner to score Myerscough’s second try in only 15 minutes. England Under 18’s centre Mike Haley stepped up to convert a difficult kick from the right hand touchline. With 15 minutes gone Myerscough extended their lead to 15-3.
After a string of big hits by the Myerscough pack, Exeter won a penalty, electing to kick to the corner rather than try for 3 points with the boot. A decision that paid off for the visiting side – Exeter‘s forwards instigated a well-rehearsed ‘catch and drive’ from the lineout. From 5 metres out the Exeter pack drove the ball over the line for their first try of the match. Unconverted kick brought the score to 15-8 to the home side.
After a dominate start to the game, Myerscough found themselves on the back foot. Exeter pressed hard but a resolute Myerscough defence refused to let them pass. After 5 minutes of solid defensive play from the Myerscough pack, the ball was turned over only for Myerscough to hand the visitors another penalty for not releasing an Exeter player on the ground.
Exeter again elected to kick for the corner in the hope of another catch and drive lineout move. Myerscough were wise to it this time and easily repelled the visiting side. 2 minutes later and Myerscough Prop Jonathon Gorst produced one of the biggest hits of the game. Lifting his opposite number off his feet however, the referee blew for an illegal tackle, resulting in an easy three points under the posts for Exeter, bringing the visiting side within 4 points with the score at 15-11.
As the gruelling first half was coming to a close, Myerscough’s Captain and England Colleges player Eddie Webster came close to scoring in the corner, but was bundled into touch just 5 metres from the Exeter line. The teams went in at half time with the score Myerscough 15 – 11 Exeter.
As the teams came out for the second half both teams looked determined to book themselves a place in the final at Twickenham. On 45 minutes, Myerscough won a scrum deep in their opponents half. Losing the ball to a handling error gave the visiting side a scrum on their own 5 metre line. A panicked Exeter defence cleared the ball straight into touch, which brought the ball back to their own 22, and increased the pressure on their own defence.
The pressure was mounting on the Exeter side who struggled to keep pace with the Myerscough backs. On 50 minutes this pressure showed as Myerscough produced the try of the game, if not the season.
Myerscough’s Mike Haley broke away from his opposite number and put the ball through the backs hands. After a series of offloads in the tackle, England Colleges player Orisi Nawaqaliva picked up and set his sights on the try-line. After a last ditch tackle from the Exeter fullback, Nawaqaliva managed one final offloads to substitute Ralph Dowds who, from 5 metres out, was simply too strong to stop from short range. Dowds scored under the posts for Myerscough’s third try. An easy conversion for Ally Addy extended Myerscough’s lead to 10 points.
With the score locked at 22-11 in Myerscough’s favour, Exeter pressed hard but could not find a way through the resolute home defence. With fierce tackles going both sides dug deep for the final 20 minutes.
With 18 minutes left on the clock, Myerscough’s lineout went astray, handing the visiting side a possible reprieve to kick and clear their lines. Myerscough captain and flanker Eddie Webster bolted from the scrum to produce a fine tackle, stopping Exeter clearing their lines, and forcing them onto the back foot.
Back on his feet at the resulting ruck, Webster was quick off the mark and successfully charged down the Exeter kick. With the ball loose, Orisi Nawaqaliva was the first to react. In his attempt to pick up the ball on the Exeter 5 metre line, he knocked the ball on handing Exeter a scrum, allowing them to clear their lines and save a near certain 5 points which would have killed the game for the visitors.
With both sides producing a series of big hits in the final 10 minutes, the game was turning out to be the most physically demanding game of the season. Myerscough’s Mike Haley produced a fine tackle to stop the advancing Exeter centre. However it was Eddie Webster who sprung up again to produce the tackle of the game. The Myerscough captain was enjoying a fine performance and leading his team by example.
As Exeter tried one last push to narrow the scores, the tension between the two packs mounted after a string of bit hits. This tension boiled over with 5 minutes to go as the two packs came to blows, bringing the match to a halt. After stern words with both captains the referee issued yellow cards to one player from each team.
With both sides down to 14 men, Exeter produced one final push, driving over the line in the dying minutes of the game. Despite a converted try bringing the visitors to within 4 points, it was too late for Exeter. The referee blew his whistle for the end of the game. After a true battle and hard fought match from both sides, it was Myerscough who produced one of their best performances of the season to book themselves a place in the AASE Final on 28thApril. Final score: Myerscough 22 – 18 Exeter.