Liverpool St Helens vs Wirral
Here we are again.....
Here we are again, happy as can be. All good pals and jolly good company.
So wrote Raymond Wallace in his 1931 ditty Jolly Good Company.
Wirral U16’s 2018-19 season’s opener was due to be a training session at home but a hastily arranged fixture against Liverpool St Helens saw the good folk of Wirral take a trip down the East Lancs Road and taking a left after the Diya Indian Restaurant to arrive at the Moss Lane ground. Wirral’s massed travelling support was somewhat depleted due to most of the team’s fan base being stranded in France watching the Ryder Cup or heavily hung-over after Everton’s win against Fulham.
Coach Seddon’s abilities at getting over a hangover are the stuff of legend and he was at LSH’s ground early to check on the pitch and finalise his team’s tactics. He was to be found in the clubhouse reading the Sunday Times sports section with a coffee and a bacon butty while wife Kathryn was outside putting out the cones. Both teams were short of numbers and today’s encounter would be 13 a side with the scrums shorn of flankers.
Liverpool St Helens are the World’s oldest open rugby club being founded in 1857, some 80 years before Vando founded Wirral RUFC. Their president is Ray French, though I thought rugby league was more his thing. At least we were playing 13 a side. Coach Seddon reminisced about his playing days when he’d played at Moss Lane as part of a visiting team. We can safely assume he was on the losing side.
With Isaac S away and Curtis B nursing a near-dislocated shoulder, Wirral would line up with captain Josh C, Ben S and Christy C in the front row, Caleb M-S and Laurie S would be locks and new boy Max would play at No8. Ollie P would play scrum half and Peter P would be fly half with Evan R and Isaac N at centres. Miles H and Tom P would provide attacking thrust on the wings and Sam H would play full back. With Fishy Chandler AWOL, it was left to the evergreen Tin Legs Ivory and old soak Screech Seddon to put the team through their pre-match warm-up drills and fine-tune their set-plays.
As 11 o’clock approached, our match referee called the teams to order and a swift head count confirmed that there were 13 on each side. With numerical equality assured, he blew his whistle and we were under way. Wirral’s Peter B took the kick off and launched the ball skywards in the vain hope that it wouldn’t come down. It did.
The first half was a ferocious affair with Laurie S, Caleb M-S and Isaac N all making charging runs deep into the home team’s half with defenders hanging off their limbs in festoons. Josh C, Peter B and Ben S all made crunching tackles that made Tin Legs glad that didn’t have to play against this lot. Play ebbed back and forth, up and down and across the pitch as both sides probed for an opening. Twice the home side went charging off down the left wing only for Sam H and new boy Max to halt the attack with try-saving tackles and win line-outs while doing so. If they got past Sam, then Tom P was on hand to smash the ball-carrier to the ground. With the put in, Wirral’s scrum and line-outs were dominant as Wirral’s forwards were firmly on top. Behind the scrum, Wirral’s Ollie P, at scrum half, was giving a master class that George Gregan would have been proud of. Both team’s rucking and counter-rucking was excellent and Christy C was creating mayhem at the breakdown and he was tackling everything that moved all over the pitch, regardless of which team they played for or whether they had the ball or not. He was even taking the penalties and gaining many yards of territory with his armour-piercing kicks.
On the other wing, Miles H was having a relatively quiet afternoon but when called upon, he proved that he was prepared to put his life on the line and get in the way of a charging forward to halt an attack. This is what he did halfway through the first half and he was left hobbling off the pitch holding his arm. That was to prove to be the end of his morning’s work as a passing jobsworth of a GP sent him off to casualty to get it looked at by a proper doctor. “What!” exclaimed coach Seddon, dismayed at the loss of one of his keystone players. His primary examination had found nothing wrong with his elbow. Actually, it was his wrist that was tender and swelling up. To keep the numbers even, LSH kindly donated their 14th spare man that had spent his time watching proceedings from the far dugout. He was particularly eager to get on the pitch and throw his lot in with the visiting team.
This was a closely matched first half that was keenly and fairly contested by both sides. There were no more than a handful of penalties but on one occasion, a home player attempted to stop Laurie S, who was charging up the field like a bull elephant on crack cocaine, without using his arms and saw a yellow card. His protests about not wanting to die making the tackle were ignored by the match referee.
While Wirral chose to waste their best opportunities with unforced errors, particularly knock-ons, LSH chose to vary play with a succession of cross field kicks. It was with some relief that the referee blew his whistle and brought the first half to a close. The home side had rather run away with things in this closely fought contest and led 31-0.
As the players trudged off for one of coach Seddon’s tub-thumping, bowel-jerking, half-time team talks, the referee went off for a cup of tea and a jammy dodger. Tin Legs was adamant that this was the best the team had ever played. They were certainly playing well and everybody was fully committed to the cause.
Meanwhile on the touchline, conversation quickly switched to Brexit and the price of fish on Neston market. Mr C, fresh from the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, announced that pork and black-pudding pies were on sale at a butchers in Bebington and that they were selling faster than hot cakes. Mrs M-S, looking resplendent in a purple jacket, complained how cold her bottom was. It was observed that there certainly was an autumnal ‘nip’ in the air but it was then suggested from another quarter that perhaps this was racist. After that nobody said anything.
The silence was broken as the referee blew his whistle to get the second half underway. This time LSH kicked off into a cold breeze. Wirral gathered the ball and went off in search of a score that would herald a massive come-back and help reinforce Coach Seddon’s claims to be Eddie Jones’, or even Jose Mourinho’s, natural successor. As Wirral pressed for the try line, LSH stole the ball and their full-back, I think, charged down the field leaving defenders in his wake. Sam H managed to make the tackle but was unable to stop the perfect inside pass to a supporting runner who touched the ball down between the posts. Easy conversion. You just had to admire that one.
Pretty soon after it was 52-0 as the home side ran away with things. It was at this point that Wirral decided that the score board was looking bad from their point of view and the forwards got together to put on a sustained spell of pressure, going through phase after phase inside the home 5 meter line, before Josh C crashed over for a try. Bizarrely Isaac N took the kick and planted it nearer the corner flag than the goal posts. Everybody in the coaching staff thought Evan R was the kicker in such rare events. Isaac N couldn’t believe how he’d missed. Neither could anybody else.
LSH were clearly rattled at his breeching of their line and soon they were under pressure again inside their own 5 meter line. Peter B made the initial line-break from the 22 but was hauled down short of the try line. The ball was stolen, then stolen back, and Wirral’s forwards went through several phases as the home side held things up as if their lives depended upon it. In the end, top scorer Josh C doubled his season’s tally with a well-crafted burst through the defence for a score. This time Evan R took the conversion but he missed as well, though he did put the ball into the next field in an effort to end the game. Sadly for him, a touch judge darted between the ploughed furrows to reclaim it and play could resume.
As Wirral pressed hard to turn the score around, LSH ran in two tries of their own, both from their own half. Their conversions were good. As time ebbed away, Caleb M-S claimed the ball and passed to Ben S who passed to Peter B who fed Josh C who passed to Isaac N who advanced to pass to Sam H who passed to Laurie S who offloaded to Mad Max who fed Tom P who passed to a marauding Christy C who offloaded to Ollie P who side-stepped the blitz defence to feed a charging Evan R who set off down the touchline like a cheetah with its tail on fire to score under the posts. If only Miles H hadn’t been half way to Arrowe Park, then it would have been the perfect team try. This time the conversion was good as Evan converted his own try.
By now, the referee was feeling exhausted and so he blew his whistle to bring the game to a close.
Final score:- Liverpool St Helens - 66 Wirral - 17. ( I think.)
Well done to both sides in producing a really good game with some excellent tries. In the end it was Wirral’s unforced errors and LSH’s superior kicking game as well as their speedy attacking from deep that decided this match. But Wirral’s forwards can be really proud of their efforts, as can everybody really. Thanks also to the referee for his fair and consistent handling of the game.
After the whistle, it was time for the players to make tunnels and shake hands and hip hip hurrah each other. The parents and coaches made for the clubhouse for a beer, though some opted for a warm drink. The players went for a well-deserved plate of chips with curry sauce- excellent fayre.
Next week training at Wirral.