On Saturday Eccles first team made the journey to Keswick, in Cumbria, with a large band of travelling vocal supporters to play the last league game of the season and with the hope of securing the North Lancs / Cumbria league title.
With a large number of forced changes due to injuries and illness, this was never going to be a formality for the Eccles team. The two worst examples being Sean Griffin showing off his light-weight cast and Matt Parkinson, doing his impersonation of Pte Pike who was not playing coz his mum said he had a chill. Needless to say his dad didn’t agree. He told me he couldn’t hear out of his right ear, I told him it didn’t matter because as he was playing on the right wing and he only needed his left one.
Playing into a strong wind in the first half and with the home team fighting to avoid relegation only a totally committed performance by all would do. Initial apprehensions were set aside as Eccles quickly took the lead with a Danny Holland penalty. Not wanting to make things easy for themselves, they never do, Eccles allowed the home side straight back into the game with an easy penalty kick. Pressure back on again. Steadily cranking up the pressure themselves Eccles took the game to Keswick and an attacking lineout resulted in Sam Simpson driving over with the rest of the forwards to score the first try of the day. Luckily the referee didn’t see the touch judge waving his flag in celebration, and mistake it for an infringement. Another penalty by the Dutchman extended the lead to remove any major concerns. Not giving up Keswick were unlucky with another penalty attempt of their own.
With a few interchanges taking place Eccles were soon on the attack again giving Andy Frost the opertunity to prove his worth as an impact player and go over for a try which the Dutchman converted. This all secured a half time advantage of 18 points to 3.
In the second half and with the wind to their backs Eccles totally dominated the game throughout. The Dutchman first extended the lead with another penalty kick and only a forward pass denied Will Parkinson the opportunity to extend his significant try haul of the season. Not wanting others to claim any glory Sam Simpson decided the ball was his to keep and was soon seeing going over for his second try of the game.
The Eccles scoring machine finished the game with a try by Connor Thornley which the Dutchman converted. With defeat inevitable Keswick showed they were not beaten in spirit and a fine breakaway from their own 22 gave them the reward of a converted try.
As the game came to a close Eccles were declared worthy winners 33 points to 10 and with it the league title was theirs. The celebrations quickly began.
This was, and as the entire league season has been, a great performance by the whole team, making Eccles worthy champions and securing a long sort for promotion. Playing five of their last seven league games away from home, and winning all was no easy feat. Eccles now enter into the North One West league, of the RFU league pyramid structure and places them at the highest level (level 6) ever achieved in their long history.
Well done to all the players, who are all totally amateur, especially Captain Mark Greenhalgh and Head Coach Sam Simpson. It has to be noted that the Eccles success has been built on an experienced set of forwards and a youthful back line. With all but 3 of the regular 18 man playing squad coming through the club’s Mini, Junior and Colts teams.
Celebration went long into the night, graciously assisted by the hospitality of Keswick who had just learnt that other results of the day meant that they would be relegated. It cannot be easy to see others celebrate when all you want to do is the complete opposite. Good luck to them next season. Special note to the Keswick barman who told me he hated Bolton. “Every five b***** minutes” they were ringing to find out the score.
Despite the best laid plans of yours truly the trip to the hostelries of Bowness was hastily rearranged to the delights of Keswick town centre. On arriving at the first pub one of the many noisy Bates family proved he was far too lubricated, as ever, and had all but a few thrown out. This scenario carried on all evening as the lads played bag-o-tell with every pub they could find. Lesson here, Thorpey who between the two of us knows about beer and pubs, not you. Eventually we found the only landlord who had no idea what sort of a crowd a rugby team was and allowed us to all stay. Needless to say we made our presence known, in the best possible taste of course, apart from Nemo who chose to show everyone his gonads.
The bus journey home was very quiet with not much happening, honest. Well apart from the odd projectile vomit (bet that gets deleted) and a wild mountain lioness attacking a young stallion.
P.S. Joe Dale turned up on time. More about him in my end of season summary.