Eccles faced a strong Littleborough team on Sunday knowing that anything like the previous weeks performance at Sale would not suffice.
So, with a few ‘gentle’ wise words of encouragement from the coaching staff, it was with a breeze on their backs that the Gorton Street boys kicked off on Mr Reeveley’s whistle.
The early opportunity to get involved in the first contact was just a prelude to what this game would provide.
With a strong pack of Evan, Max and Matthew lining up in front of the formidable blend of Heath, Lucas and Joe, it was only ever going to be a game won and lost on small margins as the standard of play was there for all to see. With Alfie and Scott poised on the wings and Ollie occupying the fullbacks position, the team looked for their natural balance.
Ollie sent the ball up into the wind for Scott and Joe to chase down the ‘Borough receivers and apply some early pressure. A well gathered ball saw a surge forward by the ‘Borough attackers, however, Matthew and Max dipped their shoulders into the tackle to suppress the initial threat.
The ball popped out of the ruck and Joe was first to react, snatching it up before showing some quick feet to get Eccles on the front foot. Matthew followed him into the next ruck then spun out a pass to the right where Heath and Lucas looked to feed Scott out wide.
The attack was stopped thanks to some great defensive work by the visitors.
With possession comes opportunities and ‘borough weren’t about to waste this.
Their strong running captain created a gap up the middle to leave himself a short pass to his support runner to take the lead. 0- 1 ‘Borough.
An early injury to Max saw the introduction of Jack in the middle of the park. Eccles re-started the game by once more putting the receiver under pressure. The ball came back on the Eccles side as Ollie and Lucas linked to feed out to Alfie. The strong wind took the ball out of Alfie’s reach as it rolled into touch. From the resultant free-pass from the side line, ‘Borough showed their strength and skill in attacking at pace to increase the score line. 0-2
By now, the Eccles boys realised they had to be a little smarter around the rucks (not unlike the Italians!) and not just adopting the correct body positioning but, reading the fringe attackers and picking them off.
The counter-tactic began to work as it slowed up the ‘Borough attacks.
A great phase of play saw the ball moved clinically out of a ruck and shipped right. Heath hit the crash-ball to allow Jack the gate into the ruck. A second phase sent the ball out to Ollie and Scott, but this time the ‘Borough defenders bundled Scott into touch.
The direction of play was all in Eccles’ favour with some fantastic tackling, rucking and support play. Joe was a constant threat from the base of the rucks and scrums, whilst Matt, Jack and Heath always carried the ball forwards.
The visitors score their third before Matthew took a fine pass from Lucas to make the gap before pulling a try back 1-3
With a strong bench providing some quality, the changes were introduced as Evan made way for Carter and Johnny came on for Alfie. Fletcher then replaced Scott on the other wing to enjoy some good surging runs with the ball in hand.
The momentum had to continue as Eccles looked to play their way back into the contest.
However, it was ‘Borough who nailed the next score following a mix-up in defence.
Johnny then got his hands on the ball out wide as the air of anticipation grew with each Eccles attack. Joe again latched onto a smart pass from Ollie before snaking his hips and outpacing the defenders for a well earned try. 2-4 as the second quarter finished ‘even.’
Finn, Shayne and Jake all came on in third quarter as the game showed no signs of slowing up. The contact area was a great contest and not for the feint of heart.
These two side have always enjoyed a good contest, and this was another fine test.
Joe continually looked to launch his big runners after the teams had changed ends. It was appropriate Joe got the next Eccles try as the score board edged closer. 4-5
Jake then slotted into the scrum halves role as Heath – playing with swollen fingers from a training injury – had to depart for treatment.
Jack, time and again led from the front foot, showing some wonderful determination in the contact zone by getting his body angles right.
Finn F showed his speed through the middle before shifting right to feed Fletcher. Johnny and Carter both suffered knocks to keep Dr Dave and Nurse Pam busy.
Finn M then came on to show his skill from hand to keep the ball moving.
It was not to be however, and although the visitors deserved their win for their great display and attitude, the score line never really did this game the justice it deserved as it was a lot closer than it suggests.
These were two good evenly balanced sides enjoying some fine rugby and showing those fortunate to watch the game, that there is an exciting future in this sport we love.
Final score 4-11 to Littleborough.
Well done to both teams and thanks to Paul from Littleborough for making the long trip down the M62.
Thanks to Chris for officiating on the whistle… always nice to hear ‘nothing to report’ after any game!
Thanks to VICKY for the match stats and making sure I don’t over enthuse and embellish the facts!
Eccles Squad: Lucas (Capt), Ollie, Finn M, Jake, Maxwell, Evan, Alfie, Finn F, Joe, Heath, Scott, Shayne, Carter, Jack, Matthew, Fletcher, Johnny. (and Liam)
TRAINING THIS WEDS 01st Mar: 6.30pm:
(new players with/without experience always welcome)