Fresh legs help Colts pull away.


With a match squad of 21, a combative forward pack and the novelty return of wingers and fullback the Eccles Colts kicked off the New Year with a hard-fought, home victory on Sunday in a ferocious confrontation against top of the league, undefeated Birkenhead Park.

A full bench was a welcome sight- Eccles’ previous encounters with the visitors (L36-15, L22-30) had been handicapped by the inability to assemble more than 15 players (or keep all 15 on the field).  The opening 10 minutes were an evenly balanced contest occupying the centre of the pitch with Eccles focussed and determined to take the game to their opponents. An early attempt to break through the Birkenhead defence by winger Ben Moseley was halted just short of the 22. Winger Matt Hope was next to test his opposite number with a chase to a chipped ball into the corner and was unfortunate not to prosper. A few minutes later the first sustained Eccles attack was instigated by Number 8 Adam Christey breaking from the back of a scrum; the ball moved through the hands of Scrum-Half Washy, Fullback Rory McGrath and Captain Cami Higgy to Half-Back Leon Simpson, who almost slips through the gap on goal if not for a grasp to his shirt tail.

With the visitors under pressure in their own half, off the ball incidents begin to boil. Momentum was with Eccles and following a sequence of successful line-outs and scrums centre Reece Walker was dispatched to power through 30m, handing off his pursuer to place the opening try under the posts; converted by Leon. 15 minutes 7-0.

From the restart Birkenhead put Eccles under immediate pressure inside their 22. Penalties and errors keep them pinned on their own goal line, but the resolute Eccles defence remains intact through several phases despite the extended battering by the big Birkenhead forwards. The sustained attack leads to an equalising try; converted. 20 minutes 7-7.

Eccles look to reassert their dominance through fierce tackling and increased intensity. The collective back row work rate around the field from AdamC, MattS and JoeG is outstanding. Following a disrupted Birkenhead line-out, the Eccles forwards break from the back. From a central position just inside his own half Leon receives the ball and sets off on an sweeping arc left, weaving through several challenges and then swerving right he wrong foots the chasing defenders to place a superb try between the posts; converted. 25 minutes 14-7.

The restart is caught cleanly by Joe Gaff who charges up the centre but is tackled short of the halfway without sufficient support and Birkenhead turnover. A kick to the corner provides them with a platform to mount an attack and even the score in a dangerous position, but 2nd Row Connor James rises like a salmon in the line out to steal the ball. From a resulting scrum, Eccles front row Chris Thomas, Fin Cox and Cami Higgy and locks Connor and Josh Kilby continue the sterling work, driving Birkenhead back and stunting the attack. The indefatigable Eccles defence remains unbreached. Centre Zak Brooker relieves the pressure, with a big carry smashing through several tackles upfield and Eccles end the half ahead. HT 14-7

The unfamiliar advantage of replacements was taken full advantage of with Tim Cullen, Callum Baines, Kayne McNally and Damola interchanging with Washy, Joe, Josh and Matt H. Eccles commence the second half with the boost of 4 pairs of fresh legs and for 10 minutes both sides jab, probing for gaps.

At 45 minutes Connor bursts through the centre, breaking free of his tacklers and flights the ball to Zak supporting on his right who is through for a try but the pass is adjudicated as forward. Eccles have the greater possession and attempt to strike through the midfield congestion to increase their advantage. BenM flying through from Fullback takes the ball at speed, breaks the line, spins a tackle, swerves the approaching fullback and accelerates away from the chasing pack to score under the sticks; try converted by Leon. 50 minutes 21-7.

Magnificent 7 Matt Small and Super 8 Adam Christey having emptied their tanks interchange with Edward Mather and Harry Melia. The match becomes antagonistic around the breakdown. Poor discipline costs Eccles territory and players. Eccles receive a yellow card for ‘unnecessary involvement’ and with the advantage of numbers Birkenhead enjoy a prolonged period of pressure. The Eccles defence is defiant but multiple penalties keep them pinned back and Birkenhead score under the posts. The grounding of the ball is disputed and the Referee sends a second offending Eccles player to the Sin-Bin. The try is awarded and converted. 60 minutes 21-14.

Eccles regain composure and respond with good play between the half-backs. BenM receives the ball in a deep central position, burners on, evades several tacklers and exploiting the space on the right wing he speeds through for try under the posts; converted by Leon. 65 minutes 28-14.

TimC takes the Birkenhead restart cleanly but the attack is smothered. A sequence of penalties and scrums are awarded inside the Eccles 22. Through a bundle of bodies Birkenhead land a late try to the right of posts but the conversion misses and is the last kick of the match. FT 28-19

Our thanks to Birkenhead Park for an engaging contest and to all Colts supporters who encouraged both team’s efforts. Thanks also to the Referee Mr Henry, who deserves credit for his management of a very competitive, physical game.
Our appreciation also to Eccles first XV for the invitation to join their recent training sessions.

Improved levels intensity, concentration and communication from the whole team payed off.  If this commitment can continue into training and future fixtures it’s possible the Colts could complete their season far better than they began.

Eccles Colts next fixture is away vs Whitchurch, Sunday 15th Jan , KO 2pm.