With a big squad which was very forward dominant, only four regular backs, two returning from injury, and 14 forwards, the Garstang selection committee had trouble sorting a side and getting everyone a run out.
Mark Rogerson moved from the back-row to full-back, Paul Consadine moved from number 8 to inside-centre, and Rob Jaques started on the wing for the first time in a couple of years.
The first five minutes were a bit of an arm wrestle, but Vale were in control and forced a couple of penalties, one of which they missed a shot at goal.
From another penalty, they had a line out on the five-yard line and worked a good move which their flanker strolled over in the corner for a well deserved try. From the restart, big hits were flying in and the Blues were knocking Vale backwards and showing a strong physical presence, which Vale couldn’t handle. Jake Jollies, Matt Barnaby and Danny Gardner were fired up and busting holes up the middle and smashing Vale lads everywhere.
The moment of the match came when the nippy Vale winger returned a deep kick across the width of the park, across the faces of the big Garstang defensive line until Rob Jaques dipped a shoulder and smashed him 10 yards backwards.
More Blues pressure earned another 3 points from Dawson (2 from 2) but Vale were defending manfully. The pitch was turning boggy and indiscipline started to creep into both sides forcing Mr Harrison into tooting his whistle frequently. Both sides received a stern warning, especially as the referee was getting too much back chat.
Half-time came and the Blues held a 6-5 lead.
Changes were made with Joe Walton coming into the centres, Consadine moved back to 8, Matt Lennie replaced Barnaby who had a breather after a bump on the head, and Joe Taylor replaced Jaques on the wing. The Blues needed to cut out the mistakes and sort the discipline problems, which were letting Vale off the hook.
Garstang threw everything at Vale, Jollies was having his best game of the season, Brighouse was putting his body on the line.
Jollies took a crash ball off Dawson and smashed through the Vale line and was unlucky to be dragged down millimetres short. Tom Wallis broke off the back of a maul and crashed over, only to be held up.
With 10 minutes to go, a Vale forward was binned for yet another infringement at the breakdown, Dawson went feeding Raby on the rampage, who fed Jollies and the Blues had 3 phases on the Vale line, before giving away yet another penalty.
From a scrum in the middle of the pitch, Barnaby picked from the base and steamed through the Vale defence, with most of the Vale backs stuck to Barnaby, he popped out to the supporting Danny Gardner who scorched over the line, the Blues celebrated and the ref blew for a forward pass, devastated is an understatement.
Dawson struck his third penalty of the game for a 9-5 lead. With the final play, Vale had a scrum, and their winger broke down the left, Danny Riley saved the day, Vale recycled and broke down the right, Riley scooted across and saved the day again, hoofing the ball into touch and the final whistle went. Phew!
Credit must go to Vale who defended their line extremely well under a lot of pressure .
Credit to the referee too, for not spitting his dummy out when most of the players did!
Man of the match was a tough decision, Dawson kicking 3 from 3 and managing to smash Joe Taylor, Danny Gardner was solid in attack and defence, Rodgerson was reliable and safe at full-back, Hindle, Raby and Wallis were strong as bulls on steroids. But Jake Jollies put in his best performance this season, going into everything 100% and dominating all the collisions and supporting every runner. Rob Jaques collected the tackle of the match.
After the game Dawson said: “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning and that is what counts.”
Team: Raby, Wallis, Hindle, Jollies, Swarbrick, Brighouse, Jackson, Barnaby, Johnstone, Dawson, Riley, Consadine, Gardner, Jaques, Rodgerson. Subs: Lennie, Lee, Isherwood, Taylor, Walton, Pendlebury.
MATCH SPONSOR – MICK RICHARDSON, BUILDER.
• 1st XV went down at Oldham as they were comprehensively beaten by 48-15.
Next Saturday, the 1st XV will be looking to arrest their slump as they take on Mossley Hill AC at home in a game which will be sponsored by Wyrebank. The Blues are away against Aspull 1sts. Both games kick off at 14:15.