College stars lose out in cracker final

A big hit from Curtis Strong
A big hit from Curtis Strong

ON a blisteringly hot day in London, the fitness and stamina of both sides would play a major part in what turned out to be one of the best, and hardest-fought games of the 2011-2012 AASE season.

In their previous two encounters, Myerscough College had come out on top.

The heavy defeats earlier in the season looked to help motivate the Worcester team, as they looked the brighter of the two sides in the opening few minutes. And so it proved, after a series of missed tackles from the Myerscough defence opened up space for the Worcester winger, who produced an impressive run down Myerscough’s right wing to score the opening try of the game. Making up for an earlier penalty miss, this time the Worcester kicker fired home the conversion to give his side a 7-0 lead.

Soon on the attack again, Worcester dived over the try-line from close range, but the player was adjudged to have been held up in the tackle. The referee brought the sides back for a Worcester scrum on Myerscough’s five-metre line. After continued pressure, Worcester ran over their second try in only 10 minutes, extending their lead to 12-0.

On 15 minutes, Myerscough ful-back Tim Jefferies joined the backline in a sweeping attack. He expertly chipped the ball over the Worcester defence, and into the path of waiting Myerscough winger Curtis Strong. Strong capitalised on an error from the Worcester winger to score Myerscough’s opening try of the game. At 12-5, Myerscough’s fightback had begun.

On 23 minutes, Myerscough winger Ralph Dowds collected a high ball inside his 22. Running past four rushing Worcester defenders, Dowds was finally bundled into touch 10 metres inside the Worcester half.

But it was Worcester who extended their lead after a superb individual run from their centre on half-way. Touching down under the posts for an easy conversion extended their lead to 19-5.

After a strong Myerscough scrum, the referee awarded a penalty against Worcester for collapsing the scrum illegally. Myerscough kicker Ally Addy kicked deep to the Worcester corner. From the resulting line-out, Myerscough’s forwards piled on the pressure, winning three penalties in quick succession. A clash of heads at the breakdown left Myerscough and England Colleges second-row Olly Parkinson lying on the ground, but soon back on his feet after treatment. With just five minutes left in the first half, the game had reached a critical point. When the ball found its way into the hands of Myerscough centre Orisi Nawaqaliva, the Fijian was too strong to stop from close range, and he powered over for Myerscough’s second try. 19-12 to Worcester.

Just 30 seconds from the restart and with just a minute to play in the first half, Myerscough’s Ralph Dowds was again causing problems for the Worcester defence. He expertly offloaded in the tackle to a waiting Nawaqaliva. In a repeat of his first try, Nawaqaliava again stretched for the line, this time coming up short. With numbers on the right, Myerscough recycled quickly to get the ball wide into the hands of Parkinson, who was unstoppable from five metres out, touching down for Myerscough’s third try and second in as many minutes. Another Addy conversion brought the scores level at 19-19 at half-time.

A resurgent Myerscough team kept the pressure on at the start of the second half, with a string of early chances. Looking shell-shocked, Worcester were struggling to defend their lead. Only six minutes into the second half and Myerscough centre Mike Haley executed a perfectly weighted kick over the Worcester back line into the hands of Dowds. He was looking unstoppable, and easily powered past two defenders, diving over the line to score and putting his side in front for the first time at 24-19.

Winning a line-out cleanly, the Worcester pack forced a mistake from the Myerscough forwards, and a penalty was awarded for tackling the man in the air. Electing to kick for the corner, Worcester’s pack won the second line-out to keep the pressure on the Myerscough defence, driving the ball over from close range for their fourth try of the game. After a successful conversion, the lead swung back to Worcester 26-24.

Myerscough’s Haley caused more problems for the Worcester defence, and, in the best move of the game so far, kicked over the Worcester defenders and into the hands of Nawaqaliva on the wing. Nawaqaliva powered over from five metres for his second and Myerscough’s fifth try of the game. Myerscough’s fifth try gave them a narrow 29-26 lead.

With just eight minutes to play, the tension on the pitch was visible. Myerscough’s pack came under pressure, losing a line-out deep in their 22, and conceding a penalty in a dangerous position. A solid scrum gave Worcester quick ball. Putting the ball through the hands, the resolute Myerscough defence dragged them down five metres short. But it was Worcester’s forwards again who showed great strength up front to run in their fifth try, and regain the lead at 31-29.

In a final late push, Haley found his way through a tiring Worcester defence. He weaved to dodge the tackles of a desperate Worcester defence, before finally being dragged down 10 metres short. From the resulting ruck, Haley knocked on in the contact, handing Worcester a reprieve.

In a dramatic final minute, Myerscough launched one final assault on the Worcester line. Just five metres out with ball in hands, it looked like Myerscough would score, until an intercepted pass left Worcester’s centre and double try scorer with room to run the length of the pitch to score under the posts and seal the victory.