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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Aspatria into third after convincing win against Egremont

Aspatria 34 Egremont 0: Aspatria's convincing North Lancs Cumbria win over Egremont keeps alive hopes of clinching promotion via the league play-off route.

Rugby union photo
Aspatria’s Wayne Cavanagh in the thick of it

The Black Reds have moved into third spot, five points adrift of second placed Eccles, who crucially have still to make the long journey north to Bower Park. Aspatria’s victory pins Egremont to the bottom of the table.

The game opened in conditions perfect for rugby. Bright winter sunshine lit up Bower Park; the club’s brand new floodlighting system would remain redundant until the late afternoon gloom began to gather. A party atmosphere prevailed within a watching crowd, swelled with heroes of Aspatria’s past, drawn to the club by the 25th anniversary of the cup clash against London Wasps.

During the opening period Egremont seemed in no mood to join the party as they tore into Aspatria. The bulky visiting pack looked fully capable of matching the Black Reds up front.

Second row Neil Richardson was prominent for Egremont and gave the home side some nervous moments with his strong running. Outside the pack, veteran fly half Liam Nichol controlled the ball well with astute kicking. Egremont looked anything but a side staring relegation in the face.

These early exchanges tested Aspatria’s defence but the Black Red wall is well drilled and held firm. It was only a matter of time before the game began to turn in favour of the home side.

After ten minutes Aspatria broke Egremont’s stranglehold with a series of backline moves orchestrated by Tony Nicholson at scrumhalf and Jack Clegg at fly half. This youthful pairing simply gave Egremont no respite as they moved the ball right and left from a succession of rucks and mauls. On 14 minutes the inevitable gap was created and Lee Tinnion, playing at centre, had a comfortable run under the posts for the first score which Clegg converted.

Despite the setback Egremont remained a threat and continued the game with a near even share of possession and on 20 minutes came close to equalising the score when the pack lumbered over the line but were held up.

Aspatria’s back row of Mark Beverley, James Ravell and Tom Lindsay were stretched to the limit in the fight to keep Egremont at bay. The game remained an even contest with both teams mounting searching attacks. The final outcome might have changed dramatically on 26 minutes. Aspatria were in full flow attack when Egremont second rower, Niall Sandwith seized on a loose pass to hack the ball 50 meters towards the Aspatria try line.

With all the Black Red shirts committed at the wrong end of the field the big man looked certain to follow his kick and score. Crucially, with only a few meters to go Sandwith, rather than nudge the ball over the line with his boot, stopped to pick up the ball. The vital seconds required for the pickup gave Clegg just the opportunity needed to put in a try saving tackle and dash Egremont’s hopes.

The failure to score appeared to weigh heavy on Egremont and they began to drift out of contention. On 30 minutes a Clegg penalty increased the home lead. This was followed on 37 minutes by a second try from Tinnion; a virtual carbon copy of his first. Clegg converted and the half closed with Aspatria 17-0 to the good.

The second half opened with Aspatria blitzing the Egremont line. The very first attack down the right flank should have resulted in a score but excellent cover defence from Egremont defused the situation.

Aspatria retained possession and looked certain to increase the lead but this time a spilled ball saved Egremont on the line.

All was forgiven four minutes into the half when pressure exerted through strong running from Aspatria second rower, Wayne Cavanagh scattered the defence to create an opening for Lindsay to dive over the line. Clegg converted.

The game may have been won but the chase was now on for a fourth try to bring Aspatria a much needed bonus point, something that had eluded them in the previous weeks demolition of lowly Didsbury.

Player coach Mike Scott was now on the field, operating at stand-off, driving his men forward. Aspatria now had this game by the throat. Egremont held out valiantly until the 58 minute mark but then could do nothing to prevent the score of the day from full back Lee Holliday.

He received the ball 30 meters from the Egremont line and appeared to be facing an impenetrable wall of black and amber shirts. Holliday darted, wriggled, dummied and impossibly made the white line. Scott missed the conversion but the fourth try bonus point was in the bag.

Aspatria continued to dominate and a fifth try followed on 65 minutes. Rugby league convert Barney Cullen showed his finishing skills down the left flank. The winger looked as if he had been tackled short of the line but then from a mound of bodies an arm snaked out to plonk the ball over the line.

Egremont were out gunned but even as the new floodlights cut through a fast converging dusk they played as if lives depended on them scoring. The visitors went close but as if in tribute to the watching legends of the Wasps era the Black Reds held firm for a deserved victory.

After the game Tom Lindsay was declared man of the match by former Black Red, Fred Story. Then it was back to tales of past deeds during an era when the team from the small community of Aspatria truly were on the national stage.

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