Bowdon 12 Anselmians 13
Anselmians leave it late.
Anselmians arrived at Clay Lane, after a week off, on a bitterly cold day to face a Bowdon side confident after scoring over forty points the previous week in the Intermediate Cup. The clubhouse and marquee were en fete to celebrate 140 years of Bowdon rugby and the vast majority of revellers were doubtless expecting a home victory over the visitors in their strange yellow livery.
The week’s rest did not seem to bother Saints as, from the kick-off, they went through several phases in which centre Russell and skipper Hearn were prominent. Bowdon’s defences were secure, however, and, after a series of rehearsed moves, both sides opted for tactical kicking for position. A box kick from scrum-half Sadler created a promising position, but Bowdon dealt with the problem.
The opening quarter was played in the middle third of the pitch with neither side creating an opening. There was no lack of individual effort by Saints but, amongst the long passes, miss moves and handling errors, there was little co-ordination. Anselmians No.8, Costello, was replaced by Nonu and seemed puzzled by the reason for his withdrawal.
A Russell interception led to an Anselmian penalty, but, apart from a Saints’ driving maul which gained 30 metres, honours approaching half-time were even. A brief visit to the Bowdon line convinced visiting supporters the away side had scored, but it was only a penalty. Liam Sadler, Anselmians’ influential scrum-half, was mysteriously sin-binned just before half-time and the introduction of Harry Southern in his position changed the dynamic. A powerful break by Russell shrugging off several tacklers released fly-half Andy Cummings to score neatly by the posts and when the reliable Iain Taylor converted, Anselmians went to the break 7-0 up.
Within five minutes of the restart, Bowdon opened their account. An Anselmian clearance was charged down, Bowdon’s pack pounced on the loose ball to score wide out on the left. Fly-half Alex McDonald struck his conversion well and was unlucky to see the ball pass the upright. 7-5.
Bowdon were a busier and more committed side and their pressure was forcing Saints to concede penalties. Sadler returned and, immediately, a long. raking kick from Cummings threatened the Bowdon line but, not for the first time, the line was lost and Bowdon cleared. As the weather grew colder and the rain arrived, both sides became careless and a slew of penalties ensued. It was one such that full-back Taylor gratefully accepted to extend Anselmians’ lead to 10-5 on the hour. Bowdon’s reaction was to redouble their efforts and a break in the centre led to an attack down the right where wing Tom Oben scored. Fly-half McDonald converted with a fine kick and, with fifteen minutes remaining, Bowdon led for the first time, 12-10.
This score had unnerved Saints, who now had to withstand considerable Bowdon pressure on their line egged on by a vocal crowd who had escaped from the marquee. To the strains of “Bowdon! Bowdon!” Anselmians’ defence held out and a long clearance kick by Cummings led to a series of penalties in the Bowdon half. One such penalty, Taylor opted to go for goal and was unlucky to see his effort strike the left-hand post. However, a few minutes later, Anselmians were awarded a penalty in a similar position and, this time, Taylor made no mistake. Saints now led 13-12.
The last five minutes were characterised by frenzied Bowdon pressure and stout Anselmian resistance. The triumphant roar that greeted the final whistle was testimony to the importance of the victory in their closest game so far. Bowdon outscored Saints two tries to one and, a losing bonus point will seem scant reward for their efforts, but once again, Anselmians had been tested and emerged victorious.