A Performance To Be Proud Of
Saints give promotion challengers a run for their money.
Anselmians began the game brightly enjoying the best of the early exchanges and taking a deserved lead upon 6 minutes with a well struck penalty from Isaacs. Blackburn responded immediately and applied some pressure of their own to the Saints defence. On 10 minutes following a powerful shove at the scrum on the Saints 22 they moved the ball wide to the right and only a desperate attempt at decapitation by the Saints left winger Ben O‘Connor prevented Blackburn’s Liddle scoring in the corner. O’Connor was duly yellow carded and Blackburn demonstrating their confidence in their scrummaging elected for the scrum on the Saints 5 metre line and duly scored. The conversion made the score 7 - 3 on 12 minutes.
The wise band of travelling away supporters, having experienced many bright starts that fade away to darkness this season, started to worry and their fears only deepened when on 16 minutes Sammy Russell also received yellow card for a high tackle. To be fair his was a pale imitation of Ben’s and he had considerable help from the opposition who appeared to go weak at the knees as the handsome and debonair Sammy went to hug him ( Apparently his wife does the same when he goes to hug her). The result was that, as the Blackburn player dropped about two feet, a gentle squeeze around the waist became an arm across the shoulder. “A bit harsh that lad” said the Lancashire supporter next to me. It became a bit harsher when from the ensuing penalty they kicked to touch and then drove over from the line out for a converted try. 14 -3 to Blackburn and now with only 13 men opposing them.
One thing this Saints side have not lacked this season is spirit and true to form they dug in and defended admirably and by the time they were back to full strength they had denied Blackburn any further scores. Furthermore the Saints scrum was now holding their own and their line out was looking the most solid it has all season. Saints were the stronger side in the last 15 minutes of the first half and should have had two tries. Once on the left with the line beckoning and only a simple final pass required the ball was passed to the ground and 5 minutes later on the right, again a final pass was thrown into touch. Saints pressure was finally rewarded with a penalty which Isaacs put between the post to make it 14 - 6 at half time.
At the start of the second half it was Blackburn that started the brighter putting Saints on the back foot and on 47 minutes Blackburn moved the ball well across the backs to create an overlap on the left and score in the corner. The kick was missed making the score 19 - 6. The resulting restart produced the pivotal moment of the match. Blackburn caught the kick off and for whatever reason the Saints pack were caught off guard and Blackburn were able to move the ball swiftly down the right side and when the Blackburn wing rounded Ben O’Connor a try seemed a certainty. However, Andy Cummings, who had an excellent game at full back, had read the danger and came up to close the space. The Blackburn player attempted the only option open to him, a kick ahead but as the ball left his boot Cummings dropped on it and smothered the kick. If he had been a football Goalkeeper he would have earned 12 slow motion replays and an award in the New Year’s Honours list. As this was Rugby all he got was, “Well played Andy”.
If Blackburn had scored twice in as many minutes it may have opened the floodgates but as it was Saints bounced back and applied pressure of their own. On 54 minutes following a series of Blackburn infringements at the rucks their outside centre Philippedes picked up the tab and was yellow carded for preventing Saints playing the ball in the ruck. The game now was pretty even with Blackburn looking slightly more dangerous with the ball in hand. On 66 minutes having just returned to full strength Blackburn earned another yellow card this time for a high tackle in the mode of Sammy Russell. “A bit harsh that lad” said a spectator. Neither side dominated the final 10 minutes but it was Blackburn, pressing for their bonus try, who came closest to scoring in the last minute but the winger failed to hold the final pass and the game finished 19 -6.
On the day you would not have believed that it was a home game for the second from top against second from bottom in the league. Every Saints player played their part and more performances like this will create the confidence that will create the tries. It is dangerous to highlight individuals in what was a great team performance but in the pack “New boy” Brookes and “Old boy” Ranman not only performed well in the scrums but made the hard yards time after time against a strong pack. In the backs the ball was moved with a fluidity that has been missing as of late but for me the stand out performance of the day went to Andy Cummings M.B.E. (sponsored by Titan Sports Ltd.) His positional play, tackling, decision making and kicking were key in limiting the attacking threat of Blackburn and of course there was his two try saving tackles. Considering it is not his normal position he was excellent.
One postscript to the game.
Sadly in almost the last play of the game the Blackburn winger broke his ankle. In our dressing room when Skinny was making sure all were present for his debrief three of our players were missing. It transpired they were outside helping to stretcher off the Blackburn winger. On Sunday morning Skinny received a phone call from the Blackburn coach asking him to thank the lads and saying Anselmians were a credit to the values of rugby. We may be relegated but we still have a lot to be proud of.