Anselmians 17 De La Salle (Salford) 24
By The Saint
Anselmians were intent on erasing the memory of the second half last week at Waterloo and, in welcoming the bottom-placed side, must have thought that had a perfect opportunity. De La Salle, having a solitary win in nineteen games, had other ideas.
The home side’s cause was not helped by the absence of their pivotal backs, Sam Russell and Charlie Hough, but supporters were quietly confident that Saints would dispatch the Salford visitors.
However, it was Della who started sharper and more inventive. Switching lines of attack at speed and being quicker to the breakdown, it was the away side who posed the early questions. A neat through kick had Anselmians desperate to keep out a lively pack and, in the ensuing scrum, Della bigger eight steamrollered the home side to score a try credited to No.8 Paul Berry. The conversion by stand-off Jay Boyd was missed but, after ten minutes, De La Salle led 0-5.
Saints’ first attack produced a penalty, and stand-off Liam Isaacs kicked for position in the Della half. A feature of these early exchanges was the enthusiastic work of the visitors’ back-row and one such exchange produced another penalty which Boyd again missed. Anselmians’ lineout was not functioning and, with abundant possession, Della were again on the score sheet. A neat exchange of passes in the midfield released full-back, Ben Wheeler to score to the right of the posts. The full back converted his try and, after twenty minutes, the visitors were good value for their 0-12 lead.
A penalty, goaled by Isaacs was Anselmians’ only reward for a rare visit into Della territory reducing the deficit, but at 3-12, Saints were being outplayed.
A strong run down the right led to a third try on twenty-five minutes. The pacy scrum-half, Ben Riley, skipped over for the third try, but Wheeler missed the conversion. A flurry of penalties for offside led many home calls for yellow cards for the persistent offenders. The penalty count was unduly high and, eventually, referee Smith dispatched hooker Lee Salisbury to the bin but, in truth, there were many other candidates. Nevertheless, De La Salle ended the first half good value for their 3-17 lead.
This bottom of the table clash featured two sides who had won just four of their combined thirty-eight games this season, and a neutral could see why. Promising moves petered out with mistimed passes, poor kicking and a lack of pace to unlocked defences. A series of penalties resulted in Wheeler, ten minutes in, attempting an ambitious kick to extend the lead but it fell short.
Meanwhile, Anselmians were squandering when possession came their way. Poor tackling in the Saints midfield created an opening for the Della backs to put Wheeler in for his second try and a bonus point. The relatively simple conversion by the full-back extended the lead to 3-24 and secured the visitors’ a bonus point.
One spectator joked that even the famed “second-half revival” had deserted Saints spectacularly the previous week and that the game was effectively over. How wrong could he be? Whether the visitors were spent or Anselmians found renewed belief is arguable, but the last twenty minutes belonged to the Saints.
Prompted by half-backs Liams Sadler and Isaacs, Saints began to generate some ball. Too often the hard-working back row had squandered their good work, but now they were seeing some reward for their efforts. Good work in the centre allowed the estimable Nathan Ainsworth to score unopposed. His presence of mind in heading towards the posts after he had crossed the line allowed Isaacs to successfully add the extras to reduce the deficit to 10-24.
A series of penalties against the visitors and a second Della yellow card for persistent offside meant that Anselmians, whilst not running smoothly, had some ball and, with less than ten minutes remaining, Isaacs ran through to score, quickly convert, and secure a losing bonus point for the Saints at 17-24.
Anselmians now played their best rugby of the match as De La Salle were exhausted. Their efforts to resist were increasingly weak and an unlikely draw seemed possible. The game finished with Saints pressuring the visitors’ line, but regretting their earlier profligacy.
Some interesting statistics emerge. Anselmians conceded five penalties as opposed to the visitors’ twenty-two. Della had nine kicks at goal, but were successful in only two. They scored four tries to two and their five points will probably be a fair exchange for their two yellow cards.
Anselmians still strive to fulfill their obvious potential.