On Wednesday 19th December, our school rugby team played in the quarter-final of the North West Counties Cup, reaching this stage of the competition for the first time in our history. Our opposition were local rivals Cardinal Newman, who had beaten us earlier this season in a closely fought match back in September.
The boys received a real shot in the arm just before kick-off, as Mr Hunt had arranged for Steve Price, Warrington Wolves head coach, to give them a pre-game team talk. He spoke about the importance of ensuring they were respectful, both on and off the rugby pitch, and that they should always give their very best to whatever they were doing in life, but especially to that afternoon’s game.
Despite a somewhat shaky start to the game, in which we fell 0-12 behind, the boys were clearly inspired by Steve Price’s words, and slowly but surely they began to take control of the game. By
the midpoint of the second half we had drawn level at 12pts each, and the game was obviously very finely poised. A period of sustained Culcheth pressure saw us score our third try of the game, which we converted to go into an 18-12 lead, and from here there was no looking back.
We went on to score another 16 unanswered points in the final quarter of the game, to finish emphatic 34-12 winners. Whilst this score line was a little harsh on our opposition, who had been firmly in the game right up until the final 10 minutes, it underlined just what our boys are capable of doing, even to a strong side like Cardinal Newman. Winning this quarter-final tie not only allowed us to progress to the semi-finals of the competition, but it also brought the added bonus of qualification for the National Championships, which will be the first time Culcheth has featured in this competition in over 20 years.
Tuesday 15th January saw us facing Saddleworth High School from Oldham in our semi-final tie. Saddleworth had qualified through to this stage with ease, breezing through their qualification
pool, and recording a sizable victory in their quarter final match, so we were expecting a very tough challenge. What ensued was a truly brutal encounter, in which every one of our players stepped up to be counted, and performed at a level well above anything they have previously produced.
The game began at a rip-roaring pace, with both sets of players smashing into the contact situations, trying to assert authority over each other. Saddleworth were also adding some fantastic handling moves to their impressive physical play, and whilst our defence initially stood strong, Saddleworth were skilfully keeping the ball alive, and shortly before halftime they created their first score. This appeared to knock our confidence somewhat, and from the kick off Saddleworth scored again, to take an 8-0 lead.
However, following a rousing half-time team talk from coach, Mr Maunder, the second half was a very different affair. The strong running and ferocious tackling continued from both teams, but little by little Culcheth began to exert greater defensive pressure on Saddleworth and started to force mistakes from the opposition. This gave us more possession, and the chance to mount some of our own attacks. This bore fruit midway through the second half, when a period of sustained pressure from Culcheth saw us burst through the Saddleworth defence to score under the posts. The try was converted and the score closed to 6 – 8. GAME ON!
Saddleworth responded by scoring another excellent try, but crucially failed to convert it, so the match was left delicately poised at 6-12. The game continued in its end-to-end fashion, but we were becoming more dominant in the contact situation, and were gaining more possession and territory as a result. Another extended period of pressure saw us score close to the posts again, and the conversion drew us level at 12-12. Saddleworth were finally being tested – and they didn’t like it!! Some poor discipline from Saddleworth handed us three consecutive sets of tackles, through which we progressed almost the full length of the field to set up a prolonged attack inside Saddleworth’s 20metre area. Despite some valiant defending from Saddleworth, we scored again, to take an 18-12 lead, with about 10 minutes of the game to go. It was now Saddleworth’s turn to throw everything they had at us, but despite their very best efforts, our defence was holding strong and attack after attack was repelled. But we just couldn’t get far enough away from our own try line to relieve the pressure, and with the final play of the game, Saddleworth scored in the corner to bring themselves within 2 points. Never the less, they still had to score the conversion in order to draw level, and they had missed all three of their previous conversion attempts. But at times like this in sport, the real top players step up and are counted, and the Saddleworth kicker somehow kept his cool to slot over an extremely difficult kick and take the game into “golden point” extra-time (first team to score wins).
This cruel end to the game really took a lot out of our boys, whilst at the same time bolstering Saddleworth’s belief that they would now go on and win the game, and unfortunately, that’s exactly how it turned out. From the kick off, Saddleworth ran the ball straight back at us, and despite an excellent first up tackle, they managed to offload the ball, something we had prevented them doing almost all match, and they went on to score the match-winning try.
Although this was the worst possible outcome for us, the boys’ application and commitment could not have been faulted in any way, and hopefully this will be a great learning experience for the boys as they move forwards into the National Schools cup. Finally, I would like to thank the staff, parents and friends who came to support the boys in their big game. I hope you enjoyed the
match, and that you are as proud of the boys as I am.
Mr Welsford, Head of Physical Education