Sandbach 18 – 31 Lymm
1st Team Match Report | Saturday September 17 2022
Clinical Lymm triumph in Cheshire derby
Lymm travelled to Sandbach for the first time since the ill-fated Midlands league campaign of 2013/14 with both teams coming off the back of two victories to open the season. Despite the relative lack of fixtures between the teams, the squads are familiar with each other having conducted regular joint training sessions and both clubs share many commonalities: close links to a rugby playing school, a thriving mini and junior section and a commitment to home-grown players. Indeed, both match day squads contained 11 M and J graduates each. For Lymm, talismanic number 8 Oli Higginson returned to the starting line-up, utility back Josh Bate made his debut on the wing and Steven Pilkington was restored at outside centre in the absence of Sam Wadsworth. Back 5 forwards Nonso Agina and Joe Watson also took their places on the bench.
The opening quarter of the game was a fairly cagey affair with neither team gaining the upper hand. Sandbach probably edged the territory battle, with the tactical kicking of the recently returned player-coach Will Cargill to the fore, whilst Lymm looked the more threatening; Pilkington thundered through a hole in midfield only to be felled by an errant boot; Nathan Beesley was worked away down the right flank and stopped only by a desperate shirt grab. Bach opened the scoring after 13 minutes with a penalty from their excellent full back James Preston which was replied almost instantly by Tom Shard after Rhys Lilly had won a ruck penalty (3-3) Lilly’s defensive work rate and ability over the ball has stood out massively during the opening to the season and the rugged barista was again prominent in the match’s first moment of quality.
Beginning with a customary Higginson lineout steal, which was to become a regular sight during the day as the Lymm defensive lineout caused havoc, the turnover was moved into midfield where Lilly carried powerfully. The ball was shifted back blind to Higginson once again who, after being tackled, off-loaded from the floor to the flying Beesley who scorched under the posts from 40m. Great skill and an even better support line from Beesley who was a constant threat all game. Easily converted by Shard and Lymm led 10-3 after 20 minutes.
The remainder of the half settled into a familiar pattern: Sandbach running through the phases with their well drilled attacking shape whilst the Lymm defensive line refused to buckle. Lymm’s scrum, which had given a few cause for concern after the Stockport cup game, was dominant and forced several penalties, while the defensive lineout also came up with steals including one at a key 5m mauling opportunity. There were some opportunities to add to the scoring; a quick tap penalty from Alfie Simpson which eventually released Beesley again only for him to be hauled down short and two Lilly line breaks both thwarted: one by the covering defence, which caught supporting hooker James Pitcher and the other by the referee who called back the rampaging flanker after a head injury to his attempted tackler. Eventually, after nearly an hour, the referee called time on an even and physical first half.
HT 3 – 10
Two minutes after the restart, Sandbach struck back with a penalty from 15m out converted by Preston, 6 – 10. This was the last time they would trouble the scoreboard for some time as Lymm went through the gears. O’Callaghan, on for Matty Hand, and Watson, for Josh Bate, joined the fray with the latter move prompting a rarely seen 2nd row to wing move for Ali Sutherland and it was a sublime piece of Sutherland skill that featured in Lymm’s 2nd try. Once again, a Rhys Lilly hit in midfield caused a turnover and the ball was flung wide to now winger Sutherland, flashing to the openside, who caught the ball outrageously and one handed against his own hip. From one wing to the other, the ball reached Beesley who, despite the attentions of multiple Sandbach defenders, broke through, drew the full back and put in the supporting Pilkington who just made it over the line. Converted by Shard. 6 – 17.
Sandbach responded immediately and began hammering away in Lymm territory. They were met time and time again by ferocious line speed and collisions from the whole Lymm defence embodied by Ed ‘Mad Dog’ Morris whose manic energy and tackle count was prominent throughout. One outstanding defensive set ended when Morris flew off the line into an unfortunate Sandbach front rower dislodging the ball and maybe some ribs. The energy and willingness of the defence to work and hit was fantastic and led directly to Lymm’s next try.
After another defensive rear-guard, Lymm exited their own territory via the cultured, yet uncharacteristically wayward, boot of Shard. Another Higginson lineout steal was moved into midfield, Scott Redfern, physical and direct all game, made the break on half way and passed to Alfie Simpson supporting for an easy score under the posts. Shard Converted and Lymm led 6 – 24, with a quarter to go.
Sandbach, however, were not done and fought back impressively. First, Morris was sin binned for a red zone offence and further Bach pressure was only alleviated by a James Pitcher breakout which led to a 90m turn around for Lymm. Into the final ten minutes, Bach pressure finally told when after a 5m driving maul, their main threat all game, their young hooker Bishop burrowed over. 13 – 24, with 8 minutes remaining. Minutes later, full back Preston, Sandbach’s most impressive player on the day, broke away down the right wing for an unconverted try to take the score to 18 – 24 and Lymm supporters exchanged nervous glances and grumbles about how long was left. They needn’t have worried. Lymm kicked off and quickly won a penalty via Ben Simpson. Shard missed the kickable penalty but clearly this was all part of a masterplan by the mercurial fly half. Bach dropped out and foolishly picked out Higginson who, as always, soared high and claimed. Lymm kept, recycled ball and eked out the clock. Joe Watson, impactful after entering, powered to within 5m of the Bach line. Ben Simpson, impressive again, sniped blind, fired a pass to the lingering Morris on the left edge who, deftly, lobbed an overhead pass back inside to the tracking Nonso Agina for the score. Shard, his masterplan played out, remembered how to kick again and converted.
Final Score Sandbach 18 – 31 Lymm.
Added to the 2nd team’s comfortable win on the adjacent pitch, this was a tremendous day for the whole Senior Squad and the spirit, effort and confidence was evident to all watching. Defence coach Tom Bray, a snarling, menacing and extremely loud presence in the technical area, commented:
“Really proud of the effort and work rate the boys put in. The desire from all of them to get up off the floor and make plays for the full 80 minutes has been phenomenal these last 3 weeks.”
Head Coach Andy Davies, calm and analytic in the aftermath, added:
“I thought in the first 20 minutes both teams looked pretty nervous, probably because of how much respect each team had for each other’s attack. Both teams like to move the ball, so we knew whoever made the fewest errors would come out on top. I think it was our defence that won the game today so hats off to Tom Bray who has been working hard with the boys on that. There were some massive shifts from the boys all over the park, so I can’t single anyone out. It was also special to have two wins away from home with the 2s playing some magnificent stuff.”
Next week, Lymm host current league leaders Stockport in a rematch from the Cheshire Cup, KO 3pm at Crouchley Lane.
Team: 1. Gavin Woods (88), 2. James Pitcher* (33), 3. Matty Hand* (69), 4. James Yates* (C) (89), 5. Ali Sutherland (64), 6. Rhys Lilly* (14), 7. Ed Morris (19), 8. Oli Higginson* (242), 9. Ben Simpson* (3), 10. Tom Shard* (90) 11. Josh Bate (1), 12. Scott Redfern (89), 13. Steven Pilkington* (34), 14. Nathan Beesley* (VC) (33), 15. Alfie Simpson* (17) 16. Kieron O’Callaghan* (12) 17. Nonso Agina* (1) 18. Joe Watson (85)
( ) = number of Lymm First XV League appearances
* = Former Lymm M&Js and Colts player
Referee – Mr Ewan Leadbeater, RFU North Group.
Match Report – Adam Bray