Aspatria 29 Trafford 18

Aspatria Rugby Club took all five points in a hard-fought contest against a resilient Trafford side that competed for the full 80 minutes. The 29-18 win keeps Aspatria on top of the North Lancs/Cumbria League table and they host second-placed Tarleton at Bower Park on Saturday.

Aspatria were slow to get going in this first outing of 2018 and the early battles were shaded by the visitors.

Trafford gradually pressed Aspatria back against the try-line but could not produce a decisive scoring move against a defence stretched to the limit.

Aspatria’s failure to clear their lines continued to give Trafford encouragement and, on 12 minutes, they took a deserved lead with a penalty from Pat Eccles.

The score stung Aspatria into action. Lee Tinnion from full-back produced the first sign of attacking flair. He fielded a long clearing kick and charged 50 metres upfield to put Aspatria in the danger area.

The pressure was building and Trafford were now giving away penalties in a desperate effort to stem Aspatria attacks.

Aspatria refused to take three points, opting to keep the screw turning.

This tactic paid off on 18 minutes when they used a penalty to launch a catch and drive move.

The take by Phil Dixon was perfect and this allowed fellow second row Matthew Atkinson to peel off the back and charge to the line. Atkinson was stopped but there was no panic in the home ranks as they used a succession of rucks to suck defenders in.

With this achieved, the ball was slung out to winger Patrick Noutch who had an easy stroll across the line.

The 5-3 advantage did not last long with Trafford regaining the ball from the restart and the ball coming into the hands of left wing Jamie Kingdon who exploited a gaping hole in the Aspatria defence to race through and under the posts. With a successful conversion, Trafford led 10-5 but going into the second quarter, there appeared little between the two sides.

This was about to change as Aspatria’s pack began to get the upper hand in the set-piece battles.

On 27 minutes, Aspatria regained the lead. The move commenced around the halfway mark with some excellent handling in the back division between the centre pairing of Craig Foster and Andrew Miller.

It was Miller who cut the defence open and took the ball to the 22 where Atkinson took over.

The big man still had 20 long metres to go to the line but nothing Trafford threw at him could stop the charge and, with Foster’s conversion, Aspatria regained the lead.

The score kick-started Aspatria’s best spell of the game and all but put the end result to bed.

On 31 minutes, Aspatria were back, deep in Trafford territory. Another penalty and the inevitable catch and drive followed.

Mauled inch by inch to the line, there was nothing Trafford could do to stop the mass of black and red shirts going over. Hooker James Ravell emerged with the ball to claim the unconverted try.

Aspatria achieved the bonus-point fourth try on the stroke of half-time.

Number eight Gary Hodgson was doing consistent damage to Trafford with his darts from the base of scrums and clever interactions with scrum-half Heine Jonker.

These two combined around the 22 to get Aspatria moving towards the posts. All the Aspatria forwards had a hand in the score but the man who finally crawled on his hands and knees to dot down under the sticks was Atkinson. Foster’s conversion allowed the Black Reds to take a decisive 24-10 lead into the second half.

At the commencement of the second period, there looked to be little hope of a Trafford revival.

Aspatria dominated possession for the opening 10 minutes but some poor handling and less than decisive decision-making kept the scoreboard static.

Having absorbed the early pressure, Trafford mounted a sweeping attacking move on 51 minutes that took them near the full length of the pitch.

Aspatria’s scramble defence proved effective and the visitor’s only reward was a Stuart Crampton penalty.

The quality of play in the second period did not match that of the first 40 minutes and the game became bogged down in midfield.

On 60 minutes, a piece of individual brilliance from Aspatria’s Miller lifted the gloom as his jinking run finally got Aspatria behind the Trafford defensive line.

From this point, Hodgson took over possession and in partnership with Atkinson, the duo raced down the right flank interchanging passes. Hodgson had the final word when Atkinson unselfishly released him to charge over the whitewash for Aspatria’s final try.

During the final quarter, Trafford had ownership of the ball but fatigue seemed to have set in and attacks lacked innovation.

The home side appeared content to absorb the pressure and see out the game which they did until the final attack of the day when movement across the Trafford back division finally created space for Kingdon to cross for his second score of the day.