Rugby union: Rochdale Junior Colts crowned Lancashire Cup champions
Date published: 29 April 2022
Photo: Bruce Myers
Rochdale Junior Colts
Rochdale Junior Colts 24-0 Preston Grasshoppers Junior Colts
Rochdale Junior Colts took on Preston Grasshoppers at Fleetwood RUFC on Sunday 24 April in the long-awaited conclusion of the Lancashire Cup. It had been a battle against time for Rochdale to get their squad fully fit after numerous injuries, but on the day they were at full strength. It was a clear sunny day with a stiff breeze blowing from one end of the pitch to the other.
Rochdale played with the wind in the first half and started quickly. The Rochdale forwards imposed themselves from the off with a series of strong carries in the loose and a succession of 'catch and drives' from the lineouts. Ben Hankinson was imperious at the front of the lineout and after one such lineout drive, first Olly Mills and then Garrett Myers drove for the line, the latter successfully making the whitewash to register the game’s first try. Mitch Holt expertly used the wind to secure the extra 2 points (7-0).
Rochdale knew they would need more points to defend in the second half when the wind would be in their faces so they kept pressing but good defensive work from Hoppers kept them at bay. Moving the ball wide in a strong wind is always difficult and several moves broke down because of it. Eventually, after some more strong carries by Jacob Jackson and Declan O'Loughlin, Rochdale created the overlap and Gabe Fraser crossed in the corner (12-0).
Preston did manage several forays into the Rochdale 22 but good defence and Tom Shaw’s excellent boot were able to relieve the pressure. The half finished with Rochdale on the attack again but unable to add to the score. Hoppers would probably have been pleased to have held it to a two-score game.
Rochdale changed their tactics for the second half, running more ball and keeping the kicks along the ground and out of the headwind. This enabled them to play the game in the middle of the pitch and keep Hoppers at arm’s length. Hoppers were seeing more of the ball now but still couldn't break the Rochdale defence.
The pressure was building and, after one too many penalties, Rochdale received a yellow card. This was the encouragement Hoppers needed and there followed a spell of sustained pressure in the Rochdale 22. Another yellow card followed and Rochdale were reduced to playing with 13 men. During this period Preston only managed to cross the Rochdale line once and then the player was unable to ground the ball. This resulted in a goal line dropout and Rochdale held out until the numbers were once again equal.
As is often the case when you don't take your opportunities you are left to rue the fact. Rochdale persisted with keeping the ball in hand and began to work their back three into the wide channels. Ben Kershaw made the break and, even though his kick ahead was gathered by the defence, Will Simmons was on hand to force the penalty for not releasing. From the ensuing scrum Rochdale moved the ball wide to Tom Hesketh who joined the line from fullback. Hesketh arced his run in between defensive centre and winger, outpacing both to score (17-0).
There was no way back now for Preston and with the clock running down Zac Baker, one of those returning from injury, was able to scoop up a charged-down kick and accelerate away from the defence for a well-deserved try (24-0).
It was a dominant forward effort from Ben Sunderland, James O'Connell, Jake Hopkins, Alex Barry, Tom Drennan, Joel Rigby, Theo Stanford-Campbell, Sonny Joyce. This was matched by a watertight backline marshalled by Nick Wright, Oli Simpson, Max Cooper and Will Rawlinson.
A Lancashire Cup to go with the League B conference title marks the end of a very successful year for the Rochdale Junior Colts.
Squad: James O’Connell, Joel Rigby, Jake Hopkins, Garrett Myers, Declan O’Loughlin, Ben Hankinson, Alex Barry, Ben Sunderland, Nick Wright, Tom Drennan, Jacob Jackson, Olly Mills, Will Rawlinson, Zac Baker, Mitchell Holt, Tom Shaw, Will Simmons, Ben Kershaw, Gabe Fraser, Oli Simpson, Max Cooper, Will Rawlinson, Theo Stanford-Campbell
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