One thing I have often been critical of the Falcons for in the past, and it’s something a lot of lower-placed teams are probably guilty of, is not taking their chances.
So I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Planning our honeymoon in Scotland, the now-Mrs Leipy asked if I minded us dropping into the Rare Breeds Animal Auction in Carlisle on the way. I wasn’t massively enthusiastic, but knowing that Carlisle Rugby Club also wasn’t too far from the M6, I checked and found that they were at home today.
The key to a good marriage is compromise, I am told, so I was happy to go to the auction for a couple of hours as long as I could go to the rugby later. Agreed. So after a proper farmers’ lunch of toad in the hole at the auction (little nephew didn’t finish his Yorkshire pud, clearly it wasn’t up to the standard he had at our house the other week), it was time for a quick walk down the Warwick Road to the rugby ground.
Carlisle began the day in fourth place in North One West, having beaten newly-promoted Eccles two weeks ago and then losing at Birkenhead Park. Wilmslow were sixth, also on five points and separated only on points difference.
The game kicked off under some grey north Cumbrian clouds, with the sun making occasional appearances to provide warmth offset by an intermittent breeze. The faint scent of grass reminded the 150-odd spectators that we remained in the summer.
Both teams wore predominantly dark blue kits, so as well as me not knowing which team was which, I wondered if the referee might have tough time too. After just a few minutes, the team attacking away from the clubhouse won a penalty and a woman near me shouted “Well done Carlisle!”, so I decided correctly that the dark blues with red and white trim were the home side.
The penalty, given for away flanker James Keyes straying offside, was kicked low through the posts by Carlisle fly-half James Roche to open the scoring.
Ten minutes in, Dan Holmes made a fast break for Carlisle through the middle but dropped the ball when tackled on the 22, however we soon saw the day’s first try. Lively full-back Matthew Minett took a long kick from Wilmslow in his own half and ran thirty metres through several defenders before passing to Matty Roper, the scrum-half quickly finding Holmes on the right and the centre did not need his double overlap to cross five metres in from touch. Rocke couldn’t convert but the Cumbrians had kicked on into an 8-0 lead.
Carlisle dropped the kick-off in their 22 and from the scrum Wilmslow moved the ball right. Full-back Jack Harrison was hauled down, but the visitors came left again and Keyes atoned for his earlier misdemeanor by breaking through a tackle and placing the ball on the tryline. Bob McCallum converted the score.
The try showed a potentially interesting contrast between the two sides – Carlisle had so far been more than dominant in the scrum, but Wilmslow had moved the ball extremely quickly through their backs for their score, adding intrigue to what was already an enjoyable match.
McCallum had the opportunity to put the Cheshire side into the lead for the first time with a relatively simple penalty for offside 25 metres out, but pilled his kick wide. Carlisle had another let-off with a few minutes to go to half-time, when Wilmslow kicked straight out from halfway but were awarded a penalty in the home 22 for dissent. The visitors knocked on in the maul though, and went into half-time 8-7 down.
Now, in contrast to other grass roots rugby grounds I have been to, at Carlisle they were happy for spectators to take glasses outside. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with this, as I didn’t see many other people with pints outside during the first half. I felt better when, walking back to the pitch after half-time, I saw a woman in the passenger seat of a car knocking back a can of Stowford Press.
Carlisle attacked early in the second half, losing the ball in a tackle in the 22 but gaining a penalty as Holmes was taken out off the ball – it’s great when you can hear what the referee is saying! Unfortunately for the hosts, the resulting lineout wasn’t thrown straight.
The Cumbrians won the ball back though and went through several forward phases on the right, finally moving back to the left and centre Olly Barker fed Martin Brodie for the left-winger to squeeze over just inches in from the touchline. The conversion missed, but within a couple of minutes a quick break from Carlisle saw Minett race through the Wilmslow defence on the right and extend his team’s lead to 18-7.
Wilmslow hit back however, gaining a knock-on advantage on the home 22 but not needing to go back with Rocke finding winger Lawrence James on the far right for an unconverted try just before the hour mark.
For much of the following ten minutes the game was a midfield battle, with little of note happening, though it was mostly played in the Carlisle half.
With ten minutes to go, Carlisle broke and their forwards hammered on the away defence. From a scrum the ball came left but the hosts could not get a scoring pass away. Then in the dying minutes, the bonus-point try finally came. Carlisle came out from their own half through one of the lock forwards racing through several tackles deep into the Wilmslow half, and handing off to the onrushing Minett. The speedy full-back rounded the away defence on the far left and after crossing the line ran behind the posts, leaving himself an easy conversion.
The last play of the match saw Wilmslow win a penalty on halfway. Harrison took a superb catch from the up-and-under to the left, but his pass went straight to a Cumbrian defender who kicked for touch to end the game.
Carlisle’s 25-12 victory in this enjoyable game keeps them in touch with North 1 West pacesetters Penrith, Vale of Lune and the mighty Kendal, who I may watch in a couple of weeks when they host New Brighton at Mint Bridge.
Today’s Eddie Stobarts:
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