Saturday 6 December 2014 – 2.15pm
Underley Park, Kirkby Lonsdale
North One West #13
A lot of us will think that Kingston Park in the winter is the coldest place on Earth. After visiting the vast expanse of Underley Park in freezing temperatures this afternoon however, I can tell you that KP isn’t even the coldest rugby ground in the North of England.
With no protection from the elements – the one stand probably holds about fifty people at most – and another pitch between you and the clubhouse, it was a day for the hardiest of rural Cumbrians. And me, of course. Mercifully there was little wind.
The low temperature and greasy pitch made for an attritional but intriguing battle between Kirkby Lonsdale, still second in the league despite last week’s derby defeat at Kendal, and their county rivals from Carlisle, who sit comfortably in mid-table.
When you get to the entrance of Underley Park, you pay your money then drive (or, in my case, walk) a bit of a way to the clubhouse, past a pitch that makes Bedford’s look flat, and as I say there is another pitch before you get to the first team field, beside which the hot drinks van would have done a good trade today I expect.
I was glad of a glass of hot cider in the bar before heading out into the South Lakeland cold. (Sorry, just wanted to make sure you know it wasn’t tropical!) The poor sheep in the field behind the stand would have to just make do with their wool and hope for the best.
The match kicked off to the sound of bagpipes from the Christmas fair being held in this market town during the afternoon, and Kirkby attacked from the off by sending a penalty from the kick-off into the corner, but the maul stopped and Scottish-Northumbrian referee John Ash awarded Carlisle the ball.
Just a couple of minutes later, a break from Dave Barton on the 22 set home winger Josh Maddock away on the right, and after he was tackled close to the line his forwards were held up.
Carlisle’s first attack culminated in a penalty thirty metres out in front of goal, but Damian Armstrong pulled his shot to the left.
The visitors continued to set the pace and a (forward) pass from livewire fly-half James Rocke set Dan Holmes on a run from his own half almost to the 22, where he was hauled down. Carlisle went through the phases but Kirkby managed to steal the ball and move upfield.
With 25 minutes gone, home scrum-half Ben Walker missed a penalty from a similar position to Armstrong’s, and one sensed that this might be a very low-scoring game. It was stop-start, with a lot of handling errors, and played mostly between the 22s.
Maddock had another chance for Kirkby as the first half drew to a close, chipping to the tryline and racing through, but he was unable to gather the loose ball.
A score finally came on the stroke of the half-time whistle. Barton ran at the Carlisle defence on the 22 and sent a grubber kick in behind, and a defender appeared to think about tripping the chasing fly-half before thinking better of it. Barton caught up with the ball and touched down just to the left of the posts, allowing Walker a simple conversion that sent Kirkby Lonsdale into the half-time huddles 7-0 ahead.
Most spectators remained around the pitch during the short interval, though a few headed for the clubhouse, presumably to access the warmth as much as anything! I can say that I don’t think I saw a single person drinking a beer beside the pitch today (not even myself, it was a late one last night!), it was that cold. Mind, by the time people got to the bar it was probably time to come back.
The second half continued in much the same way as the first, with both sides looking to play attacking rugby despite the conditions (a few Premiership sides could learn from that) but handling errors and poor discipline, particularly from the hosts, continued to stem the flow.
Kirkby were probably the better team for much of the second half. A big run by David Bird from full-back towards the 22 brought about a penalty that the hosts sent to the corner. From the lineout another penalty was awarded, Kirkby tapped and spread the ball left but Dan Akrigg was just unable to gather the scoring pass on the far left.
After Carlisle cleared, Kirkby drove a maul 25 metres down the left but lost the ball in the melee.
Carlisle finally managed to break just after the hour, winger Ollie Barker chipping down the line and forcing Kirkby to take the ball into the in-goal area and touch down.
Just when you thought there would be no more scores, Kirkby attacked the Carlisle line with the forwards and backs getting their turns, and eventually referee Mr Ash decided defenders had gone off their feet at a maul and awarded the home side a penalty just metres from goal. Walker easily dispatched it to give promotion-chasing Kirkby some breathing space.
The marzipan (not really icing) was put on the cake in the dying minutes of the game, when Barton headed into the 22 and offloaded to Alan Robinson on his shoulder, but flanker Robinson knocked on. Carlisle were unable to clear from the scrum however, Kirkby turned over and Craig Galbraith cut through the defence for his side’s second try, a score celebrated enthusiastically by the home players and most of the 200-odd people in attendance. Walker knocked over the conversion, and though Carlisle went on the attack in the remaining seconds, they were destined to return north without scoring a point.
Hungry and a bit jaded still from last night, I found Mrs L parked near the entrance to the ground and we headed for Booths, where I gratefully nabbed a hot (!) steak and kidney pie for a very late lunch. Lovely it was too, plenty kidney which we all know is the best part of the pie!
It’s as-you-were at the top of North One West tonight with Kendal and Birkenhead Park also victorious today, but Broughton Park’s narrow defeat at Widnes has allowed the latter to go level with them in fourth on 41 points. The top three have a bit of a cushion for now – Birkenhead Park are on 49 points, Kirkby Lonsdale 48 and Kendal 47.
Half of the season is now gone, and this coming Saturday the mighty Kendal take on Wilmslow at Mint Bridge before the league breaks off for Christmas. Hope it’s as warm as last week was, rather than like today.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)