Saturday 13 December 2014 – 2.00pm
Lowmoor Road, Wigton
North One West round 14
Penrith ran out more-than-comfortable winners in a passionate Cumbrian derby at Lowmoor Road today to go joint-fifth in North One West, while condemning Wigton to bottom spot for the Christmas break.
The visitors had a bonus point wrapped up by half-time thanks to a hat-trick from Jamie McNaughton, and went on to score nine tries in all as they posted the division’s second-highest score of the season.
The highest score so far in 2014/15 was achieved by Vale of Lune in an 81-12 victory over Wigton last month, but it will probably be little consolation for the hosts that they at least avoided that embarrassment.
I had intended to get my live rugby fix this weekend at Kendal, but after a quick (well, under two hours) half marathon this morning I discovered that the Hornets game against Wilmslow had been called off due to a frozen pitch. Oh no!
A curious glance around the web and Twitter turned up the fact that Wigton v Penrith was definitely on, so once Mrs L got back from shopping I raced up the M6 and B5305 deep into the north of Cumbria. The drive was surprisingly easy despite the weather, not to mention enchanting with snow reaching almost to the foot of the Lake District fells.
Arriving ten minutes before kick-off, I had just enough time to get a cup of coffee (in a proper china cup) and some freshly-cooked chips (on a proper china plate), and fortunately they cooled quickly on a pitchside picnic table so I could get to work scrutinising this Cumbrian derby.
Though many of the crowd were still in the warm clubhouse rather than out in the freezing cold, Penrith showed early on that they meant business with McNaughton racing for the right corner before being bundled into touch. The winger got his first try after ten minutes however, chipping down the touchline and gathering to cross for a score that Jonny Wills was unable to convert.
Things went from bad to worse as, to the dismay of the home crowd, referee Brian Mitchelhill sent Wigton scrum-half Tane Manihera to the bin for a ruck offence on halfway. A Wigton coach explained to some spectators and later the referee about the need for tacklers to roll away, until Sir finally lost patience in the second half and sent said coach behind the fence around the pitch. That shut him up.
Anyway, back to the game and Penrith increased their lead on twenty-two minutes with a penalty by Wills on the 22, and Wigton responded to being mullered at scrum after scrum by changing both props. They got going just a minute later when Penrith, ironically, didn’t release in Stephen Harris in the tackle and Johnny Charters kicked the resulting penalty.
At 3-8, Wigton might have thought they had a chance to end their seven-match losing run, but Penrith took control on the half-hour when scrum-half Ed Swale came through a ruck in the home half, stole the ball and charged upfield. The ball was fed left to Darren Lee and the tall winger sprinted around the Wigton defence for side’s second try.
McNaughton got his second try when he took a grubber on the bounce and beat a weak tackle by Ryan Clark on the right, before completing his hat-trick from close range two minutes before half-time. Wills converted all three tries to put the visitors 3-29 up at the interval, a bonus point already in the bag.
Penrith controlled much of the second half too, but had to wait until eight minutes after the restart for their next score. Wigton were penalised for holding on on their own 22 line, and Penrith went for the left corner. From the lineout the ball was spread for lock Phil Gardham to charge through a tackle and over the line. Wills’ conversion was true through the posts.
Wills made a big drive to the 22 and Penrith recycled quickly to charge further forwards, and Gardham made a beautiful hand-off to Ryan Johnson for his second row partner to score under the sticks, the two embracing afterwards.
Swale had an opportunity for a try but dropped the ball on the tryline, but the fifty-point mark was reached just before the hour mark when McNaughton took a pass just outside the 22 and cut through the high Wigton defence, running under the posts unopposed to give Wills an easy conversion.
Just two minutes later, hooker Craig Price touched down in the middle too, giving Penrith a 3-57 lead. Some away supporters talked of a century, and the way things were going you wouldn’t have bet against it.
With fifteen minutes to go, Wigton finally managed to put an attack together and Benn dropped on the line before Chris Pattinson was held up. The home team kept the pressure on though and finally Charters forced his way over on the right, before converting the score himself.
Penrith went straight back on the attack and Lee raced on to a chip to round the home defence for a ninth away try.
There was one more consolation score for Wigton through Stuart Creighton, Charters’ conversion making the final score 17-64. Powerful and pacy Penrith can now look up the table after taking five points back down the B5305, while Wigton sit six points behind Eccles at the bottom of the table. With a points difference 116 worse than the next-worst side in the division, the north Cumbrians look to have a big fight on their hands to stay in North One West for next season.
At the top of the table, Birkenhead Park took advantage of Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale’s postponements to extend their lead to six points over the latter with a 5-31 win at Carlisle. Widnes also kept the pressure on the top three with a big home win over Warrington.
With fourteen rounds of the twenty-six-game season over (though some teams have gamed in hand), North One West now takes a break until 3 January. There are sure to be some more twists and turns in this ultra-competitive league, and I can’t wait to see what happens!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)