Saturday 21 February 2015 – 2.15pm
Lowmoor Road, Wigton
North One West #20
Carlisle survived a late fightback by Wigton to win yesterday’s hotly-contested north Cumbrian derby and all-but condemn their close neighbours to relegation.
The visitors held out against an early Wigton onslaught to go into half-time 3-13 ahead, before the hosts cut the deficit to one point in the second half, however a late pushover try ensured Carlisle took the four points back along the A595 with a 5-21 win.
It was a bitterly cold day in rural Cumbria despite (or perhaps because of) the sunny weather, though fortunately Lowmoor Road offers among the best matchday meals in rugby – steak pie, chips, peas and gravy. At least the twice I’ve been there, that’s been on, and at £3.50 it was also as cheap as, well, chips, and quite lovely.
Wigton battered on the door for the first ten minutes, putting Carlisle under intense pressure but they were just unable to score. The away side could count themselves lucky not to concede penalty tries as first scrum-half Matty Roper was penalised for not rolling away on the tryline, and then the referee missed Tom Graham pulling down a maul.
One Wigton supporter let referee Ryan Oliver know his thoughts on this lack of a decision, and then moaned about it for much of the rest of the afternoon. As I made some notes late in the second half, this fan even asked me whether I was assessing the referee!
It’s not the first time I’ve heard the referee get a barracking at Wigton this season, but when you’re eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table and have won only two of twenty games, you probably have to look a bit closer to home to see where problems lie.
Anyway, the deadlock was finally broken after twenty minutes, when home full-back Gregg Smith kicked a huge penalty from just a metre inside Carlisle’s half. However, when you’re at the bottom things don’t go for you, and on Carlisle’s first attack just minutes later, James Rocke kicked an offside penalty to equalise.
The city visitors took control and after a number of penalties took them upfield, Mr Oliver warned home captain Fergus Ledingham that he was losing patience with tighthead Lindsay Walker, who had offended a couple of times. Seconds later, Stuart Creighton entered a maul from the side and was sent to the sin bin.
Carlisle went for the corner and drove Henry Wainwright over for the opening try. On half-time, Dan Holmes fought over to give his side a ten-point lead at the break.
Wigton’s coaches gave their side a passionate team-talk during the interval, calling for a step up in work-rate and fewer missed tackles. Unfortunately for the greens, Carlisle dominated the next quarter of the game but like their hosts in the first half could not get on the scoresheet. Rocke made breaks, Josh Holmes was held up, and Ledingham was lucky that what seemed to be a deliberate knock-on of a Carlisle pass was deemed accidental, but the score remained 3-13.
Wigton finally fought their way upfield and won a penalty on halfway, but the lineout in the corner was lost, a further example of their struggling in the set-piece all day. However, Dan Holmes was sent to the bin for a high tackle and Wigton drove forwards, their spirits now up, and Creighton needed a big tackle to stop his rampage through the Carlisle 22.
From a scrum on the left, Wigton quickly spread the ball across the pitch and centre Chris Pattinson rounded the away defence to score the home side’s first try of the day. Although Smith’s conversion caught the wind and fell short, there was hope of a rare victory for the hosts.
Carlisle went upfield and won a penalty for hands in the ruck, Rocke knocking over the three points. However, Wigton hit straight back too by tapping a penalty just outside the 22, and Smith fought his way through the visitors’ defence to score a try that he then converted.
With seven minutes to go, Carlisle led by one point.
Roared on by a small but vocal home crowd, Wigton probed but were unable to trouble the scorers again, and with the clock hitting eighty, Carlisle’s forwards drove over for the final score of the game, sealing their victory 15-21.
This result moves Wigton one point closer to second-bottom New Brighton, the gap reducing to eleven points after the latter’s defeat at Broughton Park today. However, the greens are 22 points behind Bolton and safety, with just six games of the season left, and face an almost-impossible task to avoid relegation, with New Brighton and Eccles also in the drop-zone.
Carlisle consolidated tenth place, though they might have moved up had Vale of Lune not upset Kendal in Lancaster and broken a nine-game losing streak.
The top four in North One West now reads Birkenhead Park 83 points, Kirkby Lonsdale 79, Kendal 75 and Penrith 63, all after twenty games. With just one automatic spot and one in the playoffs up for grabs, it looks like a three-way battle and Birkenhead Park, unbeaten since November, will be confident of at least getting into the playoffs, so it’s up to Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale to fight it out for the other top two spot and the title of Cumbria’s top club this season!
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