Longton v Stourbridge Lions
By Simon Lawlor
Amongst a number of fine individual performances, Alfie Smith was rightly named ‘man of the match’ for a true 80 minute performance in both attack and defence
Lions travelled up to Longton with a squad only finalised on the morning of the game to face a club who have been national league competitors for several years. All involved knew that it would be a challenging day, which was further confirmed on arrival in strong wind and driving rain which would remain for the duration of the game. The conditions were made for the home team and set the tone for a physical and tactical battle.
After a good warm up, the Lions started the stronger and immediately put the hosts under pressure with some very physical tight play and strong carries. They were rewarded with two early penalties which were converted by Sam Wilson to give Lions a 6-0 lead after 20 minutes. The following 15 minutes of play were relatively tense as both sides struggled to gain continuity of possession in the poor conditions. The Lions remained in control through a strong set piece and low penalty count, whilst Longton showed that they were dangerous through a couple of nicely timed passes and some very strong runs from their left wing who was without doubt their best player on the day. In truth, Lions could and should have scored more points in this period but they had to wait until 35 minutes gone when Fred Brookes broke in midfield 40 yards out and looked certain to score. Great credit to the Longton flanker who made good ground to tackle Fred short of the sticks, but unfortunately the tackle was round the neck and the referee rightly awarded a penalty try. To add insult to injury, the offending player received a yellow card which then turned to red after some verbal feedback to the referee. The half time whistle blew shortly afterwards with the score at 0-13.
Longton came out after the break the stronger, with the advantage of the slight slope in their favour. They made good ground into the far corner and were quickly rewarded with an unconverted try within the first 5 minutes of the half. Lions found themselves under further pressure for the following period of the game and it was only through some inspired defence around the breakdown that they held Longton out. Their defence was eventually rewarded when the ball slipped out of a Longton ruck near the Lions line and George Tildesley was on hand to kick the ball through. George then showed great composure and speed to pick the ball on the bounce and sprint away under the Longton posts for a try which was converted by Sam Wilson. With the score at 5-20, Lions should have shut the game out, but to give credit to Longton they upped their game again and came back stronger. As players got tired and the conditions deteriorated, a high error count led to several scrums where by this point Longton had the upper hand. Two tries were to follow, one from tight play and a penalty try from a scrum to make the score 19-20 going into the final minutes. With composure and leadership required, it came appropriately from skipper Jack Jeavons-Fellows who arrived first at a Longton ruck on the half way line and secured a penalty for hanging on. The ball was kicked into the proverbial row Z to secure a well fought win for the Lions.
Overall a fine display of physicality and determination from the Lions, who deserved their victory on the day. The lineout functioned very well all game, winning nearly all their own ball and stealing nearly half of the Longton possession in the area. The Lions were dominant in the tackle and defended with ferocity for long periods, whilst showing clinical finishing when it counted. There is still plenty to work on and further growth and improvement is required moving forwards into what will be a very tough league, but with the commitment and unity shown by the squad in this game, there is every cause to be optimistic.
Amongst a number of fine individual performances, Alfie Smith was rightly named ‘man of the match’ for a true 80 minute performance in both attack and defence. Final mention to Jag Mahal, playing his first Lions game of the season out of position at tight head against a very powerful and experienced Longton loose head. Jag buried himself at every single scrum to give the team the platform to win the game. It was clear after the game that his body had paid the price, but his resilience and attitude was inspirational and set the standard for the Lions moving forward.