Sunday brought the final game of the Divisional programme for NLD players Adam Castle, James Newman and Callum Slack when they represented The Midlands against The North in the England trials at Macclesfield.
The weather had threatened to provide wet conditions, however, as kick-off approached, the clouds mercifully stayed high and the large crowd were treated to a combative encounter between the two sides in blustery conditions.
Midlands had the benefit of having the wind behind them in the first half and, despite going behind to a North try early on, began to dominate in the breakdown and loose play. Conditions made it difficult to play expansive rugby and, unsurprisingly, Midlands first two tries, with James Newman being the beneficiary, both came off the back of driven mauls following line outs.
The Midlands backs saw very little ball in the first twenty minutes, although Adam Castle exerted plenty of pressure on The North’s defence when chasing the high ball. Eventually that kind of pressure began to tell and, following good work at the breakdown by the forwards, a sharp, flat pass put the Outside Centre in under the posts. Midlands led 21-5 at this point and, despite conceding a second try, the match looked like being a very one sided affair. 21-10 at Half Time.
How things changed in the Second Half!
Playing with the wind at their backs, The North players began to enjoy possession which had been denied them in the first period. The Midlands seemed unable to make progress in the opposition half and were continually pinned back in their own 22. Often conceding penalties at the breakdown, The Midlands spent long periods on the back foot as The North’s fly half kicked to the corners.
Unsurprisingly, The North’s third try came after sustained pressure following another infringement and the scoreline read 21-17 with more than twenty minutes still remaining.
The Midlands did have a number of opportunities to create possession and gain territory and their one real chance in the Second Half was lost when the final pass went behind Full Back, Callum Slack, and the opportunity went begging.
The final ten minutes saw The North besiege The Midlands’ try line and only a very well organised and tenacious defence kept the attacks at bay. Had The North shown a little more composure and precision when attacking they may have run in several tries. That said, The Midlands’ defence should be congratulated not only for its relentlessness but also for the pressure it exerted and its discipline in keeping the penalty count down.
That said, there were the inevitable infringements around the 5 metre line and The Midlands had to dig deep to prevent a push over try after a line out and further efforts from a number of tap penalties
As the final whistle approached, The North were awarded yet another penalty but, with time already up, had to take a tap penalty rather than go for the line out. One final momentous defensive effort by The Midlands resulted in The North being held up over the line and, to the relief of everyone not from the North, the final whistle blew with the scoreline reading The Midlands 21 v The North 17.
The crowd applauded two teams who had given everything and who can only now wait to see if their own efforts were significant enough to warrant that elusive England call up.
Adam, James and Callum all acquitted themselves well and can be proud of fitting in comfortably playing at this elevated level and all they can do now is cross their fingers and hope for the best!
For those U16 and U17 players currently participating in the NLD Trials; this is the reward that they might look forward to next year when we do it all again!
Congratulations to The Midlands and fingers crossed for the NLD contingent.