Match Report: Altrincham Kersal 15 - Vale of Lune 16
One week you are flying in champagne class, and the next you are grafting in a coal mine. Such was the difference in the challenges of the Vale of Lune first XV's Whitchurch triumph at home last week, and this week's gritty, hand-to-hand battle away in Cheshire.
A leaden sky caused the floodlights to be fired up in the early afternoon. The initial exchanges were clumsy and unproductive for all, until the AK forwards got their act together to get to the ball in numbers. The Vale's lineouts were generous to their hosts and the opening try came from a dour trudge through the wet grass to the line. A second came from quick ball out to a lively AK left winger, and the half time score was 12 points to nil.
The second half saw a new determination in the Vale's play. Crowd favourite, second row Harry Fellows, came off the bench after a year out with a complex injury. The moves were cohesive and their discipline remained intact. Dominance in the set scrums near the AK try-line forced errors and the referee awarded a penalty try to the Vale. This resulted in a yellow card for an AK prop giving the Vale a temporary advantage, which they exploited without compromise.
Vale suffered the loss of two important players through injury. Hooker Dom Griffiths and winger Sam Peters limped off and the team reorganised themselves with calm efficiency. Full back Damon Hall took the place kicks and launched his artillery between the uprights twice to claim a narrow lead for the Vale. Clutching the slimmest of leads as the final five minutes came, it was time for cool heads and dry hands on the ball.
AK upped their output as their support became more vocal from the stand. They earned a penalty in the Vale half and used it to retake the lead with only two minutes remaining on the clock. The Vale had had it in the bag, then had seen it snatched away. Surely there could be another chance?
A high tackle by an AK player 25 yards out gave Damon Hall the kicking tee. The referee indicated that it was to be the last act of the game. Only a few feet in from the sideline, it was a difficult position and far from being a certainty. Supporters and officials of both camps fell silent. The atmosphere was intense and the anticipation electric. It felt like an hour, but Hall, with total focus, finally composed himself to fire the final cannonball into the dank, Cheshire sky. Before the ball had reached the target, Hall knew he had struck gold and he had already begun his celebration at the moment the touch-judges raised their flags.
It was the most dramatic of conclusions to a hard-fought contest. It showed a resilience in the Vale squad, trust and belief in each other and a never-say-die attitude. Notable performances by Hall, Wallbank, Fern and Abdelghafar were acknowledged by home and away support alike. Four league points in NW2 take the Vale upwards, and as players return from injury there is good reason for optimism. Next week sees the rescheduled fixture at Liverpool St Helens. With back-to-back wins, this Vale team are more than ready for that.
Team: R. Pillow, D. Griffiths, J. Stevens, J. Harrison, A. Fowler, C. Hall, J. Wallbank, J. Ayrton (c), J. Fern, J. Silverwood, F. Swindlehurst, C. Ramwell, E. Abdelghafar, S. Peters, D. Hall. Reps: O. Branford, H. Fellows, R. Chadwick.