Match report: Birkenhead Park 47 - Vale of Lune 12
Preseason preparations were consigned to the past as the Vale of Lune, embarked on the 2023/24 season in NW2 by taking a trip into the dazzling sunshine of the Wirral.
Hosts Birkenhead Park, who did the double over the Vale last season, were rumoured to have recently made significant overseas signings. But these were merely rumours, weren't they?
The first competitive game for new head coach Dan Williams came with the headache of limited selection, with at least six regular first teamers unavailable on the day. Nevertheless, the players who took to the field were focused and ready for the uphill battle ahead.
Early exchanges enabled the home side to claim possession and territory. Pinned in their own 22, the Vale battled to defend but, as the game was to pan out, they were doing so in smaller numbers than their opponents.
A player overlap appeared on the BP left wing and the winger claimed the spoils to open their account.
The pressure continued and a resilient Vale did well to limit the damage to three tries before the Vale could claim any points.
Centre Isaac Quarry gave an athletic performance, but mainly in defence of his own line.
Frustrations spilled over and some unnecessary indiscipline resulted in a mass brawl, which did neither team any good. The crowd did not pay their money to watch that.
Order restored, a confident passage of Vale possession and a text-book lineout enabled acting captain Jack Ayrton to power over for a try. The moment brought only a brief respite from the onslaught, and after a fourth BP try the half time score was 26 - 5 to the men from Merseyside.
The second half saw changes in forward personnel. On came Joe Harrison and Tim Nicholson.
Following a knock sustained by Joe Stevens, Harrison played in the unfamiliar position of loose-head prop. His technique was raw, but his strength showed in the scrums, which remained properly contested to the finish.
Stand-off Olly Jacques tried some of his tricks to gain the advantage, but they were repeatedly anticipated by the BP backs, who neutralised the threat with relative ease.
Lineouts were a steady asset to the Vale, thanks to hooker Harm Doktor's consistent throwing in, providing what clean possession they could.
Scrums however were less effective. Vale conceded BP's fifth try from a skilfully controlled five metre scrum.
In open play, BP were also dominant. The Vale defence were stretched, and the gaps were exploited.
Two more tries went in before the Vale found a gap of their own. Quarry burst through the BP line, fending off three attempts to bring him down, to score a try which Chris Ramwell converted.
Creditable performances were delivered by Joe Wallbank and Alfie Bolton in the forwards and Isaac Quarry and Harrison Dodge in the backs. Whilst the score suggested a mismatch, there were many passages of Vale play which showed the will, skill and resilience required to win matches in this league. When the experienced players return, the void between where they are, and where they could be, will hopefully be filled.
Next week sees the Vale's first home fixture against Bowden. They can expect another challenging afternoon.
Team: G.Oyston, H. Doctor, J. Stevens, E. Taylor, J. Wallbank, J. Ayrton, A. Bolton, S. Wallbank, B. Swarbrick, O. Jacques, J. Fern, C. Ramwell, I. Quarry, H. Mills, H. Dodge. Reps: J. Harrison, T. Nicholson, R. Allwood.