Clitheroe 8, Manchester Medics 29

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CLITHEROE entertained league leaders Manchester Medics at Littlemoor on Saturday, and despite a 29-8 defeat, captain and coach were very happy with the style of play and the tenacity with which the Maroon and Gold men stuck to the task against a very classy and skilful team.

Slick handling and rapid support play is the Medics stock in trade – but with Littlemoor only just holding up against a tough winter this was always going to be a war of attrition.

Medics kicked off and Clitheroe gathered and retained the ball, moving it through the hands of backs and forwards with some good rucking and sensible running lines from the backs. However, Medics opened the scoring with a well-worked try after they snaffled the ball from the clutches of the Maroon and Gold forwards in their own 22, and several breakdowns later they dotted down under the posts.

Clitheroe responded and took the game to the Medics for a good period with some excellent linked running from backs and forwards alike, with the 9 and 10 partnership of Dan Smith and Dave Watson bossing the forwards and backline alike. Good pressure led to a penalty in kickable range for Clitheroe, but the kick sailed wide in a very strong wind. However, Clitheroe did not have to wait long before they got on the scoreboard. A further Medics transgression at the ruck gave the home team three points when Fitzhenry stepped up and slotted.

Medics scored next with an unconverted try, again coming from their slick backline with quick hands and good support play – as half-time beckoned the score was 12 -3 and the visitors were starting to look strong, finishing the half in command of the game.

However, Clitheroe were not out of it and played some good rugby in the conditions – with Chamberlain having his usual strong game and the second rows of Wilkinson and Edmondson rucking and talking like extra back row players. After the turn around it was Clitheroe’s turn to face the biting wind, and this meant a change in their tactics – namely to play with more ball in hand and grind their way up the pitch. With openside flanker Rigby in the sin bin for not rolling away at the tackle, the Medics turned on the heat in attack to capitalise on the shortage of manpower in the home team.

Two tries followed in quick succession and with the score now on 24-3 with 30 minutes to play, many a team would have capitulated and Medics could have gone on to score a hatful of points. However, the Maroon and Gold dug in and started to play some fluid rugby, with Rigby back in the fray and back at a full 15, the fresh legs of Barrett on the wing and Atkinson in the pack who replaced Waterworth and Graves, the home team pushed into the Medics half.

Secure ruck ball after a succession of driving rucks saw the ball spun out down the line with Peel darting with pace into the Medics defence. Quick ruck ball again courtesy of the hard work of Holmes and Jim Smith gave prop Atkinson the chance to run at the defence at full cry. With the forwards there to back him up, the ball again came out and then passed through five sets of hands in the back line as Fitzhenry scooted up from full back to pop it out to Waddington, who scored out wide to drag the score back to 24-8.

Clitheroe continued to press and finished the match the stronger team, however Medics had the final say as Clitheroe threw everything into attack it left them open behind and the visitors secured their win with an unconverted score out wide. As the bitterly cold wind blew, the final whistle went with the score 29-8.

Next week Clitheroe visit Mossley Hill.

For the first game of the New Year, Clitheroe seconds welcomed Carnforth. With both teams in the bottom half of the league and Clitheroe only just scraping a win back in the early part of the season, it could have been a relatively tight game, however, with a strong side this time, stand in captain John Pundy Procter was hopeful of achieving the double.

The home supporters weren’t to be disappointed as Clitheroe put Carnforth to the sword with perhaps one of the most exacting displays of the season so far. Carnforth brought along a good mixture of youth and experience but Clitheroe displayed forward strength combined with some excellent interplay between backs and forwards. The front five of Holland, Penney, Procter, Dowson and Harper were rock solid at scrum time and great in defence throughout, Holland and Harper even pulling off try-saving stops individually. Not only that, they scored three tries between them - Harper with one and Dowson two in an excellent return to competitive rugby.

The back row weren’t to be outdone and they too managed three tries between them - Hough with one and Carlton with two. Carlton was presented with his deserved Emporium Man of the Match award in the clubhouse later.

Finally, the backs - emergency stand off Luke Procter maintained his scoring run with five conversions from nine and he bossed the backs well in tandem with young scrum half Brown. Outside them, Shread and Stott marshalled their midfield opposition well and consistently created space for the back three of Caunce, Rigby and Keough. Between them, the backs scored three tries - full back Keough, wing Rigby and replacement Wood, who dived over a pile of bodies to score the final try in Clitheroe’s third consecutive home league win to nil, moving to seventh in the league.

The seconds host Chorley today.