CLITHEROE Rugby Club played their opening competitive game of the season last weekend, and although came away without the victory, the portent for the forthcoming league campaign are excellent.
This Lancashire Bowl tie was always going to be an awkward one for the Littlemoor team.
Their hosts, Widnes-based side Birchfield, were relegated last season to Clitheroe’s division and were intent on making a bold statement for a quick return.
Clitheroe fielded seven new players to the maroon and gold jersey this season; ample reward for their enthusiasm on the training paddock.
With a decent number of last season’s regulars still holidaying or cricketing, the selection of the first choice XV will be pleasingly perplexing in the coming weeks.
Despite severe rain storms on the way down the M6, by the time the team landed at their destination, they found a dry, flat and firm surface ideal for quality rugby.
Alas the opposite occurred.
Perhaps it was a case of early season rustiness from both teams that led to a scrappy see-saw game, plus the fact that both teams found the referee’s reading of the new law interpretations, to say the least, baffling at times.
Nevertheless, both sides played some high-tempo football, and the match was a tough examination for the new young blades in Clitheroe’s squad.
In the pack, the new-look back row of Scotsman Struan Robertson, Kiwi Darren Eagle and occasional Aussie Rick Slinger, were in the thick of everything that was good for Clitheroe.
Replacement flanker Alex Bolton also had an excellent cameo in the second half, proving the increasing depth of talent.
Up front Aaron Shread showed up well in the front row – although raw and a bit green in the prop forward position – with some hard work, he has the physique and temperament to prosper.
In the back line the new seasons skipper Nathan Peel was joined by another debutant James Sharples, in the centres, who, along with full back Jordan Wilde, showed plenty of appetite for work both in defence and attack.
If one Jordan wasn’t enough, another one - this time Mr Cook - slotted in to the wing three-quarter shirt, and never disgraced himself on his first appearance.
The game itself left the coach, Steve Llewellyn, plenty to ponder upon for his practice sessions for the upcoming league fixture.
Lack of continuity was a problem, with both teams going to ground far too easily at the breakdown, and although the set scrums and line-outs were middling, there is plenty to improve upon.
Defensive organisation was a plus point as was the overall conditioning of the squad, who kept going up to the final whistle.
The sides were tied 0-0 at the break and a solitary penalty goal sealed for the home side, but the game was there for the taking, and Clitheroe must be more ruthless at putting away any half chances that come their way in the future.
This Saturday Clitheroe 1st XV visit Warrington side Eagle RFC for their opening North Lancs 2 league fixture.
The second XV are in action at Littlemoor, entertaining old rivals Chorley third XV. Kick-off is 3 p.m.
Final Score: Birchfield RUFC 3, Clitheroe RUFC 0