THE first match after the Christmas break was an evenly-matched affair, with the visitors from over the hill taking the spoils.
Weeks of rain had relented, and a healthy crowd were treated to an excellent game of open rugby.
Colne were out of the traps the quicker, and with their first bit of possession moved the ball wide to their dangerous wing cum full back, who scooted past a non-existent defence to open the scoring.
Clitheroe players looked slightly bemused by this very early setback and there was needless to say some degree of consternation on the touchline.
However worries were eased when Clitheroe replied almost immediately, Alex Hough (pictured) running a try in from a full 60 metres.
So, scores even and the game restarted and developed into a tightish affair.
With the set piece play fairly even, both line outs and scrums more or less going with the feed, control of the loose ball and retention of it in open spaces would be paramount.
After a protracted period of what amounted to a stalemate, Colne took the lead just before the interval to put them 12-5 up at the break.
No need to panic, more of the same, ‘keep the ball’ was the mantra from the coaches in the huddle.
The second half was tense and even. Colne scored again, their ‘go to’ man showing he still had plenty of pace to use for a fine try.
But Clitheroe responded and went on an all out assault. Firstly field position was gained, and then ball retention, going through the phases, as the play moved from side to side and the Littlemoor men gained yardage. Then at last an opening, and inside centre Chris Waddington bullocked his way over.
Again the proud maroons piled forward; big forwards Steve Dowson, Ross Chamberlain and Ben Graves putting in a hard shift, the loose forwards, Darren Eagle and Andy Rigby supporting both in close and wide out. Possession retained, the team inched forward again, keeping cool under pressure, snooping and searching for the opening. And then there it was, man of the match Hough needed no second invitation for his second try.
17-20 to the visitors, and with time running out, Clitheroe were forced to throw caution to the wind.
A mistake was almost inevitable. Colne’s canny old fly half snaffled a loose pass and sealed it for his team.
Crushing disappointing at the end, but Clitheroe can be proud of their attitude and commitment to the jersey.
A couple of mistakes was the margin between the two teams.
Plenty to work on in the lead up to Saturday where Ashton-under-Lyne are the visitors to Littlemoor (kick-off 2-15 p.m.).
Clitheroe seconds took on Preston, and with the score between these two teams at one game each this season, it was always going to be an interesting game for all concerned.
Preston had taken the spoils at Littlemoor early on in the season whereas Clitheroe responded well before Christmas with a resounding win in the Raging Bull plate.
A team was assembled through the week but became decimated by sickness and unavailability late on Friday.
Help was requested from some old boys, and Geoff Williamson and Simon Rawston stepped up and took to the field in Wilkinson’s hour of need.
The stalwarts were to join in the front row with the Procter brothers to make a combined age of nearly 150.
Harrison joined Wilkinson in the second row whilst Farnsworth, Harper and youngster Piercy made up the back row. Brown was joined at half back by Bartle, Hardy and Wilde stood at centre and Keough, Cook and Ben Rigby. Finally, Rawstron was joined on the substitutes’ bench by returning University boy Bleasdale and newcomer Jake Dixon.
The pitch, expected to be heavy, was in remarkably good nick.
The Preston forwards started the game on the front foot and Clitheroe found themselves under a great deal of pressure. This pressure told fairly quickly and a try was scored.
As the half wore on, Clitheroe started to string some good play together. On reflection, their attack wasn’t really the problem; it was their defensive structure and communication, but this was to get significantly better as the match continued.
With some great interplay down the left, the back line made good yardage and up popped Wilde to score Clitheroe’s first try. The away team kept up the pressure and were rewarded with a simple penalty chance that winger Rigby converted to give Clitheroe the lead at 8-7.
Clitheroe, after suffering a shaky first 20, were in complete control for the rest of the half, and flanker Piercy was to score a great team try before the half time break, successfully converted by Rigby to make it 15-7.
Although Rigby was kicking well, it was unfortunate that the team lost the kicking services of full back Keough, who hobbled away from the action with a poorly ankle. Bleasdale came on in his place and was enjoying all the ball that was being kicked to him.
The second half started pretty much like the first, whereby the home team took the game by the scruff and scored within a matter of minutes to come to within three points at 15-12.
However, their flanker was given 10 minutes in the sin bin for a dodgy-looking tackle on Rawstron, who had only just entered the fray to take over frpm Williamson at prop. Rawstron himself didn’t manage to stay on the field long. An altercation with his opposite number initially, then the Preston full back, resulted in both him and the full back sitting out 10 minutes of the second half.
It was during this period of 14-13 that Clitheroe pounced. A Preston scrum in the Clitheroe half was well defended, and as the ball came out, number eight Farnsworth put in an excellent tackle and the ball popped up nicely to winger Rigby, who scampered a good 60 yards to score the final try of the game. It was no less that Clitheroe deserved.
The game entered the final 15 minutes, and the Preston scrum half was unlucky to be red carded for illegal use of the boot.
Clitheroe, with the man advantage closed the game out well, despite Preston’s best efforts.
Man of the match was a close run thing, with Bleasdale getting the nod.
Clitheroe remain third in the league, close behind Thornton Cleveleys in second but some way behind leaders Leigh. Clitheroe host Fleetwood fourths on Saturday.
FINAL SCORE: Clitheroe 17, Colne and Nelson 27