FOR the first time in the history of this special fixture, which started in the 1995/96 season, the game was played at Carnforth High School, the home venue of Carnforth Rugby Club.
It might have been the end of the season, and a Wednesday evening to boot, but it made no difference as both teams gave their all in a thundering, competitive encounter on a firm pitch at Kellet Road under the watchful eye of referee Peter Harrison, who never let the proceedings get out of hand in a game bubbling with passionate rivalry.
Vale thwarted an early surge from a fired up vigorous Carnforth team to take the lead after five minutes when Lee Acton peeled off a driving maul from a five metre line-out for an unconverted try.
Carnforth responded immediately and a passage of sustained play ended with Matthew Short thumping over a penalty goal in the eighth minute.
In a game of nip and tuck, neither side was able to achieve any period of prolonged occupation in the respective red zones, the tackling was uncompromising, if at times a little unorthodox, and the on field banter was of the highest order.
The Vale extended their lead in the 25th minute with a thrilling counter attack after a Carnforth move had swept imperiously into the Vale’s 22 only for the ball to squirt free.
Adam Macluskie powered away, the lively Andy Muir accelerated deep into Carnforth territory before releasing Rob Ward for a well-taken, unconverted try.
Ten minutes later the North Lancashire Division Two club hurtled back into contention with a deserved converted try.
The Vale were put under sustained pressure and when John Edmundson embarked on a strong solo run he blasted through the Vale’s defence to touch down between the posts.
Matthew Short converted and just before the half-time whistle the number 10 saw his long-range penalty effort just fail to reach its target.
After an up-tempo half, both sides were ready for a half-time breather and they needed it because the second half began with the same intensity as the first, the net result being that both hookers were sent to cool down in the bin after three minutes of uncompromising, hard rugby that had Mr Harrison’s “Acme Thunder” working overtime.
Rolling subs were the order of the day and boy were they needed, as were the water carriers who shuttled to and fro as the game moved giddily from end-to-end.
Some breathing space was afforded to the Vale when Matthew Crewdson kicked a penalty goal in the 55th minute, but the game still hung in the balance and any tipping point was a long way off.
It became obvious that the longer the game went on, those players with a little more gas in their tanks would start to play an important role in the final quarter as a mazy run from Olly Cousins illustrated when he skipped through his former Vale colleagues only to be eventually hauled down.
As a highly-entertaining game moved into the closing 10 minutes, the Vale struck.
The versatile Tom Smith had obviously benefited from his 10 minute spell listening to the traffic noise from the nearby M6 when he completed a slick passing move that involved James Hodder, sporting his new white boots, and Ben Charnley; Matthew Crewdson added the conversion.
Three minutes later James Hodder threaded his way through for a try converted by Matthew Crewdson but Carnforth refused to throw in the towel and hit back immediately.
In the final sustained passage of rugby of the game Matthew Short made an electrifying break to set up a try for the rampaging Joe Harrison who blasted over to loud cheers in front of his supporters packed on the touchline.
Olly Cousins nonchalantly drop kicked the conversion but there was no time left for another Carnforth flourish.
The Vale retained the shield in a game high in endeavour, commitment and fervour, in particular from the hosts who, despite missing a number of their regular players, played with gusto from the first blast of the whistle until the last, qualities that Andrew Crowe would have certainly approved of.
Carnforth: O Cousins, S Tomlinson, J Edmundson (capt), J Harrison, P Metcalfe, M Short, G Barton, D Winning, D Hones, S Hodgson, L Launders, J Greenland, C Walker, D Blenkham, J Short. Reps: G Rich, A Seaton, A Albiston, C Albiston, J Wilson, J Edmundson.
Vale of Lune A: M Crewdson, R Muir, R Ward, A Macluskie, D Fletcher, A Garnett (capt), J Whyke, M Kitchen, T Smith, J Skivington, B Wilkinson, A Foxcroft, B Charnley, L Acton, G Glennon. Reps: J Reeves, J Hodder, J Hickling.